The Nook and Kranny team recently collaborated on a editorial shoot with jewelry maker, Mercedes Martin. Her brand Tres Mercedes is known all over the Bay for its funky African twist on sunglasses, snapbacks and earrings. During our shoot, Mercedes dropped some knowledge about starting a business as a person of color and gave us the rundown on how her brand Tres Mercedes was born.
“The technique I use to reconnect folks to culture is thru wearable fashion mainly, but I’m always expanding.”
TELL US ABOUT YOU. My name is Mercedes. Born in Monterey, California. Raised between the SF Bay Area suburbs and Miami. When my parents divorced I moved to Oakland and my 11 year old soul its home. My youth was heavily impacted by the Civil Rights and Black Panther stories that I would hear in one ear, and the struggle of Castro and the Cuban Revolution in the other. My mom is Afro-Cuban and my Dad is African-American. There weren’t many people around me who identified as Black like me. So learning my history and culture was always important. In college, I studied Ethnic Studies at Mills College. I went to Cuba for the first time in 2008 with Merritt College’s Black Conscious Tours. Today I work as an educator and entrepreneur of Tres Mercedes.
“As a broke college student who couldn’t afford all the fancy materials, I really enjoyed challenging myself to use recycled materials – soda cans, event flyers, computer buttons, game pieces and taking used shoes or purses and covering them with African fabric.”
WHY DO YOU USE UPCYCLED MATERIALS? My roommate, Gabby, was a major influence to my upcycle jewelry. During one craft night, she transformed bottle caps into earrings by collaging tiny magazine images in them. My mind was blown. I had also always been pretty crafty so it was easy to come up with a bunch of ideas. Also, living a few blocks from the Recreative Reuse Depot in Oakland was a major plus and making trips there became an addiction. As a broke college student who couldn’t afford all the fancy materials, I really enjoyed challenging myself to use recycled materials: soda cans, event flyers, computer buttons, game pieces and taking used shoes or purses and covering them with African fabric. Using only repurposed materials was just as political as a pair of Oscar Grant earrings.
WHEN DID YOU KNOW THAT YOU WANTED TO PURSUE JEWELRY MAKING FULL-TIME?
Three years ago is when I realized that I wanted to be a full time entrepreneur artist after working at a stressful job where I felt I wasn’t able to bring my full creative brilliant self to work. When I left that job, I got serious about my craft and I got so many positive responses I never stopped creating. I still have an almost full time job working in a school but I’m ALWAYS thinking and working on my Tres Mercedes business 24/7/, 365. Also, surrounding myself with like-minded business folks, especially POC women makers. My Friends like Marisol who runs Azteca Negra
; Stevonne, owner of boutique Concept Forty-Seven
& beauty care Beija-Flor and all the dedicated women of Just.BE- a collective of Black Creative entrepreneur Woman. They each push me to keep on going that I can maintain myself as cultural accessory designer.
“Selling my creations directly to customers and hearing their appreciations and suggestions have shaped me. I have found my way to express my Oakland pride and my African roots.”
HOW DOES THE BAY INSPIRE YOUR CRAFT? The Bay culture is my Air. I would be a very different person if it wasn’t for my parents, first. As a child, my mom dragged me to many cultural events, galleries, and museums. Also, all of the organizations I’ve been a part of from Destiny Arts Center, Youth Speaks, Leadership Excellence, Camp Akili, Freedom School, Laney College African American classes, Black Student Unions, Black Lives Matter movement, Aerosoul Arts, Red Bike and Green, Niroga Yoga Studio & Battle of the Bay games (Raiders vs. 49ers or A’s vs. Giants) and more. I hella Love Oakland. I am grateful for all the amazing people I’ve met here. Selling my creations directly to customers and hearing their appreciations and suggestions have shaped me. I have found my way to express my Oakland pride and my African roots.
” Black Women are the fastest growing group running their own businesses. Study your ancestors and history. Understand the issues and problems in the community. Then Figure out what is your unique Gifts/Talents/passion. Believe in yourself. Practice & working on it everyday. Never stop Growing, learning, reading & praying with your feet.”
ADVICE FOR WOMEN STARTING THEIR OWN BUSINESSES. I’m a strong advocate of transforming our mindset from our history of the slave into being the Boss & Master of your own self. Schools only teach us to get good grades, to get a good job, but in today’s world that path may not work. Black Women are the fastest growing group running their own businesses. Study your ancestors and history. Understand the issues and problems in the community. Then, figure out what is your unique gifts/talents/passion. Believe in yourself. Practice and work on it everyday. Never stop growing, learning, reading and praying with your feet. Don’t be discouraged with challenges and difficulty it’s part of the struggle when pursuit new path. I pray you will be very success in whatever you set your mind to do.
www.TresMercedes.com | Instagram |
You can catch Mercedes work at Oakland’s First Fridays, Trapxart, Show and tell Oakland, and Concept Forty Seven.