Alexandra Mercado, our NJMOMpreneur of the Week, always had a can-do attitude and resourcefulness, which proved to be her power when she wanted affordable hair accessories for her baby girl. This former teacher knew she could make do on very little, so she bought some fabric and taught herself to make gorgeous baby bows of much better quality than the ones she was buying. Encouraged by friends to turn her hobby into a business, Alexandra found success selling them at a local pop-up shop and never looked back. Today, Mercabows is an affordable brand of whimsical bows, bands, turbans, and more, and has recently launched a brother brand, MercaBROS, so there’d be something for the guys, too. We chatted with this mama of two in Wildwood to discover how her teaching background helped her get her start, why supporting other local entrepreneurs is essential for small businesses, and the peaceful South Jersey spot her family goes to when they want to get away from it all.
Please share your career background and your “aha” moment for launching Mercabows. I’m a first-generation American–my entire family on both sides is from Uruguay–and growing up, my parents only spoke to me in Spanish, which is probably why I decided to work with Spanish-speaking children. For ten years, I was a first-grade bilingual teacher in Wildwood. My students were from Spanish-speaking homes, so I’d spend the first half of the school year teaching the core curriculum in Spanish and slowly transitioning them to speaking English from January through June. They were great years, and I loved every minute of it, but as soon as Luka and Lyla were born, everything shifted, and I wanted to be home with them. While at home, I found myself spending a small fortune on hair accessories for my daughter and knew I could probably make them myself. Teachers have to learn to make do for their students on very little money, and I’d always been very creative and crafty in the classroom. I decided to order a yard of fabric, watch a few videos and see what I could create on my own. That was my “aha” moment.
What were the first steps you took to get your business going? A friend of mine who owns her own jewelry business had been in the small business world in the Cape May area for a few years already, so I approached her with my hair accessories and picked her brain. She was enthusiastic about me doing this, said she knew I’d thrive, and was chock full of advice about getting started, including designing a logo, getting business cards, and everything else it would entail. She encouraged me from the get-go—I did a pop-up in her shop, and it just took off from there.
Was there anything from your teaching background that’s proven helpful in this business? As a teacher, you’re constantly planning, organizing, and thinking ahead, and I’ve carried that into how I run my business. Teachers’ minds are different—we see things seasonally ahead of time—so, for example, in the summer, I’m already thinking of fall and winter themes like apples, pumpkins, snowmen, and snowflakes. I know that moms like to take seasonal photos of their children, so ahead of time, I’m thinking about the fabrics I’ll have to purchase so that I can get everything made in plenty of time for family photos and other seasonal-style events.
How supportive is your family? I can get things done because everyone pitches in. My husband, Josh, is a retired professional boxer who recently resigned from his teaching job to start a non-profit boxing academy. He puts so much of his energy into helping kids in our area, but as often as he can, he takes our kids to the boxing gym, and they absolutely love it. Also, we’re both fortunate that both sets of grandparents love spending time with and doing all kinds of activities with the kids, so Luka and Lyla never have to miss out on anything while both of us work to build our businesses. This level of family support brings us such peace of mind.
What do you hope your kids learn from seeing you run your own business? I hope they see that I get the best of both worlds by having my own business from home. While working, I like to multitask so that I’m able to be with them as much as possible.
What’s next for your business? This past winter, I came up with mercaBROS, a brother brand, so that I could make things that my son would wear and love as much as my daughter loves all her accessories, and I knew that other moms would want to shower their little dudes with things they’d love, too. I started with hats, and there will also be gender-neutral clothing like tees and socks, but because I’m into matchy things for my kids, you might find the same print on a headband, the pocket of a tee, and on a pair of socks.
What are some of your favorite NJ businesses? The CM Collective carries beautiful jewelry designed by the owner, Chrissy, but she also showcases all the small businesses in our region, and it’s where I found my biggest cheerleader and had my first pop-up shop. I also highly recommend Guppi, an eco-friendly, sustainable surf brand where you can purchase super-soft, comfy clothing made from recycled plastic bottles. A portion of the profits goes to cleaning up the beaches. And I love Sign Me Pretty, a very creative husband and wife team that makes unique signs and home décor, but they also make customizable pieces, which is where I got all my fabulous displays from.
Please share some places in NJ that you and your family enjoy. In North Cape May, Delaware Bay is super peaceful—we like to pack some beach toys, bring hoagies, and watch the sunset. It’s so relaxing and satisfying. And Morey’s Piers and Water Parks in Wildwood are wonderful. We head to the small kids’ area and go on the water slides — the kids can’t get enough of it.
What’s your best piece of advice for an NJMOMpreneur just starting? I think the best advice is to line up a lot of family support because you’ll need plenty of kid-free time to run your business. And also, do your part to support other local businesses because by supporting one another, you’re building up your own business and creating a following.