June 11, 2014Posted by Andrea Seifert
Michelle Lai’s eponymous bag label MISCHA began as a hobby which swiftly grew into a full time gig and then some. From her handmade, one-of-a-kind clutches made from vintage Japanese obis and kimonos to her ultra-stylish totes in a signature print, this gal has bagged herself (ahem, excuse the pun) a real niche in a competitive market. We sat down with Michelle to get the low down on how she did it, and learn how travel played a huge part in the evolution of her brand.
Tell us about your affinity for Japanese culture
It all started with my passion for vintage Japanese fabrics. I’ve always had this obsession with Japan – the language, food and culture. When I was younger I loved folding origami, and then studied the Japanese language to complement this. As I got older, I became further entrenched in other aspects of the culture, such as Japanese art and fashion – especially ornate kimonos. Travelling to Japan frequently, I started buying up vintage obi and kimono from antique markets and dealers.
How did this progress into setting up your label?
I was looking for a clutch bag for a wedding I was going to, and as I had a cupboard full of beautiful fabrics, I decided to make my own. My grandmother was a really great seamstress and she taught me how to sew. The clutch was a hit at the wedding, so I thought it would be fun to make a small range and sell them at a fair. I sold out! And then I started getting a lot of requests, as people hadn’t seen anything like it, especially in Europe – I’d always bring a small selection to friends over there, who would kindly host trunk shows for me.
When did you go full time with MISCHA?
In 2008 I decided to launch the business as full time gig. It went from a passion project to a business, and a new line evolved – The Travel Series.
What is the concept behind The Travel Series line?
Well, the idea was to step up the brand from an artisanal evening wear line to something that was scalable from a business point of view. I launched the Travel Series in 2010 as I wanted a series of bags that fit in with the lifestyle I lead, and that of my friends – which is always on the go, always travelling.
Your interlocking pattern is instantly recognizable – how did you conceive this print?
The signature print is inspired by the traditional hexagon – in Asian art it represents the sea tortoise shell, which symbolizes longevity, which is the perfect sentiment for a new brand. Also, whilst I was researching a print to use for this line, I went back to my archives, and noticed that about 75% of the vintage fabrics were hexagon prints, which I hadn’t actually picked up on until then! So it was meant to be. We started with the Jet Set Tote – a classic carryall. It was very well received.
Part of the appeal for me is the lightness of your bags, as well as the material you use, what is it exactly?
When I set out to design this, I wanted something long lasting and durable. The material is 100% cotton – it’s canvas with a PVC coating, silk screen printed, so each panel is done by hand. If there are any spills, you just wipe it down with a damp cloth – and it’s very light as there is just a leather trim and minimal hardware.
What are your favourite pieces/styles?
I love the muted shades for this season, they can be mixed and matched a lot more easily than the brighter colours, but people still love bolder hues, especially in the tropics!
What do you put in your Mischa tote when you travel?
I always have my phone, sunglasses, scarf/pashmina, notebook, (I’m old fashioned, I like to jot down notes on paper!) perfume, hand cream, and yogawear.
What other artisanal brands do you like?
I love jewelry and one brand that I really like is designed by Swiss designer Marijoli, she does beautiful gold and silver silver pieces that are very organic and wearable for every day. The recently opened PMQ is a really cool collection of creative industries in the newly restored historical compound of the Police Married Headquarters in Central, Hong Kong. It’s fun wandering around and browsing the unique mens and womenswear labels, homewares, galleries and the like.
Tell us about your latest collection
The Global Nomad collection introduces vivid new colors captured on journeys around the globe. Holi Pink, is a neon pink inspired by the explosion of bright Holi powder used in the Hindu Festival of Colours. Aegean Sea celebrates the striking Grecian dome roofs and blue waters of the Aegean.
The CDG Pouch, named after the Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris is new, and the perfect carrier for your travel tech toys. It also doubles as a multi-purpose clutch. We have also done a reinterpretation of our print in camouflage print – stay tuned!