By Alicia Rivera on May 1, 2018
The Favor of African Culture
Frustrated by the fact that she had to learn more about her own Black and Cuban heritage through Ethnic Studies at Mills College, Mercedes Martin of Tres Mercedes, felt the need to exercise her unique perspective on African beauty, culture and tradition to influence “urban” fashion. Whenever she creates an item - whether it be sunglasses or a snapback hat - Martin always asks herself, “How can I add ‘favor’ to this?” As she likes to say, “favor equals African culture.”
“Growing up in Oakland, I saw how fly my peers dressed and how they valued and invested in Jordans, H&M or other brands [that] didn't care about them.” As an artist, educator, cultural worker and influencer, Martin started out making creations of repurposed materials, earrings and shoes with African fabric. Now, she focuses more on adorning sunglasses with African beads, charms, cowry shells, hand-painted patterns and fabric. She also creates ancestor candles, earrings, sports team snapback hats with African fabric on the brim and much more. “I believe fashion can be very superficial or it can be powerful, inspiring, healing, and political. I hope my brand makes a positive impact in the world from making people feel good from the inside out.”
Being a Woman Entrepreneur
My experience of a being an entrepreneur woman has been both amazing, empowering and a crazy rollercoaster ride of mountain tops and low valleys. Being an entrepreneur is a 24-seven and 365-day kind of job, full of taking risks, getting out your comfort zone, failures and triumphs. There are days where I feel self-doubt, [a] desire to give up completely and [feelings of] depression. Those difficult moments are only temporary and a test to prepare you for the next stage. No matter who you are starting a business will be challenging. With saying that, there's a unique obstacle course that Black women entrepreneurs each face. The intersectional struggles of the historical and current injustices African-Americans face in the U.S., the struggle for respect and rights of women, the history of business and capitalism all play a role in my business journey. As well as age, education, class, and social capital. Choosing to be your own ‘Boss Lady’ is liberating - a form of resistance. Yet, it’s not easy or [for] the weak hearted. Mi madre is my first example of Black woman entrepreneurship. My entire childhood [consists of] memories of witnessing her sacrifice and conquer while running her own business consulting firm. Many times [she] put me to work, helping her accomplish projects. Today she is my biggest fan and supporter. The reasons I keep going are my peers, other 20- to 30-something-year-old Oakland Black women business owners. Watching them develop, taking control of their own destiny, providing for themselves and families and making meaningful impacts to the community. I am blessed to have that community and network. We exchange personal stories, information, collaborate on projects, pass contacts, and open doors. Black women entrepreneurs to me are exude Black Girl Magic. They use our natural super (feminine) powers of intuition, multitasking and nurturing spirit into [their] personal business. I know I started off with all the daunting challenges of running a business, I still truly believe we are living in exciting times where women have access to the tools, information, and materials to start their own business a lot easier in ways past generations could not. With an idea, a smart phone and Wi-Fi, women are able to start a business.”
I mentioned my inspiration, my peers and community, and last, but not least: the life of an entrepreneur could not exist without the love and support of their incredible, patient, excited and loyal customers. Without them small businesses would close. Customers provide, [at] the very least, words of encouragement, [they] spread the word of your business, repost products and events on social media, and so much more. I thank y'all!”
“Oakland First Friday is a great event that creates an environment for creatives like myself to share with our Oakland community on a monthly bases. I don't have a brick and mortar location. This event allows a small business owner like myself - with only an Etsy online store and consignment at local boutiques - an opportunity to constantly talk face-to-face with my customers and get direct feedback on what they like and dislike, and well as reach new audiences. Being a constant vendor since 2014, I have business relationships turned friend relationships with vendors and customers. Being at First Friday I have networked with photographers, models, make-up artists, stylists, fellow-makers, lawyers and folks visiting from out of town who want to get some unique Oakland ‘souvenirs.’ My favorite is when someone who is hosting an event and needs vendors reaches out to me after stopping by my booth.”
Last, But Not Least...
“I want to do a shout to all the Black women-led businesses who've contributed to where I am now as a creative: Concept Forty- Seven (boutique and beauty care), Azteca Negra (headwraps and accessories), Fresh to Def (Accessories and business consulting), Just.BE (Black Women Entrepreneur Network), CandidArt (accessory), Da Funky Button (accessories), Town Biz & Sole Space (Boutique), Kostum (Boutique), By Stacey Monique (Accessories), Nook and Kranny (Blog), and more.”
Hit up, Mercedes!
May 4th, 5pm-9pm - "Art Is Women | REDUX"
May 19th 11am-7pm - Malcolm X Jazz Arts Festival, San Antonio Park in East Oakland
May 25th 5pm-9pm - Africa Day, Oakland Museum of California
May 26th, 11am-6pm - Bay Area Black Market at Jack London Market, 55 Harrison Street
Tres Mercedes creations are also Available at these boutiques:
Town Biz/ Sole Space 1714 Telegraph Ave., Downtown Oakland
Kostum 4020 Piedmont Ave., Oakland