If you're part of the millennial generation in Puerto Rico, there's a big chance you know about Merodea. While other publications are still copy-pasting press releases and talking about generic lifestyle topics, Merodea is tackling everything that has to do with the life of an intelligent twenty-something year old in Puerto Rico. From the latest local designers and beauty trends to sex toys and women's issues that affect us all in this little Island. In a nutshell: Merodea is a feminist and I always encourage my friends to follow them.
But nobody talks about the mastermind behind the publication: Melissa Jiménez. A true girlboss that literally followed her curiosity into success while never doubting herself. So you know me, I had to publish her story for you guys to get some inspiration out of her amazing life. Hope you enjoy this month's career profile!
WHAT DID YOU WANT TO BE AS A little girl?
An engineer or a paleontologist. Believe it or not, never fashion!
When did your interest for fashion started?
I'm always dressed the same: jeans and different blouses. I've never been too into trends and style, but I love the fashion business.
It all began when I started working in Banana Republic as a fashion merchandiser, where I became obsessed with the visual merchandising books. I would literally bring them home with me so I could understand what I was doing. I loved how you could see all the things that you could do in the store, like measurements, colors and even temperatures! I loved how brands study people so they can sell you the right stuff.
That's how my curiosity started and I decided to leave the University of Puerto Rico, where I was studying Marketing, to move to New York City and study Fashion Merchandising at LIM College. I chose fashion merchandising because I needed to learn about the buying process. I knew that I would've never known what these fashion merchandising books were about unless I left Puerto Rico to figure it out. When something grabs my attention, I give it my 100%!
A lot of people who have some type of interest in fashion are discouraged by their friends and family. Did you ever experience this?
I think my dad thought about it, but he knows we have pretty similar personalities. Whatever we want, we get!
Some people see fashion as such a generic thing, but it has so many branches, such as any other career like medicine or law. If you look at it as an overall, you will see all the competition, but if you look a little further into it, you will see that there's a place for everyone! So I figured that someone had to do it and it might as well be me.
What did you learn from your retail job at Banana Republic?
If it wasn't for Banana Republic I wouldn't be where I am today. I organized the very first Banana Republic fashion show in Puerto Rico in order to boost sales. It was such a hit that while the models were walking down the runway, the sellers will literally ask us for the clothes because our clients were already buying them.
How did you make your way to Valentino in New York City?
I chose LIM University because they are more practical than theoretical. It was a very hands-on experience, so I was sending about 20 resumes a week to all the companies and internship websites I knew of. Then M-Missoni, an Italian brand part of the Valentino Fashion Group (VFG) called me to work as an intern in the wholesale division.
My internship included meetings at the showrooms and working side by side with the sellers. I loved working with numbers and knowing where we could make more money! They would even trust me enough to close deals of thousands of clothing pieces.
During this time I met Xiomara Contreras, who was VFG’s Visual Manager. She had different markets and was in charge of showrooms and she trusted me enough to assist her a lot more than other interns. It came to a point where the employees were literally fighting for my help! Long story short, when Xiomara had her maternity leave she asked me to be her temporary replacement as a freelancer. I reminded her that this was my last year of school, but she told me that she had already spoken with upper management and they wanted me to be her replacement while she was away.
It's very usual to see European brands being a one man show. While the director was in a trip in Italy, I was running the office so they asked me to work a Valentino fashion show at Dallas' Neiman Marcus! They loved me so much that they offered me a full time job.
The sad part is that they actually fired the entire team and left me in charge of the department. I cried so much because I didn't want to accept the position under those circumstances. But they told me that that is how the industry works and that I should take the chance, so I accepted it. I literally had to do everything until the new director arrived at the company!
Did you experience any anxiety while doing all of this?
I felt a bit alone. I was always traveling and I couldn't party with my friends like most twenty-somethings would because I was tired or out of town. I would come home to my apartment from LA in a red eye flight with absolutely no energy. I was only 22 years old!
after valentino, you worked at st. john knits. How was your experience there?
I hate saying this, but it was a super boring experience. Going from such a creative European brand to an American brand is how I understood that when you standardize things you are abstaining your team from giving their all.
In Valentino I would go from A to Z in no time! I would always make it happen no matter what. But in St. John I had to go through an entire process and I would lose motivation pretty quickly. That's why I'm so free spirited at Merodea. I thought that if I was at my desk, I wasn't doing my job. I lost so much time filling out forms!
So why did you accept the offer from Valentino to St. John Knits?
Because they doubled my salary. Even though Valentino matched what St. John Knits was offering, I was looking to do something different.
Would you say Merodea was your creative outlet while working at St. John Knits?
You could say so! Even in my days at Banana Republic I would give my ideas and they would get approved. And in Valentino I was practically in charge of everything related to merchandising.
How did you come up with the idea for Merodea?
I finished Merodea's business plan in a business trip from Los Angeles to New York. It was a Valentino store opening in LA and I had literally two hours of sleep.
I showed my business plan to my mom and two of my friends but I wasn't ready to make the move yet. My mom would tell me to look at my bosses and ask myself if I would like that lifestyle. If that's the life that I wanted, I should stay, but if it wasn't, it was time to leave. That's how I knew that it was my time to come home. I left my apartment prepaid with three months of rent.
In New York, it doesn't matter how much you make, you are going to have the same lifestyle. Even if you are a CEO, you will have the option of buying more expensive things but that lonely and hecitic lifestyle will always be the same. I really wasn't willing to put up with that. I believe in compensation because I work really hard. What's the point of having an awesome title if you can't enjoy it?
