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Life and Work with Lisa Hsieh

 

Today we’d like to introduce you to Lisa Hsieh.

So, before we jump into specific questions about the business, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
I was born and raised in Taiwan, with progressive parents that allowed my younger sisters and I to pursue our individual interests, which back then in an academically driven community they were a rarity, but of course, we did our part in keeping good grades. My mother was very artistic and hardworking, she influenced me greatly. Outside of her day job as an office manager for my grandfather’s business, she became a sculptor in her own right. That means growing up I watched her juggle a busy career, three children, housework, all the while maintaining her art life and staying creative. I didn’t realize her influence on me then, but now that I’m older, I’m becoming more like her and I feel very lucky.
We settled in the U.S. when I was 16. Being a fashion designer was a childhood dream. After I graduated UC San Diego with an art degree, I got myself an internship and worked my way up to a designer at a premium denim brand. I then moved on to designing for small indie clothing startups, a couture eveningwear atelier, and various other labels in Los Angeles. The apparel industry is notoriously difficult and fast-paced but it trained me to be more tenacious. My 14 years of experience in the apparel industry definitely prepared me to start Mien. I first launched my brand as a menswear and womenswear line. But soon after I launched, I gave birth to my first child and had to take a break to adapt to motherhood. When I came back, I had a brand-new perspective as a designer. I saw a need in the marketplace for very well made, comfortable, and flattering clothes that women like myself in all stages of motherhood could wear. And to complete the idea, I added childrenswear for a new take on modern mommy & me dressing. The concept took off, and I never looked back.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
Everyday can be a challenge as a business owner, especially when compounded with the duties of parenthood. It seems the odds are stacked against me. It’s taboo to talk about money, but for a small business like mine that is self-funded, the truth is that every day is a reality check with what I am putting my family through to fulfill my dream. In order to work on my business, I send my son to our nanny’s place and childcare is expensive. That would be fine if I am able to make an income from my business but at this stage of my startup, every penny I make I reinvest back into it. But this sacrifice is worthwhile and I believe in it, especially when my customers come back to shop again and again because they love the line. For my collection, I created a more time-consuming and expensive production process, but one that produces garments that meets my standards. I pay the local workers I partner with – from the sewers, to the dye house artisans, to my fabric makers – all very well. There are no shortcuts, I am there every step of the way and even ship every order myself right now. But this means my daily schedule can be daunting and I sometimes wear myself very thin. I hear “self-care” being touted so much nowadays and how important it is, when for me most days, after long hours checking on production, packing orders, doing admin, marketing, all-day popups on weekends and holidays, and then taking care of my toddler son, I can barely catch my breath. I don’t know how to balance that: entrepreneurship/motherhood/and self-care. On top of everything, my husband, family and friends are very important to me so I want to maintain these relationships. To juggle all of these things, grow my business, and for the sake of my health, get a workout in at the end of a day? It’s a challenge for sure, but with everyday life I don’t strive for perfection. As long as eveyrone is healthy and happy, I’m good with that.

Please tell us about Mien.
As challenging as entrepreneurship is, I do love my work. As an artist and designer, seeing others enjoy my creations is a great source of fulfillment and happiness for me. More than just to create a brand, I genuinely want to use my skillset and life experiences to solve a problem for modern mothers and women in general who are like me. I put a lot of thought and care into the designs and the production of Mien, so the moment a customer puts my garment on, it all makes sense to her – it’s easy, comfortable, and she feels beautiful in it. At the beginning, I had to solve a lot of problems. For example, I couldn’t find the fabric on the market that I wanted so I had it custom knit for me at a local fabric mill. Not satisfied with off-the-rack fabric colors, I work with my favorite local dye house who uses safe dyes to dye my fabric in custom colors I’ve designed. When the samples for new designs are made, I wear them myself and put my son in the childrenswear samples, and we live our life in them for a little while and see how they hold up. This way, I know that my designs are not only good-looking, but practical and can keep up with busy lives. I try not to let any detail slip by, I do strive for perfection, all the while keeping my price points as low as possible as a responsible, ethical, and sustainable brand. I hope this all comes through when a customer finally has her hands on Mien’s pieces.

Often it feels as if the media, by and large, is only focused on the obstacles faced by women, but we feel it’s important to also look for the opportunities. In your view, are there opportunities that you see that women are particularly well positioned for?
I constantly look to my circle of inspiring and tenacious women makers and creatives for strength. I am fortunate that my small group of great friends are very accomplished in their own right but they are without airs, so down to earth, loving, giving, and more importantly, real. We mutually support each other any way we can. I find it incredibly important that we as women, business owners, artists, and designers, give each other opportunities and help lift each other up because society in general doesn’t give women the same stage presence as men.

But in the same breath, I don’t think this means we make ourselves readily available and absolutely accessible to everyone who wants something from us at all times. I used to do that, but not anymore because I’ve realized that I can’t. I think as women, we fall into the trap of thinking that we need to be everything to everyone because we don’t want to disappoint or come off as mean, but if we say yes to everything, we put our own well-being dead last. If we can’t keep ourselves standing at the end of the day, everyone else who relies on us will fall down with us too. We are responsible to find our own tribe, those kindred spirits who understand us and lend a hand in return as well. Then together, we create opportunities for ourselves, encourage and share each other’s good work to the rest of the world whenever we can. Until the male-dominate world catches up, we are our own best and most ardent advocates. When the world tells us there’s no room for us as women, especially as mothers, because we are somehow too emotional, too weak, too tired and incapable to make tough business decisions for ourselves while supporting our families, you can bet my friends and I will prove them wrong, time and time again.

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Image Credit:
Rebekkah Cefai

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