Mien Studios' Designer On the Secret to Running a Successful Crowdsourcing Campaign
Photos: Rebecca Cefai/Mien Studios
Like many entrepreneurial creatives, Lisa Hsieh discovered that there was something missing in the fashion market and decided to fill the void herself. That's how Mien Studios, her cool line of unisex mama-and-me clothing, was born. Although there were plenty of "matchy matchy" options for mothers and daughters, the Fashion Mamas LA member noticed that it was a challenge to find mom-and-son options that were flattering, chic, and made mindfully.
And like many other independent designers, the Long Beach-based talent wanted to grow her business — but she didn't have the same backing as a Silicon Valley startup. For Hsieh, creating a crowdsourced funding campaign via Kickstarter wasn't just a way to help Mien Studios expand. It was also a way to see what her customers really wanted — without having to design and manufacture inventory and then see what styles and colors were left over.
We sat down with Hsieh to find out more about what inspired her to start her brand (while pregnant with her first child, no less), how motherhood guides her business decisions, the key lessons she learned during her fundraising journey, and what it really takes to run a successful crowdsourcing campaign. Read on below to find out more and shop Mien Studios (which is donating all proceeds to nonprofit organization RAICES for the rest of June) online here.
What's the name and age of your little one?
I have a 2-and-a-half-year-old son named Greysen. He's the light of my life.
Tell us about your career journey: How'd you go from designing for other brands to starting Mien Studios?
I've been an apparel designer for 13 years now. It was a dream to have my own clothing line, but really, I have to attribute my decision to start my own business on the fact that I didn't want to give up my work and my freedom just because I wanted to become a mom. I ended up with two difficult choices, I either work for other fashion brands and contend with its fast-paced work schedule and the daily grueling commute, or I take on the daunting challenge of entrepreneurship.
The first choice meant my husband and I will need full-time childcare for our son, which meant neither one of us will see much of him everyday, not to mention the cost of having a full-time nanny. The second, and I joke, is the illogical choice which is for me to go all-in and launch a new business, while I was pregnant I might add. It's risky, but it meant I could have full control of my time, I could work from home and not miss those special moments while raising my child.
As an apparel designer, I also wanted to fill a gap I found in the marketplace and offer a complete collection of mommy-and-me clothes not just for girl moms but also for boy moms like me. There is only a short window of time we can have fun coordinating outfits with our little ones before they protest and I wanted something that was not gimmicky or too fussy, essentially something that I wouldn't be embarrassed to wear out on my own without my little one by my side, so Mien became a mommy-and-me line with simple, modern designs. Being a mother myself, having my own platform where I can utilize my skills in clothing design to dress other mamas and little ones has been very rewarding.
How did being a mother-to-be inspire the creation of your brand?
Before I became a mother, I dressed for the sake of fashion. I had a higher tolerance for semi-uncomfortable clothing and could put up with frill and fluff as long as the outfit looked good. Since becoming a mother, I still love fashion — it's my bread and butter after all, but I have become very no-nonsense and very attuned to how a piece of clothing should feel on me because I'm constantly on the run now. I also want healthier for us, better quality clothing for myself and my child, and with more publications revealing how polluting and unethical the apparel industry can be, I wanted to do better. So with my clothing line, I took steps to be as responsible and conscientious as I can with how I produce my designs and run my business.
How has motherhood influenced your business decisions?
I stand by three principles in every design I create: Practicality, quality, and beauty. Motherhood has really showed me how little time and mental capacity I have left to deal with frivolous things. So when it comes to clothing, I need it to really work for me in the sense that it needs to be easy to wear, it needs to look and feel amazing on, it needs to be made by people who are not exploited, and be made from materials that are better for us and our planet.
The same is true for my child's clothing. I always chose natural fibers, but a little stretch in the fabric I find goes a very long way with its longevity and durability and having something last longer is important too. So I work with a local fabric mill to create a custom, luxuriously thick GOTS Certified Organic stretch cotton fabric to create the core styles in my line. The entire collection is also locally dyed in low-impact dyes that don't require toxic binding agents and use less water. I take cues and inspiration from my life as a mama and also from my rambunctious toddler to create my designs.
That means my entire collection has to be flattering for us, adorable on our children, super soft and comfortable to wear, without forgetting the finer details such as making everything pre-shrunk and machine washable — no trips to the dry cleaners required. These are details I appreciate and make my life easier, so they will always be included in my designs for my customers.
Who or what inspires your designs?
I was trained in classical drawing and painting since I was a child and graduated with a fine art degree so art is where I will always draw inspiration from. Of course, for instant gratification, Instagram makes it very easy to see what's trending and what people are drawn to. No amount of iPhone scrolling, however, can compare to an actual stroll through a museum or even a walk in nature to clear my head and spark new ideas.
