Purpose Plus Learning Can Make the Impossible Possible
Armando Dollero, Shasa
July 26, 2022
“People who say it cannot be done should not interrupt those who are doing it.”
- George Bernard Shaw
I am Chairman & President of Shasa, a fashion brand with more than 100 stores in the best shopping malls in 31 of the 32 states in Mexico. My brother Carlo is CEO and together, we founded the company in 1990. We started from scratch. Today, we are a strong and proud Evergreen® company, but I can’t say that the purpose that drives Shasa in 2022 is the same one that has driven us from the beginning. It has been a journey characterized by challenging odds, daunting obstacles, and, above all else, constant learning.
My early childhood was spent in a town on the Gulf of Mexico, and I remember life there as very happy. When I was still young, however, my mother got sick and needed a transplant, so the family moved to Mexico City. Suddenly, life was hard and unhappy, and even more so when my mother passed away. I was nine and Carlo was six. A couple of years later, our father re-married and this brought even more challenges. Everything had changed drastically within a few short years, inspiring Carlo and me to set our first life goal: somehow earn enough money to run away and become independent. Thus began our journey.
The most obvious way to make money seemed to be by selling something, so we started selling. In the beginning, we bought handmade fashion jewelry and sold it. I was about 11. After a few years, our dad, who is a chemical engineer, taught us how to make a Pine-Sol-type cleaner, so we made that and sold it. We sold it to friends, neighbors, anyone who would buy it. Although we didn’t get rich and we made a lot of mistakes, we learned a lot about how to collect money, about the struggles maintaining consistent quality in our product, and about balancing the cost of materials with price. At that time, I was 14.
Although things were tough at home, my brother and I did have the opportunity to go to college. Nevertheless, we remained fixated on building a business. When I was a sophomore in college and Carlo was still in high school, we started selling clothes. Miami Vice was wildly popular at the time, so we had the idea to manufacture clothes inspired by the ones they wore in the show. Remember the short, square pants and the neon t-shirts? We started making those and it turned out that we had hit on a good item. We bought the fabric, found a manufacturer, and created our own brand.
Our vision really locked into place with this venture. Carlo and I had discovered our Passion for Fashion; it’s driven us and been part of the organizational culture of our company ever since.
We sold the clothes to students at the high school and the college, and we were very successful. Soon we started selling wholesale to retail stores. As a result of this success, we finally made enough money to leave home, so we did. It had taken a long time, but we had earned our independence.
Moving through this process, we learned the hard way, by doing and failing–sometimes dramatically–but we never quit; we kept learning and trying again, figuring out over time how to minimize risk and maximize the upside.
In those days, because we were bringing our product to our customers, we needed a place to display our clothes. We had a yellow Volkswagen Beetle, so we filled the trunk with the clothes, drove around to the schools, and sold out of the car in the parking lot. That was, I suppose you could say, our first store.
That Beetle took us to many fun places, always combining business and pleasure. We loved going to Acapulco for the weekends, parking the car, and selling our clothes. Only after we had sold all of our merchandise and hit our goal did we head to town to have fun; it was our reward. Then, Sunday night, we drove back with all the cash we’d made.
Soon, we started traveling farther, to Canada and the US, always with the same plan: travel, do business, make money, and learn along the way. As we traveled, we would bring materials from wherever we had been and sell them. We learned about tariffs and the ins and outs of importing and exporting products. By the time I was 22, in 1990, we created our first corporation and, one year later, we opened our first real wholesale store. We started sourcing internationally – from India, Spain, the US.
Crisis equals opportunity. In the mid-nineties there was a huge economic crisis in Mexico, and everything collapsed. Although it was a hard time for our country, the market had cracked open, and we saw an opportunity for the business. Within less than two months, we turned all our storage facilities into manufacturing facilities, and we were finally poised to start building the company we dreamed of, turning Shasa into a private brand, exclusive to our stores, and controlling the whole supply chain.
On the day we opened our first Shasa retail store inside a mall, in the midst of the crisis, we announced to the friends and family we had invited that we were going to open 100 stores. Our dad was dubious; maybe one store each, he predicted. That was in 1995. Today we have 108 stores and over 500,000 sqare feet of retail space.
As we grew the business and grew up ourselves, we experienced our fair share of growing pains. To move past them, we did not rely on confidence and determination alone; we also sought more formal opportunities to learn. In 2000, for example, our company was growing fast, and we decided we needed to educate ourselves more about running a business, so we enrolled in IPADE Business School, in Mexico. We completed their management program, one year apart from each other.
In 2012 we again felt we had more to learn, so we applied and went to Harvard Business School, me starting in 2012 and Carlo in 2013. We have come to firmly believe that we can’t stop learning – there is no end to learning in this story.
Since the beginning we dreamed big; we visualized ourselves as very successful entrepreneurs. Despite the many obstacles we faced, we always believed we would make it happen.
Over time, our purpose settled into what it is today: to inspire and empower people to unleash their potential and accomplish stretch goals. We ourselves have managed to accomplish something no one thought we could. We hope to inspire others with our contagious passion because we have learned that, when united around a shared purpose, the potential for impact grows exponentially.