Sonoma County Latina entrepreneur aims high with fashion boutique Bow N Arrow

Classic yet bold womens’ clothing. That may be what Mercedes Hernandez sells in her North Bay store. But it’s what she called the store — Bow N Arrow Clothing — and why which catches peoples’ attention.

‘I speak to inspire young people to follow their dream. That’s where the name of the store comes from. In order for an arrow to be shot forward, it has to be pulled back,’ said Hernandez.

Now 23, Hernandez opened in clothing business online in 2014 while attending Santa Rosa Junior College and opened a bricks and mortar store in Cotati in 2016 after completing the Entrepreneurial Program A second store is in the works.

‘I cater to women age 18 to late 40s who express their style through Bohemian modern style clothing and accessories. We also offer plus sizes styles up to 2XL in select styles,’ said Hernandez.

Bow N Arrow Clothing carries clothing, purses, shoes, jewelry, and hats at the Sonoma County location.

She says being a Latina has never held her back.

‘I have never felt turned down because I was a woman. I was concerned about that and also my age. But everyone has treated me like a grown adult. I’ve really grown as a person. Starting a business has pushed me to my limits. One thing I have learned is to put my foot down and have a strong backbone. It’s also important to keep everything professional,’ said Hernandez.

Michela Williams, a sales associate and website manager for Bow N Arrow Clothing, said she likes seeing how Hernandez has grown.

‘I knew Mercedes prior to her opening the business. I’m a really good family friend. Mercedes is a very driven individual. She’s very optimistic about her future. She is so welcoming to us (the staff) and everyone who comes into the store. You get on a first name basis with the customers. You end up getting to know many of them,’ said Williams.

Williams, who has been at Bow N Arrow Clothing for about a year and a half, said working at the store is helping her pursue a career in fashion.

‘I am currently a student at the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising in San Francisco. Working at Bow N Arrow definitely pushes me to pursue what I want to do after graduation.’

Encouraged by family

Hernandez is a Sonoma County native who started learning about fashion through modeling.

‘When I was 12 years old, I began learning modeling at the Julie Nation Academy in Santa Rosa. My first job in retail was at Justice, a clothing store in Santa Rosa Plaza. At 18, I was promoted to manager. I graduated from Windsor High School in 2012. I then worked at Ooh La Loft in Santa Rosa in 2013. I also worked for a few months at Rete, another boutique in Healdsburg. By working at all of these stores, I got experience in corporate retail and local boutiques,’ said Hernandez.

She is the first in her family to start a retail business.

‘My mom has an entrepreneurial spirit. She never held me back. I remember going into my mom’s closet and trying on clothes. I loved putting different outfits together. She encouraged that. I think having parents that support you and aren’t going to push you to be what you don’t want to be is really important,’ said Hernandez.

Help of peers and professors

Hernandez said she learned a great deal from her instructors and fellow students at SRJC.

‘I studied business administration at SRJC. Roy Gattinella, a marketing professor, really opened my eyes to the importance of finding your demographic. Helder Sebastio, who taught about starting a business, also helped a great deal. In addition, I got in touch with a bunch of students in accounting to help me determine the numbers,’ said Hernandez.

She said researching her demographic was an important step.

‘The area that came out on top was Rohnert Park. Now that I’m in Cotati, I have two large window displays. I make sure to always have different outfits visible. I have proper signage as well. I make sure it’s ‘noisy’ enough to draw people in. My prices range between $18 to $32 for a top and $36 to $38 for pants. I also have a new shipment of clothes in every week.’

Hernandez receives community support for her business by remaining an active member of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Sonoma County. She joined the group in 2016.

‘Marcos Suarez gave me a lot of guidance. He helped get me where I am today,’ said Hernandez.

Suarez, the immediate past president of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Sonoma County, is now the business diversity program manager at the Sonoma County Economic Development Board. Suarez has expertise in helping business owners with planning and marketing.

This year, Hernandez held a networking mixer for the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce at her store for the first time.

Words of wisdom

Hernandez said new entrepreneurs, particularly Latinas, can benefit from learning more about the resources and support that their county offers.

‘Take advantage of that. Know that those resources are out there for you, especially for Spanish speakers. Don’t be scared to reach out and make those connections,’ said Hernandez.

She said starting a business can be very difficult. New entrepreneurs should ask for help when they need it.

‘For example, I was new to putting together a financial statement. I reached out to my fellow classmates to get help with that. When it got really hard, I never gave up. Those difficult points are a part of the journey where a lot of people stop. But never let anyone else tell you that you can’t. Do it for yourself.’

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