What did people tell you when you made the decision to come back to Puerto Rico and start a business in the middle of the economic crisis?
They called me crazy and they couldn't understand how I could leave a "dream job" to come for something that nobody wants. But I never cared about those comments!
How has been your experience managing people as a CEO?
I think that the hardest part is working with so many opinions. We always brainstorm for at least 2 hours!
I really believe in hiring people that know more than I do. I want their ideas to be heard. My job here is to make their ideas a reality. You can have a really good idea, but the execution is everything! That's my life motto. A lot of people have great ideas but they don't go too far because they're not good at executing it.
Merodea started out as an online deals store. How did it evolve into a publication that could be described as a Puerto Rican version of Refinery29?
When the success of your new business or startup depends on a small supplier/ manufacturer of a third party it's very difficult to have control over the success of your business. Specially in Puerto Rico, you need to have consistency! It’s really hard keep working towards something when you rely on someone else, and relying on designers was very difficult. Not everything we sold was successful. But if it was successful, the designers would try to raise their prices. I found myself telling them over and over again that this was not how it worked. But I didn't want to be a brand consultant, I wanted a business. It was very difficult! I still believe in local talent, but it's not about creativity it's about business management.
Today, we still rely on third parties, but we still have a lot of content to support us, even if someone fails us. That's why we started to create content about the designers we have worked with that have actually maintained high quality products. Then we created the Merodea Black Box and started creating content for the brands and designers in it.
E-commerce used to be our principal source of income and content the secondary. Now it's the other way around. Evolution is really important for a business environment like Puerto Rico's. Adaptation is everything!
How were you able to find the perfect mix between talking about local talent and talking about political issues?
My goal is not to create negative content, so everything that we talk about is to get you thinking. Every political piece we write is going to be to give you the facts and make you think. Whether you like it or you hate it! To me that's very important. We don't want to tell you how to think! All we want to do is give you the right resources to help you decide.
It's all about balance. We are a group of people at the company, so any topic in the world that is resounding that we talk about in the office, we are probably going to write about it.
How do you deal with haters that don't agree with Merodea talking about these type of issues?
I take it as positive criticism. We actually laugh! It's never been a big deal to us. Our goal is to educate people. Merodea is not a stupid girl.
What are your favorite topics to publish in Merodea?
All of them! But I could say anything that's positive news. Anything that says that Puerto Rico is making some kind of progress is a must.
What would you do if you weren't Merodea's CEO?
I really don't know. All I know is I like to create! I try my best to be different. Like, everything's already being made, but how you make it different is key. Maybe a consultant?
What is the most challenging part of having an online business?
Being aware of what's next. There's no present in the digital world. The present already happened!
What is the most challenging part of being a business owner?
Managing a team. Keeping them inspired and happy. Letting them know that if you're called out is for your career’s benefit. Also, maintaining an open mind when it comes to content.
Balance is the most difficult part of having my own company. I want to keep my personal and business mottos while team building. I want creative minds! It's not the same to be part of a team than managing it. You have to be able to see how far you can take it.
What do you enjoy the most about having your own business?
Watching the end results being exactly what we imagined. I'm always super proud to see the final product. I also love to receive feedback, listen and watch people's expressions. It's very exciting to see people being grateful and enjoying our work in Merodea!
Do you feel like your degree in fashion merchandising was necessary?
It helped me meet people. Every time I go out, I find a piece of content or close a deal and to me, college was the same thing. Everything that surrounds me, including education is all about getting to know people and knowing how they think.
Maybe someone is studying the same thing as I am but they think different than me. You could learn everything from books, but there’s a difference in discussing these ideas it with other people in a classroom.
Everything that I've created was inspired by people.
What advice would you give someone who wants to make it in the fashion industry?
Don't get carried away by stereotypes. Some people see their peers as threats. But thinking this way will only harm yourself, because your boss will notice! Always try to be a collaborator.
I've talked with Anna Wintour just like I am here with you right now and she’s just human! If you think people are threats or superior to you, you can't be yourself around them. It's ok to admire people, but if you forget about the stereotypes and you're respectful and charming, it will help you to move forward.
Also, ask everything and be willing to offer your help. Is not about being a brown noser, is about being willing to always give your honest help so you can make your whole team look good.
Bonus question: What did you think about Girlboss on Netflix?
I haven't watched it.
I found the book very childish. I don't like how Sophia Amoruso communicates. I'm a very practical person and if you sugar coat things, I can't stand it! I feel like she did that a lot in the book. I think that she is a very admirable person, but whoever wrote for her, didn't get her. She's probably a lot more badass than what it was portrayed in the book.
Random facts about melissa jiménez:
Favorite local brand: Cordillera Necklace, Jean Cintrón, Verónika Pagán, Con Calma, LUCA. More than a brand and more than the product, I respect.
Favorite magazine: The digital versions of Fast Company, INC Magazine and Digiday.
Favorite blog: I follow blogs more for my job. I don't have a personal favorite blog, but I do admire Leandra Medine from Man Repeller as a person.
Favorite makeup brand: Bobbi Brown
Favorite branding: Refinery29, ban.do and Man Repeller. I really don't like to get attached with things or concepts, but I am really attracted to minimal and strange stuff. I like things with humor and visually attractive.
Person you admire: Jenna Lyonns from J. Crew.
Heels or flats: Flats
Handbag: I have designer bags but I buy them for the simple design.
Physical books or e-books: Physical books. I have a Kindle but I'm never able to finish a book there.
Favorite scent: Anything that represents freshness. Citrus and clean, nothing sweet!
Must have fashion accessory: Rings!
Go to coffee order: Double latte with almond milk