ALASIA WOMEN: Building a heritage brand with Michelle Lai

Hey Lovers

You are already aware of Michelle Lai, the founder and designer of Mischa thanks to our collaboration collection. So today we get to know the designer a little better, as a business woman and the creative soul behind this beautiful brand.

Name: Michelle Lai
Job: Founder / CEO of Mischa Designs

1- What is your morning routine?
My morning routine usually consists of a bulletproof coffee and some quiet time before the busy day starts. In the mornings, I like to read the news or I go to yoga class or for a run. It's a great way to start the day. I usually power through admin as I'm most focused in the morning. In the afternoon, I do meetings and then schedule calls in the afternoon or evening as I work a lot with UK and US.
2- You studied Biomedical science and yet chose to start your own brand, Mischa when you returned to Hong Kong after your studies. Can you tell us a little bit about what inspired you to make that transition from biomedical science to fashion? 
Growing up I loved the sciences and fashion equally, and dreamt of all different professions from archeologist to surgeon to flight attendant. When it came time to choose my A-levels, I made the safe and "practical"choice with the help of Asian parents and conservative teachers! I wouldn't change it at all, I throughly enjoyed my time at King's College. Living in London really inspired me with its accessibility to the arts and design. When I finished university and started traveling a lot during my first job, that's when I was really inspired to design and create my namesake brand MISCHA.
3- Mischa has evolved since it's conception. From vintage fabrics and one-off clutches to your iconic hexagon printed canvas, what was the reason for this change in material and product range?
Yes, it's been a journey! We turn 10 years old in November. When I started my brand, I was traveling to Japan a lot and collecting vintage kimono and obi material. I love the texture and symbolism of them. That's where my hexagon monogram came from; the hexagon represents the sea turtles' shell and symbolises longevity. It's at the core of what I believe in for design - timelessness.
I started with handbags and built the brand from scratch, growing it the old fashioned way through trade shows to build our distribution channels. Digital became increasingly important and in the recent years, we pivoted to a online model. Now our focus is on direct to customer via our online store. It gives us so much more freedom to do collaborations and pop ups with the brands we like and allows us to branch into other sectors. Hence the sandals with Alasia, and the hotel interiors for a Japanese boutique hotel and the travel kits for John Masters Organics!
4- What has been your biggest hurdle starting your own business /  working for yourself? 
Many people think starting your own business means freedom but that's not true, you end up working harder and longer than when you had a job. The hard part is that it's quite lonely, and your friends don't quite understand as well as other entrepreneurs do. So you gain new friends and lose old ones. If you have the passion and drive to start a business, you'll be very disciplined, it's knowing when to switch off. Unless you've had previous experience in the industry, there's a steep learning curve and people rarely possess all the skillsets required. So be prepared for mistakes and lots of learnings!
6- What production issues have you had in the past which costed you time and money? What have you learnt from that experience and how do you avoid these issues now?
Over the years, we've worked with lots of different makers. The lesson I learnt is that, common sense is not common! It is always a challenge to make your design come to life as you imagined it. So communicating your ideas and spending a lot of time at the workshop is very important. We once received a delivery of bags with a completely different lining than we asked for. The workers took their initiative to change the colour because they thought it would be a good idea. Needless to say, that cost us time and money to fix.
7- You business model has also changed, where you started in wholesale to retailers, you now sell direct to customers online. Is there a reason for this change?
I think it is a global mega trend of moving away from wholesale. As we never opened our own brick and mortar retail, our online store is the next best thing. Yes, we found that customers like being in touch with us, they message, email and Instagram DM us with questions and comments. So naturally, they buy from our online store as well. 
8- Where do you see Mischa 5 years from now?
I hope it will be seen on more women globally, following them on their everyday journeys.  I want us to be a global e-commerce brand with a flagship in all my favourite cities and perhaps have a MISCHA cafe, hotel, and wellness centre too! I'd like to see us branching into other lifestyle categories and be at the centre of a community for women.
10- Who is the Mischa Woman?
She's a globetrotting, free spirited woman. Whether she's traveling on business, on a family holiday or off on a pilgrimage to the ashram, she does it in style and always has fun. Wine helps.
12- Who are your heroes that inspire you in life and business?
I'm inspired by the women before me who paved the way for me and showed me what success should and should not look like. I'm inspired by my peers who continually reinvent themselves, show me that anything is possible and redefine what success looks like.

Shop the full collection of limited edition Mischa x Alasia sandals 

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