Meet: Lisa Hsieh
MEET: LISA HSIEH
MIEN - OWNER/DESIGNER
A: Tell me about yourself!
L: I'm Lisa Hsieh. I'm a clothing designer and mother to a toddler boy. My husband, Greysen, our dog Winston, and I live in the very supportive community of Long Beach a couple miles from the ocean. I design a collection of minimal, modern, and comfortable mommy & me clothing called Mien.
A: Why did you start Mien and what does it mean?
L: I started Mien because I love fashion. It started with barbie dolls when I was a little girl, their outfits were a luxury so I would stitch clothes for them out of scrap fabric. Paper dolls were another favorite so I would draw and cut out my own to share with my two sisters. I would also sketch dresses and outfit designs which my elementary classmates would collect for fun but I got into constant trouble because I usually drew them in my homework pads. Being a fashion designer was my childhood dream but I also was pretty good at drawing and painting so I got a degree in Fine Art from UC San Diego then pursued a career in apparel design when I graduated. From getting coffee as an intern at fashion showrooms, to designing for various premium fashion lines in L.A., to now running an apparel line of my own, Mien is a culmination of all my past experiences. Undoubtedly, having a small business and managing everything by myself is a daunting task, not to mention all the responsibilities that also comes with being a mother. However, as exhausted as I can be, I am completely happy and satisfied with how far I've come. No matter what happens tomorrow, I'm so glad I had the courage to take the first step all those years ago to pursue my dreams.
A:What inspires you?
L: I definitely draw inspiration from my fine art training and background when it comes to creativity. I love watching documentaries about art movements, artists, and design-related topics. I have a small collection of books on fashion designers and artists. When it comes to designing my clothing line, I look to my life as a busy mom and create designs that are not only chic, but more importantly, practical and comfortable for other busy mamas and their rambunctious kids. When I have time, traveling is relaxing and helps me reset my mind. I've also been watching documentaries on famous chefs, I find their tenacity for achieving perfection and harmony in their craft inspiring too.
A: Where is your studio located? Can we get a little glimpse of where Mien operates?
L: Mien's studio is located in beautiful Long Beach, CA. Since my son is still little and my business is still relatively new, I choose to operate Mien from home so I can spend as much time as I can with him. My design studio is a small, sun-filled room in our house with big windows and one of them faces my neighbor's display of his prized, colorful cacti up against a pink wall; it's dreamy when they're in bloom. I do all of my designing and computer work in my haven of a workroom. Inventory is currently stored in our garage. When I ship orders, I pick up the sold products from the garage then pack up the orders in the studio while listening to my favorite Spotify playlists, which is usually stuck on my favorite, the relaxing Madeleine Peyroux or French Cafe Lounge stations.
A: Were you scared to start your own line, how long has it been running and have you already made profit?
L: I was definitely very aware of the risk I was taking and the predicament I was putting my husband and I in when I decided to start my own business, especially since we were expecting our first child while I was preparing to launch Mien. My worry was not of the amount of work or time that it would take me to be successful but instead I was afraid of how becoming a mother may affect my drive and day-to-day energy level. It takes an incredible amount of perseverance and stamina to run a business, especially in the early years. I didn't know what to expect of motherhood and how draining it could potentially be. To my relief, being a parent actually motivated me to work even harder. When my business launched in September 2015, I didn't have much time to promote or market it because I delivered my son soon after. Things got really crazy when caring for a young infant got thrown into the mix so I decided to take a year off and picked things up again after Grey turned one. Mien has been around for two years, including the year when I took time off. It's growing steadily and I do reinvest every penny I make back into the business so it can grow some more. I haven't written a myself paycheck yet but if I can keep working at this momentum and Mien continues to grow at the pace it is now, I'm confident that day will come soon.
A: Are you a one woman team or do you have a team, how do you manage everything does it get overwhelming?
L: I am a one woman team but the hope is to recruit other talented people in the near future to help with the workload. I do it all - design, photography, marketing, social media, customer service, shipping, and more - I do all this to save money, and because the business is still new, I'd like to be able to have full control of Mien's branding myself. As the business grows, things have definitely been changing. Recently, I hired an accountant which has been one of the best decisions ever. It's freed up so much time and it gives me peace of mind knowing that at least one aspect of running a business is being well taken care of. I also have a babysitter now that watches Grey in the afternoons so I can fully dedicate a few hours to Mien everyday. I'm fortunate that I can utilize my art background and graphic design skills to do many things my business needs, such as photoshoots (for product photos and social media content), graphic design (creating postcards, etc.), or putting together a website, but some days doing everything myself with no help can become very overwhelming. I work seven days a week, even late at night after my son goes to bed, and definitely on the weekends when my husband or grandparents can watch the baby. Come Summer and Holiday season, I have a packed calendar filled with popup events and craft market shows so it's nonstop work for me. Despite all of this, I'm pulling through because I have a great support system in my family and friends. They are always there to lend a hand or provide encouragements when I'm feeling stressed. It takes a village. So even though I work alone with the day-to-day operations of Mien, I have a group of people who are always there to help when I need them.
A: How did you find the best manufacture company who would work with small batch production?
L: I have a network of friends and people I've met in the apparel industry through the years that have been very kind to connect me with really wonderful factory owners that they trust. The L.A. fashion industry is very small and a person's reputation is everything. This business is extremely cutthroat so if you are nice, people remember you and will be open to share their connections.
