"The market didn't work to my favor, you know I have a butt and I'm short and I have hips." says founder of Miaou, Alexia. Her designs are adored by the likes of Paloma Elsesser, Kourtney Kardashian, and Lady Gaga. We sit down with Alexia to hear how she got started and everything she's learned along the way.
This interview took place over the phone between Tate and Alexia in New York
Editor: Elisee Browchuk
TVPS: Starting off, can you give an overview of how you got here?
AE: Well, I consider myself to be a bit a storyteller. There are so many different ways to tell stories: editorially with imagery, products, and so forth. My background, prior to me moving to New York, was very much in garments. Touching a garment and speccing it out, and also at the time, I was really interested in photography. So when I moved to New York, I immersed myself in the world of magazines and publishing, and working in storytelling through castings and imagery. I think in a lot of ways I was creating a brand through these new mediums.
I was working at my desk job at Starworks doing castings and shoots, and I just decided to create a pair of jeans. It was really for myself - I wanted to see what I could do. I have a friend who is the production manager in Los Angeles, who sent me 30 yards of washed denim. I had no idea what I was doing. I was just lucky that I found people early on that were willing to help.
I learned about yield, shrinkage, patterning, all the things that made a garment. They fit me and they were so special to me because I could never find jeans that fit my body right. The market didn't work to my favor, you know I have a butt and I'm short and I have hips. A comfortable five pocket J Brand pant leg just didn't do it for me.
So I made five more. I shot my friends, these women that I admired, in my jeans with a plain white t-shirt and put it on my website. Some of my friends who were editors picked up the story so it was more of a soft launch. I had five or six jeans and then I made more and then I sold those and then I made more and then I quit my job. So that's really how it started.
So rewinding a bit, you went to parsons, right?
Were you in the business major, Design and Management?
I did the same actually. Cool.
Yeah? What did you think?
Well I want to hear what you think, but personally, I've never been an academic person so I just immersed myself in the industry. I probably spent more time working than I did in school.
I agree with that. I also took classes that I was really interested in - I had a photo editorial class that I loved. I think parsons was primarily an opportunity for me to be in New York in my very early twenties. I met amazing people at school and at work, so I felt lucky in that too.
For sure, because you didn't know you wanted to design clothes until after you graduated?
I think if you had asked freshman Alexia I would've told you that I wanted to be a creative director, but I don't think I really knew what that meant. I wasn't sure if I wanted to be a creative director for a magazine, or an agency, or a clothing brand, because ultimately, what I wanted to do was to tell a story and create a narrative. I wasn't versed in what platform or which route I wanted to do that in, but I knew that that was the blueprint of what I wanted.
While you were at Parsons you were at CR Fashion Book for a bit, no?
Yeah, I was an intern there for the first three issues. I loved CR; they were still setting up all the systems internally and there was so much to be done. I wanted to create a new source of music for them featuring artists and playlists. At the time, I was thinking about how I could build CR's brand outside of traditional fashion editorial. On the digital front, I was more focused on music and musicians. I produced shoots with Travis Scott and Young Thug. That was what I was interested in at the time, you know?
So now circling back to Miaou, what does your day to day look like and how does it change depending on where you’re at in the calendar?
Last week, on Monday I finished my sketches for Fall 19 that I had been sketching for a couple of weeks. Then my development team came by and we put everything on the walls. We discussed what kind of fabrics I was thinking about, swatched everything I liked and hung them up on the wall. The next day we did a submit, which is when you show all of the designs and pick the final fabrics. Next, we did a fitting and that took four hours. Afterwards, I went back to my office and I worked with my graphic designer.
The following day I took like two hours to iron out a color story, so I put it all on the board. My development team then took all of that information and ran it through my pattern maker, and all of the fabric mills that we get our fabric from. On Thursday, I hired a new accountant, reviewed all my incoming and outgoing costs and outstanding payments (exciting!) and then budgeted out for the next season as we're going into production.
Lately, I've been spending 70 percent of my time doing financials and logistics and then 30 percent designing because I'm pretty much done with that for the season. It’s only finishing touches.
