Let me start off by saying I loved this book! Not so much because it’s about people I know and adore, but more for the inspiring life lessons Don Martin teaches by sharing personal experiences. Lessons about building relationships, about earning respect by showing respect, about the arts of salesmanship and negotiation, about family and friendship, about the value of self-confidence vs. the dangers of arrogance, about dealing with failure and overcoming obstacles and standing up for what you believe in. In fact, I discovered so much great stuff in this book, written with genuine passion and wisdom, that I read it twice, grateful that Martin chose not to hire a ghost writer since it’s the raw emotion in his storytelling that truly communicates the messages.
ABOVE: Book Signing Party at Bobby Vans Steakhouse hosted by Don Martin.
Born in Harlem and raised in the Bronx, Don Martin has deep roots in the British Virgin Islands. Growing up with hardworking parents and grandparents shaped his humanistic values and strong desire to succeed. But more than anything else, his unique ability to find common ground with all kinds of people is surely his most valuable asset.
Just don’t cross him! For example, early in his career, Martin discovered that his assistant was earning $25 more a week than he was. “I was so hurt I didn’t know what to do,” he writes. “I was being taken advantage of again. This was a rude awakening… I went home that evening feeling betrayed: after all I had done for the company, they obviously didn’t care much about me…” The owner of the company, confronted with the situation, called Martin into his office, and announced he would receive a raise, to which Martin replied, ‘Make sure it’s substantially more than my assistant’s, otherwise it will not be accepted.’ I was confident in who I was and never would back down. They gave me what I wanted, we shook hands, and I went back to my desk. I refused to say thank you as I thought of all the money I’d been losing for six months. This experience taught me a lot: the business world is not fair; you get what you can negotiate.”
Sharing wonderful stories about the many “characters” in our business, Martin portrays the Golden Era of men’s tailored clothing (the 1980s and ’90s) in tremendous detail. I particularly loved Martin’s message to the many southern executives he did business with (prior to NAFTA): “I would like my Southern cousins to stand up and take a bow for the positive impact you had on my life. All of these very fine people were white, and they literally fought over my time when I arrived in the South. This simply proves that most white people are not racist. One of the most influential things a person can do is spend their money with you. These people chose to do business with me as an individual; it absolutely did not matter to them that I was Black. I cannot emphasize this more to young Black entrepreneurs: just be yourself, without any pre-conceived thoughts.”
And later in the book, Martin writes, “We need to stop the divide and get to know each other as people. This simple behavior would stop the many unnecessary losses of life that we experience here in the United States.”
One part of the book made me sad: Chapter 31, unfortunately (but perhaps accurately) entitled The Death of an Industry. “Men’s tailored clothing was dying the moment I arrived in 1976,” Martin maintains. “The textile import company I founded did very well until 2010; after the big recession, everyone began to struggle… Peerless still did well because, under Ronny Wurtzburger’s leadership, they locked up all the best designer labels and retailers were forced to buy from them. The private label manufacturers would start dropping like flies… Another major factor was the development of poly-viscose, feeling very similar to wool at a much cheaper price ($3 per yard vs. $12). Global warming has also had an effect: people are into more comfort. But the main reason (for the decline of suits) was the dot-com era where billionaires conducted board meetings in t-shirts and jeans… Wearing a suit takes more time and coordination, and most American men have no taste anyway…”
While I’m reluctant to accept Martin’s premise that the days of a thriving suit business are unlikely to return, I tremendously admire him for tackling several decades of challenges with energy, enthusiasm, pride, perseverance, and a sizable dose of chutzpah.
Thank you, Don Martin, for leading the charge.
Says Martin, “The best part of the book signing event was bringing my personal family and my business family together for the first time and seeing my menswear colleagues enjoying each other again. I’m so pleased that the men’s clothing industry has embraced me for writing this book about our fraternity. My goal was to show the world how effortlessly black and white people can work together; the love we have for each other makes me truly emotional at times.”