The Secret To Staying Motivated As A Business Owner From Designer Mimi Plange
By Stacie Henderson
11 April 2018
Photo courtesy of Mimi Plange
College of Environmental Design alumna Mimi Plange (B.Arch ‘99) is a fashion designer who owns her own label, aptly named Mimi Plange. The brand was launched in 2010 and is based in New York City. Plange, who was born in Ghana, takes inspiration from African arts, rituals, and architecture.
“It’s about establishing a new point of view in luxury by capturing the creativity of ancient African civilizations,” says Plange in her website biography.
In addition to her architecture degree from Berkeley, Plange is a graduate of the San Francisco Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising. Plange has also won accolades such as the International Emerging Designer of the Year in 2011 and the Designer of the Year in 2012 at the Mercedes-Benz Africa Fashion Week held in South Africa. She also won New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s Design Entrepreneurs Award in 2012.
Plange was recently interviewed by Keep in a Style & Grit series to discuss her career, personal style, and fashion empowerment:
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.
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.
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.