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Meet Ernesto Baldonado of Product of La and Pinnacle Monogram

Today we’d like to introduce you to Ernesto Baldonado.

Ernesto, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
It all started in 1989 when I got my first job in Del Amo Mall at a store called Dejaiz. It was a large retail chain with over 500+ stores across the US. We sold hip and cool men’s apparel. The first to sell iconic Hip Hop brands like Cross Colours, Karl Kani, Girbaud, and Guess. It was the hippest place to be. I remember if you were a Rapper, an Actor or a Major Athlete, you came to our shop. I think I was 15 1/2 when I first started. I was a really shy kid and didn’t dress well but the two managers that interviewed me really took a liking to my persistence and determination. They both grilled me during my interview on a bench right outside of the store. They hired me on the spot and that is where my retail career began.

Being in commission sales it was always a do or die environment. I quickly learned how to really sell the product. I learned to be a smooth talker and was told I could sell ice to an eskimo. Till this day, you can give me anything and I’ll make it seem like it was something you needed and couldn’t live without. I moved up the ranks becoming a manager at the ripe age of 18. I worked in about 10 stores across the South Bay and OC. Some of which included Del Amo Fashion Center, South Bay Galleria, Lakewood Mall, Westside Pavillion, Topanga Plaza, Cerritos Mall, Santa Ana Main Place, and Westminster Mall. Yup and that’s for one company. I worked for them for seven years. I left due to the company going Bankrupt, which eventually resulted in closing.

I moved on and got a Job for a men’s clothing company called Structure which was owned by the Limited Corp. Structure was a lot more fancier and sold upscale men’s clothing. I eventually ended up being the Store Manager at the Beverly Center. After four years, I decided to leave in 2000. Leaving Structure resulted in getting a much bigger gig at The Gap in the South Bay where I worked as an HR manager and eventually was forced into doing Visuals (my hidden talent that I did amazing at Structure and Dejaiz too) I worked at The Gap in Manhattan Beach, Pasadena and then Glendale Galleria. YUP I know you’re thinking, “is there a Mall that this guy hasn’t worked at?” LOL. I had the BEST time perfecting my Managerial and Visual Skillset.

After doing a few store openings, I found that Visuals was my passion and my innate talent. Fast forward ten years of working at the Gap, I began to get stir crazy. I decided to explore open positions in the industry to see what opportunities were out there. While researching on a website the first job that popped up was a Nike requisition. The position was for a new Nike store opening at Santa Monica Place (they literally tore down the mall and rebuilt it.) The job was for a Visual manager for a concept store that Nike was Grand Opening for the entire fleet. After three long interviews, I was hired. Nike Santa Monica was the first brand experience global store and it was a tremendous honor being hired for this once in a lifetime opportunity.

Needless to say, I spent the BEST eight years of my life working for this amazing company that literally teaches you everything from marketing to customer experience. After a long year of showcasing my skills, I was selected to be part of a “Go Team” that opened Nike stores across the United States. Some of the stores I opened were San Francisco, The Grove, George Town DC, Chicago, Pasadena, and Santa Monica. Nike really taught me how to be a true business owner, from branding to consumer insight and product trends. The team was trained to be the masters of our own craft. What I didn’t know was that a restless spirit in me would be birthed from all this exposure from this amazing Fortune 500 company.

Now here is where the story explains how I decided to start my own brand. One day while scrolling IG, I noticed a lot of up and coming brands as well as a few of my friends following their passion. I found myself doing a lot of critiquing (something I was so used to because you had to have a critical eye when you’re doing weekly walkthroughs with corporate partners – you always had to be on your A-game.) I thought to myself, “Wait these people are actually following your dreams.” You need to put your money where your mouth is and do something for yourself. That is when I thought long and hard as to what I would actually sell if I started my own business. I then decided I would begin with creating my own line of hats.

There was a common thread of inspiration that I saw. I noticed that almost all of my friends had that one go-to hat that they loved and wore all the time, but I never had that one hat. After getting the blessing from my employer, I started my hat brand called “Pinnacle Monogram.” My mantra would be about “making it yours” and “making it personal”.

I designed and launched two hats and called them “Lily Murdah” and “Solidarity.” I created some dope packaging as part of the whole customer experience. The packaging was more than a hat in a box, it included thank you cards, monogrammed tissue paper, branded stickers, and hat tags. I wanted to make it special.

I had my first Pop Up event at Product of La. It was a successful event and the turnout was amazing. It literally did better than I would have ever expected.  I was actually praying to break even (about $400 to cover all the costs) but at the end of the day I looked at what I made and it turned out to be about $4000. From that point I knew I had something that was undeniable.

