En español | Since 1998, Mercedes R. Gonzalez, 40, a fashion buyer and retail strategist who owns the Global Purchasing Companies in Manhattan, has opened her door to people interested in taking a peek at her professional world. Her connections are made through VocationVacations, a Portland, Oregon-based company that matches people who enjoy their careers with those eager to test drive their dream jobs for a few days. Gonzalez recently shared her experience as a mentor with AARP VIVA.
Q. Can you describe the mentor-mentee relationship?
A. You are thrown into the fire! It’s only a two-day stay, but even after that short time people can get a better idea of whether they might want to pursue this type of career, open their own shop, or start a clothing line. They can also get an idea about how much start-up capital they might need. My job now might sound glamorous… it takes us on the road, to fashion shows in Dallas, Chicago, Vegas, and international shows in Mexico, Brazil, or Europe. But it’s also about moving and carrying boxes, steaming clothing samples, and doing lots of math. There’s a whole other side to it that is not at all glam.
Q. What do you think people get out of a mini-mentorship?
A. The people we mentor understand that you can’t just go from zero to 60 in a new profession. You have to start from the beginning. In fashion, that means knowing everything, from where you shop for mannequins to how much money you should budget and on what. If people are thinking of opening up their own boutique, for example, they should know that nine of out of ten retailers fail. So you can have people come here with all the passion in the world, but being successful also means being practical and having a clear idea of what needs to be done.
Q. How does being a mentor benefit you?
A. I’ve gotten a lot of out it. I realized that it’s never too late to take on something new. We had a woman not too long ago open her first clothing boutique at age 60. She had zero experience in the fashion industry, had never even worked in a retail store, but she is going ahead and doing it. We stay in touch with the people we’ve mentored. It’s interesting to see where they go and, of course, we will offer our consulting services, too. We’ve helped a few people open up their own stores. We’re open to sharing our secrets and putting ourselves out there to people who are genuinely interested.
Q. What would you say to someone thinking of becoming a mentor?
A. It can be really exciting to have people come here, experience what we do,and see it become a catalyst that drives them in another direction. You see people willing to overcome the fear that keeps so many people back. But [being a mentor] is also a commitment. It’s not about free labor for a couple of days,but rather sharing an experience.
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