The Secret To Staying Motivated As A Business Owner From Designer Mimi Plange
Last but not least in the Style & Grit series, we have Mimi Plange who is a fashion designer of her own label, Mimi Plange. Mimi knew from a young age that she wanted to be a designer and tells us all about her journey, inspiration, and the challenges of getting to where is she today.
Be sure to check out the other successful women in the series—Aliza Licht, Torie Boehme, and Alla Farberov—to learn about their careers, their personal styles, and how fashion empowers them in their everyday lives. Read the highlights of Mimi’s interview here and watch the entire video below!
Can you tell us a bit about Mimi Plange, your label, and when you started it?
So, Mimi Plange really started around 2007-2008. We had a line called Boudoir d’Huitres, and that was an experimentation. I was still working at the time when we had started this brand. I didn’t really know what was going to come of it. Then, things started getting a lot more serious, and we decided to change the name because it was very hard to pronounce. We had some red carpet issues where people were like “Boudoir something”. We were like “Let’s simplify it and call it the name.” We’ve really been in business since 2010. Since we’ve launched, we’ve shown seasonally and have been around the world to show our collection. We’ve dressed amazing women and have grown our business.
What does show seasonally mean?
The fashion industry runs on a fashion calendar, and the fashion calendar usually runs four to six times a year. You can show during spring/summer, autumn/winter, resort, or cruise collections. Most big brands will show multiple times a season, and smaller brands will show twice a year. We’ve shown in NYFW, and now there’s fashion weeks all around the world. We’ve shown in South Africa, Sweden, and Côte d’Ivoire. We kind of do our own thing. We don’t stick to a specific schedule. We just do what’s best for us as a small brand.
Tell me how you became a designer.
I always wanted to be a designer from a very young age. I knew when I was 11 or 12 that that was what I wanted to do. I used to hoard magazines in my bedroom and read everything cover to cover. I was completely obsessed. When I mentioned it to my mom because she used to model when she was in Ghana like for Drum Magazine, she said, “You’re not going to be a designer. They don’t make any money.” So I had it in the back of my head and started reading about all these designers. I fell upon one designer and found out he had been an architect first. My uncle was an architect and I kind of liked that. I decided I would study architecture at UC Berkeley. After I graduated, I went to fashion school in San Francisco at FIDM. As soon as I graduated with my fashion design degree, I moved to New York with like $400 and a big dream. I was like “I’m going to do it”, and that was it.
What is your inspiration for when you design? Is it based on something?
I really consider what we do to be American design inspired by Africa. I was born in Ghana, but I came to the US when I was five years old so I’m not going to tell a pure African story because I grew up in America. It’s a story about all these different dynamics that are going on. Of course, I have a strong cultural base there and here. I’m mixing and molding everything together because we live in America. This is a melting pot of different cultures. When I was young and looking through all those magazines and seeing inspiration of fashion that was inspired by Africa, it was always very specific to me. It was based off of colors, patterns, or prints that weren’t even African to begin with. I always said when I was going to have my line one day, I was going to tell a different story and show a different side of Africa that we don’t typically look at. I use Africa as a broad term because there are a lot of different countries and cultures within it. But I pull from Africa as a whole so that’s why I’m saying that.
What are some of the biggest challenges you see as an entrepreneur?
When you have your own business, there’s nobody pushing or prodding to push you forward. You wake up every morning and have to decide that you’re going to get work done. You have to decide that you’re going to meet your own deadlines. You’re the only person that can make this happen. Nobody cares about your excuses. You’ll learn that really quickly. Nobody cares why you can’t do anything. All that matters is what’s done. So giving up excuses and really learning that what you want has to be a strong passion like “I want to be creative.” In a perfect world, I wish I could design all day. That’s really what I want to do. But there’s emails to be made, certain bills to get paid, and the website has to be updated. You have to meet new people and interact. There’s a lot of other things besides design if you want to be creative in a design role.