Pinnacle Monogram was doing well and after a year and a half, it grew to a point where I had to make a choice to either stay with Nike or pursue my dream of growing my brand full-time. I didn’t want to end up thinking I made the wrong choice ten years later. Regret was something I was not willing to chance so I decided to leave Nike after eight years and pursue my brand. I took a leap of faith without having a game plan. I literally took my last paycheck with some vacation hours and took the leap. I didn’t really think about how I was going to sustain living on my own without a steady income.

This was crazy for me because I’m a very planned out type of person and am usually super scared of change. This was definitely out of character for me. Product of LA is owned by Javier Bandera, who coincidentally worked with me at Nike when we first opened up in 2010. He left Nike a few years after opening and went to Design School and got his Bachelor’s Degree in Graphic Design. He had also taken the leap of faith in starting Product of LA 2016.

I chatted with friends to get some advice on what I can do to generate some income. Some suggestions included doing Visual Freelance, selling product to small shops and doing consignment. I wasn’t really sure on what to do but all I knew was that I need a place to sell my product.

Of course Product of LA was the first place I went to. My vision was to sell my product in Javi’s shop using a four-foot wall space to display my product. I sat with Javi and told him my plan, which included me offering my services to maintain his retail space. He told me that he would have to think about it but shortly after he welcomed me into the space and the rest was history.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
Taking a leap of faith was the biggest decision I had to make in my life. I am a creature of habit and change is the hardest thing to adapt to. I was making great money and loved what I did at Nike and knew that I could have a great future with them.

More importantly, I established some amazing relationships with many people at Nike. It was super hard to leave all that behind, but I knew that I was destined to do something amazing with the skills and retail experience that I had gained over my 29 years working in retail. I knew that I had the potential to make it. I could not have made it without all the support of my friends and family.

People always ask me what have I learned from “all this.” What I learned is that change is inevitable. Your biggest risks in life will be the most fruitful. Trust the process and you’ll know when it’s the right time and place to take the jump. Lastly, no matter what age you are, you’re never too old to take a chance. The biggest regret is looking back and regretting something. I feel that our doubt is our biggest roadblock.

So, as you know, we’re impressed with Product of LA and Pinnacle Monogram – tell our readers more, for example, what you’re most proud of as a company and what sets you apart from others.
Product of LA is a shop where you can customize your own apparel and footwear. It’s a space where up and coming brands come to start their samples and product lines. It’s also a space where people come together to think creatively. A hub for creative minds and entrepreneurs and also a place where you can get one of a kind apparel/footwear pieces custom made just for you.

Helping out in the space for a month really gave me the chance to realize what an amazing space Javi created and all the amazing potential the shop has to grow. It also gave me a whole bunch of ideas on how we could build and grow the retail space together. Our goal is to create a retail space where we can create and sell Product of LA apparel made specifically for the shop. Our goal is to also provide a portfolio of services (screen printing services, embroidery services, etc) for our current and future customers that are creating their own brands.

Currently, we’ve created a retail space where we host monthly Pop Up events for up and coming brands. We wanted to create something special everyone – An actual retail space to hang product and have access to mannequins and fixturing that you wouldn’t normally see at an average pop up event where you’re just given a table and a table cloth.

So, what’s next? Any big plans?
My first project outside of just hats for Pinnacle Monogram was my Angeleno Sweatshirt Collection. It all started after having many conversations at social gatherings with my friends – Many of them transplants from different states trying to make it in LA and very few LA natives.

I always found myself being the HypeMan for LA and having to promote the Natives and the true essence of LA culture. I thought to myself, “I should make sweatshirts that said “Native” and “Transplants.” Javi was quick and ready to help me design this collection. After the first samples which I loved, it made me realize that I needed to expand.

As a true native of LA and knowing the diversity of our culture here, I needed something in true LA fashion that would be inclusive to everyone. Thus the birth of “Angeleno” which by definition means a Native or Inhabitant of LA.

Angeleno Sweatshirts have been in high demand since its first launch and hasn’t slowed down. Currently, Angeleno will be sold in Product of LA and continue to make it’s mark in the shop as an iconic piece.

Future plans for Product of LA would be to move into a bigger space. We are growing at a fast pace and with all the amazing projects that we have been working on, it will most likely require us to be in a bigger spot. We would love to eventually move to DTLA. We feel it would better serve our customers and give us exposure to its’ fast and growing marketplace.

We are also currently working on designing and creating merchandise for Product of LA with inspiration behind the many areas, cultures, and fashions of LA.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Travis Geter IG Travisgeterphoto

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