Fashion CEO on making business in America easier for entrepreneurs
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- What is one thing about you or your business that you would like us to know that could be helpful?
- Please share 3 tips for aspiring entrepreneurs you wish to discuss with us here today?
- What is your favorite business quote?
- Do you have valuable tools/ tips about how you started your business?
- What is your business elevator pitch?
- Share an interesting or fun fact about yourself.
Mark Werts was born and raised in Hollywood, California, the third of six children in a large Catholic family. His father, C. Francis, was a family doctor who treated many of Hollywood’s biggest stars, and who delivered more than two thousand babies. His mother, Virginia, was a schoolteacher. Mark is a graduate of Loyola High School in Los Angeles, the University of Southern California, the University of California-Berkeley, and the Thunderbird Graduate School of Global Management (now part of Arizona State University).
He began his professional career working for Price Waterhouse, and with his ear for languages (Mark is fluent in five and has a basic understanding of four more), he soon found himself in the company’s offices in Geneva, Switzerland, and later, Madrid, Spain. While in Spain, one of his clients, an influential jeans maker, introduced Mark to the world of fashion. A short time later, Mark trekked his way to Holland, where he founded his first new and vintage clothing store, Salty Dog, by begging, borrowing, and mortgaging his life insurance policy for the initial $21,000 investment. He soon had ten locations throughout the Netherlands, then two more stores in France. Werts designed and self-produced most of the goods he sold, with production offices in Bergamo, Italy; Nimes, France; Casablanca, Morocco; and New York City.
While in Europe, Mark married and had two children, Julian and Zoey. But, after the relationship soured and his American wife took the kids and returned to the States, Mark married a Dutch woman, closed his shops, and also moved to the United States, to be closer to his children.
Mark launched his signature store, American Rag Cie., in the Bay Area of California in 1984. Despite appearances, jeans were never intended to be the store’s focus. He started out selling vintage clothing, as well as a few key designers such as Paul Smith and several other top labels. As business grew, so did the Werts household. His third child, Mark Oliver (who now works as a Vice President at American Rag), was born in 1985, and that same year Mark found himself looking for a new location. Circling back to his roots in Los Angeles, he discovered an oversized warehouse on La Brea Avenue — miles from the hip fashion avenues of Beverly Hills and Sunset Plaza — and set out to re-invent California retailing without actually knowing he was doing so. Since then, American Rag has grown to several locations, does a brisk online business, and has in-store partnerships with Macy’s, Sazaby League in Japan, and Levi Strauss, as well as a strong presence in many foreign countries, including China.
Today Mark is married to fashion designer Amanda Shi and has young twins, Chloe and Ignatius. He is also a mentor to new generations of would-be merchants. To that end, he can often be found strolling the campus at the University of Southern California where he is on the Board of Counselors at the Roski School of Fine Arts. He often lectures as well, at the Marshall School of Business there, and has taught a pilot class where he made opening a store into an assignment.
Mark is also the recipient of the 2014 Best Fashion Retailer of the World award, given by WeAr Global Magazine.