The challenge to me has been pushing yourself. Even when you have your lows, you’re trying to stay high no matter what. There’s always going to be a rollercoaster. Nobody just shoots all the way up and nothing ever happens. You have to be prepared for the lows too, so I would say that is the biggest challenge. It’s your mindframe. It’s getting your mind right.
Note from Stacie: I’m going to give a shoutout to Dana. She worked with me at Versace and then at Westfield. As a person who has managed, one thing I always try to do is to not give any excuses. I mentioned Dana because she had this saying when I would come to her and ask “Why is…?”. She would stop and say “I have nothing to say. I’ll get it done.” At the end of the day, that’s all you want to hear. You did it, and now you’re just going to move on.
Who are some women who have influenced your career the most?
My mom is the main one. Her work ethic and the same things of not having excuses. Even though we grew up in a situation that was pretty difficult, she would always tell me it’s how you see yourself in this world. There are always going to be people that may doubt you or push you down, but she was like that doesn’t have to be your reality if you don’t want it to be.
To me, everything is about energy. It’s about the way you feel when you walk into a room. It’s the way that you address people. It’s the way you react to people. That really determines the space in which you move. My mom never hounded us about our work. She let us do our own thing. She let us know that “Whatever you want to do is up to you and you’re going to work on it.” She was like “I can’t afford to send you to college, but if you want to go, you have to make it happen.” Everything was that way in the beginning. I don’t take it as a down. I take it as an up. It pushed me right away because I knew what I had to do.
What is one piece of advice for anyone looking to start their own business?
Before you launch a business, I think that you should really save enough for you to be able to live and work on your business for at least a year and a half. I would really say two. No matter what kind of business you have, in the early stages, there’s always money coming out but not so much coming in. I’ve seen people do it and want to be designers, but they run out of money. It takes time to be a designer because people have to get to know you. You buy brands that you believe in and that you’ve known for a long time. They’ve built history with you. Now you’re a new brand and sometimes you might get lucky, shoot up, and everybody might want to buy your clothes. If that doesn’t happen, you have to plan and acknowledge that that takes time. Plan accordingly and don’t have expectations. Don’t compare your business to other people’s because your story may be so different.
I was on a panel with high school students not too long ago, and I was talking to them. They were like “I’m not sure because this person did this and this person did that.” You can look at other people, but what if what you’re doing doesn’t look like anything that’s been done before. “Is that going to deter you? What if what you’re doing is new? What if you’re the new thing?” You have to really believe in yourself. You have to understand that nobody owes you anything, and nobody has to give you anything. You should appreciate every single moment that you go through. Just focus and celebrate on your ups because there are going to be a lot of no’s and a lot of downs.
You mentioned getting a lot of no’s. How do you handle that rejection and keep on going?
That was something I did have trouble with in the beginning. Sometimes I wouldn’t even ask because I didn’t want to hear no. That was a huge problem I had to overcome because it’s just not going to serve me well in business at all. I started understanding that things are not personal because sometimes I have to say no. The perspective that really helps me out is that sometimes when I say no, I like the person and I like what their thing is, but it’s not in alignment with my brand. That’s all.
Is there anything in your career that you would have done differently?
I feel two ways about that kind of question. I feel that when you do things, you have to make your choice and deal with the consequences. There’s no would have, should have, or could have because that’s draining. But now that I’ve said that, what I would have rather done is I wish I had come to New York a little sooner.
When I think about it now, when I graduated from Berkeley I should’ve come to New York and maybe gone to fashion school in New York. Not to belittle my fashion school in San Francisco, but I think that that wouldn’t have been a bad idea. When I got here, I noticed in the fashion community that going to certain schools is very important. To me, I’m still going to get to where I’m going and get what I want even though it might take a little longer. I think certain things like that or if I had moved to Paris right after school are things I would have changed, but nothing else. I think everything has brought me to this point, and I appreciate where I’m at right now.
Did you have any mentors along the way?
I sadly did not. That really made me sad for a long time. I used to wish that I would encounter someone, and they would swoop me under their wing. They would tell me everything, and I would learn so much stuff from them. I used to want that really really bad, but it didn’t happen that way for me. And that’s okay. Having a mentor and seeking one out is good because it’s good to talk to people, exchange, give them your support and not just drain them. You can’t suck all of the energy out of someone. If people are helping you, you have to think of what you can bring to the relationship too.
