Sneaking into her mother’s closet, Mercedes Hernandez couldn’t resist trying on her blue satin jacket. Though the fourth-grader was far too small for it, she loved wearing it to school anyway.
Her passion for fashion had emerged.
A little over a decade later, that love has flourished into her own business, Bow N Arrow. Hernandez, who did modeling as a child and worked in retail while in high school, opened her bohemian-style clothing store last summer in downtown Cotati.
Today, the shop is a lively spot, frequented by students on the hunt for trendy but affordable fashion.
“It’s crazy, especially when I hear people talk about the store,” says Hernandez, now 22. “I didn’t picture myself being able to do this. I thought it was so unrealistic because of my age.”
Unlike generations before her, who started in retail shops and later opened a website, Hernandez first launched the business online when she was just 19. She was waitressing at the time at a burger joint in Santa Rosa, saving her tips in hopes of one day opening a brick-and-mortar store.
Sales online were booming. Hernandez, who received a business entrepreneur certificate from Santa Rosa Junior College, spent most of her spare time filling orders and stocking up on inventory. But she wanted to interact face-to-face with customers.
She now has plenty of opportunity to do so. Although she has three employees, customers usually can find her at the register or arranging the clothes and decor around the store.
“She’s very disciplined. She has the drive,” says Marcos Suarez, business diversity program manager for the Sonoma County Economic Development Board.
Suarez, a former president of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, helped connect Hernandez with various resources, including a micro loan lender, Working Solutions, after she approached him early last year.
Hernandez says she hopes to inspire other young women to pursue their dreams. She’s spoken to high-school entrepreneur students and served as a mentor at her alma mater, Windsor High School.
Her message to the students is simple: “You’re not too young to accomplish what you set your mind to do.”