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Meet Kelsey Searles of MiliMili in North Hollywood

Today we’d like to introduce you to Kelsey Searles.

Kelsey, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
I graduated USC with a degree in Business Entrepreneurship – knowing that someday I’d want to start my own company. Doing what? Who knew. But coming from parents who both owned their own businesses, it always felt natural to follow the same path.

During and after college I had worked for a couple highly regarded interior design and architecture firms as a project manager – helping to design homes around the country for high net worth individuals (think Texas oil money, Hollywood Producers, and Goldman Sachs execs.) And I loved the work but was less enthused with the business side of it all (often these incredibly talented artists I worked for had less conventional ways of doing business and handling finances, that didn’t jive with my business degree.) So after exploring a bunch of different career directions, I decided to make a huge change and get into technology doing sales and account management.

But through eight years of doing that successfully, I always found myself drawn back to the project management and design pieces of my job (the perks of working for a small business was I could interject myself in whatever projects popped up – from managing our website relaunch to developing our marketing plans.) My desire to further explore these areas of interest really caught fire after having my first kid, Remy, in 2017. I was desperate for something to challenge me creatively and strategically. If was going to spend hours away from my daughter each day, I wanted to do something I was proud of and passionate about.

Enter the perfect birthday gift for Remy’s 1st birthday – a sleep sack in a flamingo print, hand made by a close friend – Rose. Rose is one of those Jane of all trades types – she has built her own furniture, has degrees from UCLA and Harvard in costume design and acting, is an accomplished photographer, and can do just about anything in the creative sphere. The cool thing about the gift she made me was that there was nothing like it on the market – sure there were lots of sleep sacks, but nothing fun like this one. Everything was so babyish. When I had been decorating my daughter’s nursery (which, let’s be frank, was really just a room I got to design for myself) – I found myself bombarded by pastels, baby elephants, neutrals and stars. And that’s just not my style. I love color and I love print and I’m less than enthused by baby bunnies everywhere. And this gift fit my vibe pretty well. So after a ton of research, and a big personal investment on both of our parts, Rose and I decided to start a business together making sleep sacks and other nursery items in fun bold prints. Enter: MiliMili – creating cribwear and nursery goods, with style.

We’re one year in now – having soft-launched last December, with our full launch this last July. We have done this all the while keeping part-time day jobs, Rose having her first baby, and me having my 2nd (due in December.)

It has been an incredible experience in learning – and we’ve been drinking from the fire hose learning about the production process, managing factories, children’s product regulations, eCommerce via social media, Facebook and Google ads, SEO and CTAs. Neither of us have been in product development before. But we both have a strong sense of style and a creative eye. Plus my Type A, ultra-organized, project management and sales-focused personality is the yin to Rose’s insanely creative and skilled yang.

And though its a ton of late hours and hard work – it’s all work I enjoy and am proud to do.

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?
Ha, in short no.

In the past 12 months, we struggled to find a manufacturer and have already fired our first factory. In fact, we had to send Rose in to train our current factory seamstresses on how to sew things correctly, and we’re still working out kinks in that area. We have had product launches go well, and then we’ve had some small ones that just tanked. We’ve invested heavily in this ourselves and have a huge mountain to climb still, but each set back is a lesson. We just need to make sure we have enough cash flow going so that we can learn from those lessons and improve each day!

I also think our working relationship has taken, well, work. We have two very different ways of working and approaching projects. But with time we are always learning and adapting to each other’s styles and processes (In fact, Rose once mentioned that my work style is very similar to that of her husband, Dylan. Which is why she thinks the two of them, and the two of us, work well together.

(Side note: Dylan was one of my closest friends in college, and how I know Rose.)

So let’s switch gears a bit and go into the MiliMili story. Tell us more about the business.
MiliMili is a cribwear and nursery goods line, that creates colorful, stylish and incredibly soft products for baby and mama. Our hero product is the sleep sack – a wearable baby blanket that meets safe-sleep guidelines for babies under 18 months. It’s colorful, it’s fun, and it feels like the softest t-shirt in your closet. Plus, because we use bamboo fabric, our sleep sacks and accessory goods are all naturally hypo-allergenic and anti-microbial.

All our products are made here in Los Angeles, and one of our goals as a company is to create zero waste (a big accomplishment in such a wasteful industry!) In this effort, we maximize our patterns and retrieve every last fabric scrap from our cut house – to create all sorts of fun luxurious small goods for baby and mama (eye masks, teethers, scrunchies, sheets, etc..) These smaller goods are handmade by local Valley mamas who are looking for flexible ways to bring in extra income for their families.

Those fabric pieces that are too small to be made into something useful, are used for pillow filler, braided rugs and other marketing projects and items for our pop up shops. In fact, this week I was working on prototype of a mobile to hang over a crib – using some of the really tiny fabric pieces from our Kauai One production.

We haven’t thrown any fabric away yet!

Has luck played a meaningful role in your life and business?
I’m sure quite a bit – being born into a family with a mom who was a successful entrepreneur was definitely a lucky roll of the gene dice. I never felt like I couldn’t do something because of my gender, and I know that is not the typical feeling or experience for women. So I’m very very lucky for that.

I’m also lucky to have met so many amazing friends when in college at USC, who all went on to be accomplished in their own careers – and then ever so generously helped Rose and I start up this business. When we started it we kept saying ‘if we fail at this, it’s on us’ because who else is great friends with patent/trademark attorneys, start-up entrepreneurs, baby product development specialists, large-scale manufacturing managers, and digital marketing directors? It was the perfect storm of friends to create a business in this space and we are forever grateful for all their advice and help getting us started.

Pricing:

  • MiliMili Wearable Baby Blankets: $44-$49
  • MiliMili Butter Soft Crib Sheets: $40
  • MiliMili Power Nap Eye Masks: $18

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
For the photos of Rose + Myself against the colorful walls credit Jamie Brown Photography. All other photos were taken in-house.

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