When you say “helping you”, what does that mean?
For me, the responses come from the approach like the way you decide to write. When you reach out to someone and you want to find out more about them, I think it’s good to tell them your background, where you come from, and be honest. Try to get to know them a little bit. A way to help out, and you don’t have to do much, is to show support. I mean now you can support on social media. That matters and helps.
When they do spend that time to help you, just be thankful. That’s all that’s really required. You also have to be careful. When you reach out to people, you want to be professional. Do it on email, and don’t do it over Facebook messenger and all those things. I know it’s a different world, but I don’t take it seriously over those things. If you really want that connection, send an email.
I remember when people used to tell me when I was in high school “You should write letters to people. You never know. Some of these companies are really small. They’ll answer.” I would be like “No way!” Now that I’m in business and I know other businesses, really sometimes it’s just five people there. They probably will answer your email, so just send it.
If someone needs some super cool pieces for the spring, what are two or three must haves that they need?
I like uniforms. I like to wear the same things all the time. For me, I love a white shirt in the springtime. That’s just an investment piece. You need to have a couple. I would also say a pencil skirt to give you a sense of sharpness and then a skirt that flows. Two or three things and a blazer. To me, I can work a lot with just those pieces over and over again in different ways. Those will be my staple items for the spring.
For you, what are those good splurge or investment pieces?
I think that one investment piece is a turtleneck. Get a good black one. And then you can buy other colors, but a black one for sure. Other pieces are a blazer, a cardigan, and a pair of awesome boots that are preferably over the knee. I love them. Over the knee boots look good with dresses. You can dress them up to go out. I like them over pants that are skinny, and I think they’re very sexy. They don’t have to be high to be sexy. My idea about sex appeal isn’t about the reveal all the time. I think you’re either a sexy person or you’re not. If you want to, you can expose yourself, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But I think the sex appeal comes from you.
If I wanted to buy something from your line or check it out, where would I go?
Right now, our website is the only place where you can get Mimi Plange. We don’t have clothing available just yet, but it will be available this year. We do have accessories, handbags, and some of the collaborations that we’ve done with Roche Bobois online.
Are there any noteworthy women that we know of that have worn your pieces?
Well, there is a lot. I think every single woman who’s ever worn our pieces are noteworthy women. But there’s former First Lady Michelle Obama. That was a huge honor. There’s Gabrielle Union, Vanessa Hudgens, Paris Hilton, and Teri Hatcher. There’s a lot of people.
Now, let’s play Keep It. Toss it. The game in Keep’s iOS app you can play daily.
Black leggings—*Toss It. I used to wear leggings out when I was going somewhere. Now, I can’t wear them out and feel serious. I think you can wear them to the gym or to the grocery store but for your outfit? If you’re in the neighborhood running errands, I think they’re okay. But if you’re wearing leggings and put on a shirt and some heels, no. *
Birkin bag—Keep It. It’s an investment piece. They don’t make that many a year. If you can get one, I think it’s worth keeping.
Disco sparkles during the day—Keep It. I don’t mind them during the day.
Chunky necklaces—Keep It.
Lace corsets—Keep It.
Fringe bags— Keep It.
Millennial pink—Definitely Keep It. I’m a pink person. I don’t have much pink in my closet—maybe one item. But I design a lot of pink things. I like a dusty rose. That’s my tone.
Fanny packs—Toss It.
Sock booties—Toss It. Maybe on some people, but not on me.
6-in heels—Keep It. If you can do it, why not?
Bomber jackets—Keep It.
Light blue leather jackets—Definitely! Keep It.
Statement earrings—Yes, Keep It.
Off the shoulder tops—Keep It.
White accessories—Keep It.
Pom poms—Keep It. I’m leaning more towards Keep depending on how it’s done.
Shop the pieces from the Mimi Plange and inspired by Mimi below and watch Mimi’s full interview below!