A: What is your day like? How do you balance work/life?
L: My days start at 7am with baby Grey all up in my face babbling for his bottle of milk. He's my alarm clock. I get him a bottle of milk and glance at all my emails and do a quick update on Mien's social media before Grey is finished with the last few drops of milk. After that, my time is not mine and I'm all mommy duty. Some days, I do have to get on my computer to answer more urgent emails. The rest of the time, I'm playing with Grey and keeping him occupied until I take him to the babysitter's at noon. I can get in about 5 solid, uninterrupted hours of work in the afternoon everyday, but I also have to do things like get groceries, do laundry, prepare meals, and other errands. I then wrap up work in the afternoon and go to the gym before I have to pick up Grey. Once we get home, it's a frenzy of cooking dinner, cleaning up, bath time and then bedtime for Grey around 8:30. Once he's asleep, my husband and I have some quiet time to ourselves. We usually just crash on the couch, catch up on our day and watch an episode or two of our current favorite Netflix series then it's off to bed.
A: Tips on how to start your line and any tips you can give in the legal process? I know some people get freaked out about this.
L: Taking the first step is the hardest. It can be terrifying but having a realistic expectation of the chance of success and failure is crucial because it will help you make good decisions. Don't expect to make any steady income for the first 3-5 years. That means it's helpful to have a small nest egg or even a steady part-time job to help get through those first few years. What do you want to do with your business? What problem do you passionately want to help solve for your customers? For me, I've become increasingly more aware of how much waste we as a society produce so I choose to produce small batches using the best fabrics, such as GOTS certified organic cotton to make my clothes. I care about people, so I only work with ethical factories. Both the sewing house and dye house I choose to work are also women owned and managed, a rarity in the fashion business. At the end of the day, I'm doing what I love so my business doesn't feel like work.
The legal aspect of the business can be daunting. Registering is the first step and you want to make sure it's done right. Albeit tedious, it's not difficult and if you follow the steps to register your business yourself you can save a lot of money. The alternative would be online legal services, such as Legalzoom, which can do practically anything business-related for a fee. The internet can provide good answers to many questions related to starting a business. However, it's also worthwhile to find an attorney who specializes in corporate tax or corporate law for general inquiries that may come up; I found mine through a good friend. Just keep in mind, attorneys charge by the hour so the bills can add up. I registered my business myself but I did come across questions that I wanted his professional opinion on. I always list as many questions I can think of in one correspondence so my attorney can respond to each of them all in one email back to me - which saves time, which also means I save money. The same goes for phone calls with attorneys regarding business questions, make sure you're prepared.
A: Do you have a mentor or did you go to school?
L: I learned everything I know about the fashion business by working my way up and learning as much as I can along the way. What I've realized is that a learning moment can present itself at anytime. The key is to catch that moment, stop, and really listen. Don't act like a know-it-all, even if you do know a lot about something. Always be mindful and considerate of what you say, not only because you're dealing with business transactions but also because people judge someone's character by how well they can control their emotions, even when things go wrong - and in the clothing business, something inevitably will go wrong. I've been in the fashion industry for 12 years now and I'm still learning something new from time to time about this craft and business. There is always someone out there who knows more and can do even better, you just never know who that person can be. Be respectful, be humble, be nice. Genuine kindness and an open mind can go a long way. Of course, just because you are kind doesn't mean you are naive. Hold firm in what you believe in and you will receive the same amount of respect in return.
I don't have a mentor in the fashion business, per say, but I have made some great friends while working at other clothing brands that I still keep in touch with today. Outside of the industry, I rely on my family and friends for support and sage advice. Many of my friends are business owners themselves so they understand what I'm going through. Find your tribe and nurture it. I'm grateful for mine.
A: Where can we buy and see Mien?!
L: The easiest way to buy Mien is on the website, www.mienstudios.com. I also take part in really amazing and fun designer craft fairs such as Renegade Craft and Patchwork - I sell Mien there but also do my fair share of spending, there is SO MUCH good stuff at these craft fairs. I also do popup events - which means I set up shop inside popular brick and mortar stores. I just did a popup at a gorgeous local flower shop, Petals & Pop. The next one will be at a Instagram-favorite coffee shop, KIT, in Newport Beach, CA. I try to offer events to my customers that are beautiful and fun to attend. To keep track of Mien's whereabouts, see the "Events" page on the website, follow on Instagram @mienstudios, or sign up for our Newsletters.
A: Do you hope to expand Mien or keep it a small business?
L: Mien is small right now and I love it because it works for me at this stage in life. I'm starting to accept requests from boutiques who are interested in carrying the line so we'll see how that goes. If Mien expands, I want it to be done organically and not forced. Right now, I can still make direct connections to my customers, reply to their emails, interact with them on social media, and actually get to know some of them so I'm enjoying it fully while I can. I don't take anything for granted and am grateful for the love people have shown my brand.
A: What's next for Mien?
L: As much as I enjoy working from home, I also look forward to the day I move out of my home studio and move into a brick and mortar location somewhere with a retail/event space in the front and a warehouse-attached studio in the back. Community interaction is so important to me and having a space for people to gather and shop is a great way for me to get to know my customers because without them, there wouldn't be Mien.