Lately, traveling has been especially rejuvenating, more importantly, it allows me to relax because running a relatively new business by myself while being a mom means I'm constantly juggling tasks and what feels like an endless to-do list everyday. Packing up and getting away, even for a night, allows me to reset my mind. For the past few years, I've also been fascinated by documentaries on renowned culinary chefs. Their many trials and tribulations, combined with that unrelenting will to seek perfection in their craft are what's underneath the seemingly easy, glamorous triumph and accolades. Documentaries like these reveal the true grit that success requires.
Where I am now with my own entrepreneurial and artistic aspirations, I find their experiences and creative spirit endlessly inspiring and motivating. My bicultural upbringing also plays a part in my design process. I was born and raised in Taiwan and my family didn't permanently settle here in the U.S. until I was 16 so my Asian cultural background and its more simple, clean design aesthetic definitely comes through in my work as well.
As an independent designer, how have you seen the fashion industry change?
There is the undeniable, growing demand for companies to be more transparent and responsible, not just environmentally but ethically as well. Manufacturing practices aside, I absolutely see a paradigm shift happening in the way consumers spend their money. The more brand name-driven consumers from ten years ago have gradually become more process and story-driven as they make their decisions on which company or brand to buy from.
My own customers are thoughtful consumers and I've been very open from the start that my line is not a corporate brand, it's just me, a busy mom running the show, answering their emails, packing their orders. Being so honest about how small my line is made me feel vulnerable at first. After all, fashion is all about the image we project and I had the lingering concern that customers would much rather align with a bigger, more well-known brand rather than a startup.
To my surprise and delight, over time people have gotten to know my work and followed along because they appreciate my creative ethos and want to support ethical and local manufacturing. I'd like to think that I've also gained their trust by being very open about how I built and run my business, by sharing my creative process and remaining accessible to them through social media and in-person popup events. The market today is so hyper competitive that it's impossible for an indie brand like mine to compete with giant apparel behemoths with a six-figure marketing budget targeting 90% of the market — and quite frankly, I have no desire to compromise my work in order to capture that huge chunk of the pie. I just want to make connections with the few women, and men, who believe in what I do and love what I offer.
My customers value meaningful connections with the brand that created the clothes that they and their loved ones are wearing, I just need to find them. Once I do, we bond through the shared experience of navigating parenthood, strengthened by the mutual love and appreciation for beautiful, well-made things.
What inspired you to start a crowdsourcing campaign?
Crowdsourcing was a very direct way for me to connect to customers, existing and new. It's a way for me to get feedback on whether or not an idea was viable and desired. For me, I had to run production on my sold-out styles and produce new styles no matter what but I was curious if my customers wanted more color choices in their favorite pieces and also wanted to know if a new design will be well-liked so I ran a Kickstarter for the first time. Also, the added benefit of a potentially successful campaign meant I can place a larger order with my local small factories, which helps keep them busy and is something they always appreciate.
So I created a behind-the-scene video with the help of my videographer friend to show potential backers where and how I manufacture, offered an exciting palette of color choices while expanding my size range, and left the rest to them. Some people may think that a company turns to crowdsourcing because they are either financially struggling or don't have the funds to support their next project. I find that quite untrue, at least for my business that is not the case at all. I ran this crowdsourcing campaign to make connections and essentially run this huge survey that takes the time span of 29 days to collect valuable data directly from my customers. Kickstarter's value is in its delivery of the customer's "want" right into my lap.
I now know that my customers love having lots of different colors in their favorite styles. My shoppers have and will buy three colors all in the same style just because they love it. Without a campaign like this, I can only guess, and feel trepidatious to pull the plug on offering as many as eight colors in one production run. My Kickstarter result is direct and clear, because if what I am proposing to my customers is valuable and wanted, it will be funded — and luckily it was and even went over my initial goal. It was the green light I needed to move forward confidently.
What did you learn from running your Kickstarter, and what's your advice for other designers/business owners who want to run a successful crowdfunding campaign?
Spread the word early, at least a month before you launch. Start giving out hints of it beforehand and don't stop sharing your project until the day it ends. I tend to be on the polite side and hate bothering people by flooding their feed with my constant droning on about my Kickstarter so I saved the big push near the end. In hindsight, I wish I had continuously shared and reminded everyone to place their pledges throughout my campaign because I can't tell you how many customers, friends, and family members told me after my campaign ended that they missed the cutoff date!
Consistency is key, but change your message up. Share snippets and highlights of your campaign day-to-day rather than copying and pasting the same generic summary over and over again. I also looked at my campaign details every single day. For the first week, I was going through my page with a fine-toothed comb, constantly adjusting my wording, the graphics, and the layout to make my message clear.
The biggest issue I ran into, which is something that is unfortunately out of our control, is that Kickstarter only allows the backer to back one reward in one pledge. Since I offered clothing and most people wanted to select multiple items but were allowed to check out with just one, I had to constantly answer questions about that and remind backers how to pledge on social media, which finally led to me creating a graphic diagram to show them how to include multiple rewards in their final pledge amount. It was tedious but had to be done. So keep an eye on how backers are doing once the project goes live, make sure you're getting the best pledge amount with every backer. They want to support you, so help make that process as easy as possible.