Merci Bisous' Founder On How She Turned Her Online Business Into A Successful IRL Shop
Photos: Charlotte Vinciguerra
Americans are often intrigued by the je ne sais quois that the French seem to possess in every facet of life, including their approach to parenting and dressing. For For Charlotte Vinciguerra, the U.S.' relaxed lifestyle was equally enchanting, which is why she and her husband Mathieu jumped at the chance to relocate from Paris to New York shortly before their son, Lino, was born. Although she thrived in the change of scenery, Vinciguerra still wanted to enjoy the best of both cultures when it came to her son's nursery and wardrobe, which is exactly how Merci Bisous was born.
Unable to find her favorite French kids clothing and toy brands in the states, the Fashion Mamas New York member created the charming online shop to help American parents find goods from labels like Moon & Miel, Petit Bauteau, Moulin Roty, and Mimi'Lou sans the international shipping costs. Francophiles can also experience Merci Bisous' chic merch IRL, too: In addition to bringing its chic inventory to French-American café/bakery/market Marché Maman in Soho, the e-tailer will soon debut at the cafe chain's location in Tribeca.
Here, Vinciguerra shares the challenges she faced building a business while pregnant, what she didn't expect about immigrating to the U.S., what she loves about raising a child in French and American cultures, and the "magic formula" to creating a successful business (hint: there is none, but Oscar Wilde has some wise words, she says). Read on below for more, then shop Merci Bisous online or in New York at Marché Maman (239 Centre St.)
What are the names of your family members and age of your kid?
My husband's name is Mathieu, and my son is Lino. He will soon be 18 months old. We have a little dog called Jeannette and a cat called Monsieur Stewart.
In a nutshell, tell us about your career journey: What led you to where you are today?
I started my career as an expert in 20th century decorative arts and vintage fashion. I was working in a auction house in Paris; it was a very interesting and fulfilling experience! I was also guiding cool tours of the main Paris flea markets to help my customers buying vintage accessories or decor.
When we moved to New York, I decided to create my own company. When I was pregnant with Lino, I couldn't find what I wanted in the American market so I decided to bring all the cute brands that I love from France and sell them here. This is how Merci Bisous became my first baby!
What were some of the challenges that you faced building a business while pregnant?
Creating Merci Bisous at that time was a very positive factor. My pregnancy was an inspiration, it allowed me to put myself in my customers' shoes. I identified a need as an expecting mother and created my own solution. Knowing that I would soon have a baby to take care of, it was also the opportunity to build a tailor-made business. It was essential to be able to work from home most of the time, and to have a very flexible schedule.
However, I was so excited to have a little one soon that it was sometimes difficult to focus on the company, I just wanted to spend my days decorating the perfect nursery and reading everything about babies.
We'd love to know more about your immigration journey. What brought you to the U.S. initially, and what challenges did you face?
Mathieu and I were living in Paris and loved it, but it was the right time for us to experience something new. He started to look for a job abroad, and had a good opportunity at DDB New York, an advertising agency. I immediately felt good in this city, I enjoyed discovering the culture, and I had a lot of fun resettling us. Our biggest challenge was definitely the paperwork! Especially since, at this moment, my visa didn't allow me to get a work permit.
What were your expectations of raising children in the U.S. vs. in France? Did you envision a specific "American Dream"?
I was very excited to have my first baby in the U.S. It is an incredible gift for a kid to grow up in a multicultural environment, to get to speak two languages... And let's say it, being born in New York is pretty cool, right?! My pregnancy was a good experience: I was surrounded with very helpful and supportive people, especially my husband. I think that New York is very adapted to children and families, there are many activities to do and nice places to hang out. We even created a [book and] digital "Cool parents' guide to New York" in collaboration with Pathport and written by my fellow Fashion Mamas New York member [and Little Kin Journal author] Kat Houe Maric.
As far as raising kids, what do you think American parents can learn from the French lifestyle, and vice versa?
To me, the perfect education is right in the middle of the American and the French ones. I am always very impressed (and a little jealous) to see how American people can be confident. They have so much fluency in public, they are not paralyzed by the fear of failure and they are very positive. I observe lots of parents/caregivers/teachers encouraging the kids all the time, and inviting them to express themselves through speech, activities, and even the way they dress. To a certain degree, it clearly has a beneficial impact on children who turn into bolder adults.
On the other hand, I am still very attached to the French education, which is slightly more rigorous. For example, a kid can not interrupt an adult, he has to wait until the end of the phrase or even the discussion.
What do you miss most about living in France, and what do you love about living/having a family in NYC?
Having a kid in New York made us realize that being far from our family and friends was difficult. Our entourage is definitely what we miss the most. Obviously, we also miss affordable daycare and free education! But I love the energy that emanates from New York, there is a very positive mood here and it feels good. Last but not least, we made very dear friends, who are living the same expat experience than us and it means a lot.
You have an IRL shop in Soho's Marché Maman. What's your best advice to other entrepreneurs who wish to follow a similar path?
Yes indeed, I had the amazing opportunity to open a corner space at Marché Maman in Soho and honestly, it's a pleasure to work with them. In fact, we are planning the opening of a new Merci Bisous corner at Maman Tribeca very soon. I definitely feel like being online and IRL is complementary. The website costs less in fixed fees but the shop allows you to meet your customers and learn more about them.
The advice that I would like to share is to only sell products that you love and that you would personally purchase. If you don't like what you are selling, no one will buy it. Oscar Wilde said, "Be yourself, everyone else is already taken." It is same in business, there is no magic formula, so do it your way!