When you say financials, what does that entail?
The finances of a company are the blueprint. So, if I'm shipping the Spring collection that I just showed in September, we are projecting when we will receive those payments from wholesale accounts and against how much money it's going to take for us to make the garments. The raw costs of each garment determines what we mark it up as and what our margins are. It's about putting all of these things on a calendar so everything is planned out. So we know when we are receiving payments, when we can pay the factories to make the garments, when we will have the garments ready to ship out, and so forth. From there, we can determine how much money we can set aside for exclusive online drops.
In an interview with Fader you said, “it’s important for a contemporary young brand to include as many sizes as financially possible.” To put this in perspective, can you give a bit of info about how much it costs to include additional sizing?
I'm actually figuring that out now. It depends on how much you want to produce, and how deep of a plus-size that you want to go. For what I'm trying to do, which is just adding one extra size so from a 12 to 14, it's going to cost 10% more on production and development. But I absolutely think it's worth it, I have the responsibility to do it and I want to.
How do you balance between being creative and running a company?
It's hard. You have to wear different hats and sometimes I can't do both. This week I'm a businesswoman and next week I'm in total creative mode. It’s a balance of time and scheduling and just being level-headed. I'm a firm believer that you can have everything you want, it just takes a lot of work and organization.
What made you pick the LA Arts district for your HQ?
I love the Arts District and didn’t think twice about it. There are bigger streets, more space, and a cooler environment with are more artists; versus an area like Vernon or Downtown LA.
What made you want to grow Miaou in LA, as opposed to New York or another city?
I started my company in New York because I think that it’s an amazing place to start a business - you’re literally in the thick of it all. But I moved to LA because I wanted to scale my business, get it more organized and streamline production. There's more physical space and somehow more time in the day.
Are you thinking of expanding Miaou to include vintage?
Yes! Vintage is such a big part of my life, the way that I design, and my relationship with clothes.
And you recently launched Miaou Sport, which is super exciting.
Yes, I did.
What went into the launch?
It was for Fall 18. I looked at my collection and I loved every piece, but I was like, “it's missing a part of me” because ultimately I design for myself and for my friends. I wear sneakers, track pants, and track jackets. It was very last minute I was like, “oh we should put it in a tracksuit.” And the stars aligned, hence the launch of Miaou Sport.
What have you learned since starting Miaou?
I'm literally learning as I go!
I’d say plan. Take your time. Stay in your lane. Stay true to yourself. Stay in the art.
I make a lot of mistakes and I pay for them all the time. My biggest challenges are the logistics and management of the company and I think what's helped me is scaling back on a lot of the things that I was trying to tackle early on. Since moving back to LA, I wanted to focus on structuring the company to scale it.
What does that look like for you?
I think it's about spending between 60 to 70 percent of my week setting up systems, outsourcing services to people who are specialized in those areas, and delegating my time. I'm definitely a creative by nature so these are things that I need to spend extra time on to execute them effectively. It boils down to time management and focusing on things that are not so sexy like numbers. One big thing that I've learned is to take your time to find the right person and not settle.
I think that it takes a team, you know, you can't do it by yourself. It's about finding people that specialize in their craft and letting them wear their superhero capes. When I started off, I tried to do everything myself and I learned the hard way. I think that having a clothing line is so much more than just making clothes, it’s telling a story really. I think taking on what you can is wise and finding/building your team is just as important.
How would you like to see the fashion industry evolve?
I want to bring retail back. I would love to open a store. I love shopping in real life and going into cool concept stores.
And where would you like to see miaou go?
My end goal is to keep making things that I and girls like and being a destination for what Miaou is: novel, feminine, bottoms business.
What advice would you give to someone who looks up to you?
I would say ask questions and get involved. Learn as much as you can. There’s as much magic in doing as there is learning and listening.
Are there any questions that I missed or anything else that you’d like to touch on?
I guess another word of advice: stay true to yourself as a creative and always stay true to your art. I started my business when I was 25, and I am growing up with my brand. Your personal style changes, point of views, and ultimately you change. It’s a bumpy road to managing the growing pains of business and life but worth it.