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Meet Sonia Smith-Kang of Mixed Up Clothing in Downtown LA

Today we’d like to introduce you to Sonia Smith-Kang.

Sonia, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
The inspiration for Mixed Up Clothing came from my diverse multicultural background. I was born to an African-American father and Mexican-American mother on the island of Puerto Rico where we were based while my parents proudly served in the military. After Puerto Rico, my family was transferred to the Hawaiian island of O’ahu.

Today, I am married to my husband who is Korean-American and together, we have 4 children we call our “mini global citizens.”

Having multicultural children means we live a life of intention: providing them with an environment that fosters positive self-identity, celebrates their rich cultural heritage, surrounds them with books, music, movies, community, events, and art that reflect their cultural reality. We believe in an “if you can see it, you can be it” mentality because representation matters and we want them to see themselves in all aspects of life.

Diversity and inclusion are important and clothing and fashion is no exception. There are traditional garments my children would wear during special occasions that honor their cultures but I wanted them to have something they could wear in everyday life. I looked around and there was a white space in retail, so I designed outfits and sewed them myself.

I sourced fabrics and trims from all over the world and sewed them into fun, trendy pieces. Folks stopped me to compliment the clothing but, more importantly, wanting to learn about the cultures the fabric represented. We would be standing there in the grocery store or park talking about each other’s culture. It was at that moment that it hit me: I could create a children’s apparel brand that showcased different cultures and uses fashion as a vehicle to teach about multiculturalism.

I decided to take a leap of faith and leave 15 years as a critical care RN to become founder and designer of Mixed Up Clothing.

The company that was born out of necessity to make clothes for my children in a fun new way that celebrated cultural diversity has since become a movement for a growing multicultural community. Our mission to learn about one another and build friendships through fabric has quickly become the go-to brand reflective of the diverse children and their families we share the world with.

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?
There were definitely challenges to starting a business. As someone who went to university to become a RN, I was confident in that role unlike that of entrepreneur and small business owner where I was outside my knowledge base. My learning curve was more like going in circles. I mean, I had to Google “how to start a clothing line!” From getting a business license and resale number to sourcing eco fabrics and locating ethical manufacturers in the fashion district, there were times, I felt like giving up. Finding access to capital was difficult as was finding a community of like-minded entrepreneurs interested in lifting one another up.
This mama doesn’t give up and today, I am the type of business owner I needed when I started. I belong to a female founders’ group that supports one another by providing the advice, connections, and opportunities that are needed to move forward. I give back to the community and am here to support others along the way. I try to help others along the way. I am here to help others avoid some of the challenges and obstacles I encountered.

Alright – so let’s talk business. Tell us about Mixed Up Clothing – what should we know?
Mixed Up Clothing began as a way for children to wear their culture in a fun, everyday wear, with clothes that represent different cultures. The brand has evolved into much more. We are known not only for showcasing a diversity of cultures within our fabrics but also the models and brand ambassadors that represent an accurate cross section of the world we live. Our beautiful models, brand reps, and ambassadors represent what the world looks like: different skin tones, hair types, body size and all abilities are honored and welcomed.

Mixed Up Clothing melds my passion for fashion with teaching, community service, and advocacy… all built into our business plan.

I am proud to be a leader and expert in the multicultural and multiracial space creating opportunities and seeking representation for the fastest-growing community. As president of a non-profit organization, Multiracial Americans of Southern California (MASC) with over 25 years in existence, one of my roles is to help put on educational programs on such topics as race and identity. Proceeds of Mixed Up Clothing goes to support that wonderful programming.

What sets us apart is our authentic story and staying true to our mission. We are letting the world know that the multicultural community is here, has been here and is not going anywhere. I am doing my part to bring awareness to this underrepresented community by being a change agent and making sure we have representation from this community. I love what I am doing and am proud to be one of the voices leading the way.

Is there a characteristic or quality that you feel is essential to success?
The first word that comes to mind is from a dear friend and mentor, Tiffany Smith-Anoa’i, RELENTLESS. I’m relentless in my journey to bring multicultural representation to the mainstream. Whether through my work with Mixed Up Clothing or community activism work with MASC. Whether it’s as co-founder with Delia Douglas-Haight, of MultiCulti Corner and Mixed Heritage Day, I am relentless to bring about multicultural events. Dedication is another. Dedication to the belief that representation matters has helped direct and guide everything that I do. I reminisce on my arrival to Los Angeles as a biracial girl coming from O’ahu, Hawaii via Puerto Rico, who had brown skin and curly hair feeling like she just didn’t quite fit in. My 12-year-old self-knew then that she wanted to see more people that looked like her and that feeling has shaped my life and life’s work.

From living an intentional life with my multicultural, multiracial, multilingual family to speaking on different panels, appearing on different media or working with big brands to bring about change, I know my commitment to fighting for diversity and inclusion is just part of what makes us successful. Let me just add, the word “success” is subjective. My definition of success is being able to bridge my aspirations with my career, my community with being the kind of mom and wife (sister/daughter/friend/Nina/etc.) I choose to be.
I love the saying: “Be the Person You Needed When You Were Younger” and I take that to heart. Healing that 12-year-old who felt different feels good but helping my children (and all children) see accurate representations of their cultural reality… well, that feels amazing and what I am meant to do.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
DDHPR, Shea Anne Photography, Lauhala Photography, Sandra B Photography

Getting in touch: VoyageLA is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you know someone who deserves recognition please let us know here.

1 Comment

  1. Sonia Smith-Kang

    May 16, 2018 at 20:27

    Thank you for sharing my story with your readers and for showcasing inspirational stories throughout L.A.

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