3. Big updates + launch collection reveal! ʕ ᵒ ᴥ ᵒʔ | Oct 20, 2021
4. First samples in! [Photoshoot] | Dec 1, 2021 5. The Search for Sustainable Plaid ʕ •`ᴥ•´ʔ | Dec 20, 2021 6. Second samples update & pricing reveal [Photoshoot] | Jan 10, 2022
7. Prepping for Launch, Part 1 | Feb 11, 2022 8. Prepping for Launch, Part 2 (1 Week Until Launch!) | Mar 15
9. Kickstarter updates & My Trip to NYC | Jul 27 10. Moving soon + Design Survey results | Aug 17
1. First Post ʕ·ᴥ·ʔ Introductions! | July 28, 2021
If you're reading this, hello! I'm so glad you're here! My name is Tina (aka Bon) & I'm the founder and designer behind mikumo apparel, a new Asian-American slow fashion brand set to launch in Spring 2022.
Ever since I was little, I was a fashionista with a penchant for the cute & girly. I've also been an avid anime & manga fan since the early 2000s days of watching Inuyasha on Cartoon
Network, and of course, I went through a K- and J-Pop phase as well!
As an Asian-American growing up during a time when Asian representation in the West was (and still is) scarce, I was drawn to overseas media and pop-culture and my sense of style became heavily influenced by East-Asian fashion.
However, when I started becoming more conscious about my fashion consumption a couple of years ago, I realized how difficult it was to find high quality, ethical, and sustainability-forward clothing that suited my tastes. Aside from shopping only secondhand, there were virtually no options! I felt that I had to sacrifice my aesthetics in order to uphold my morals.
That's why I started thinking about mikumo apparel. I had always dreamt of becoming a fashion designer when I was little but was raised to believe it wasn't a realistic career choice. When the pandemic hit, my lifestyle was dramatically altered, and I was forced to sit with my thoughts, reflect on my true feelings, and unlearn the self-limiting mindsets that I grew up with. I started drawing consistently again after years of art block, received therapy for the first time, eloped with my best friend and partner of the last 9 years, and overall just became more in touch with my inner self and passions.
When I started taking digital art commissions on my illustration account (@bonbon_illustrator on IG), I became so inspired by my clients who were small business owners that I began researching what would go into launching the kind of clothing brand I wanted to see in the world. Ultimately, I decided to join Factory45, which is an online school/accelerator program for 'sustainable' brands with lots of amazing alums!
It has been almost a year since I first starting brainstorming about mikumo apparel and just two months since I started my journey with Factory45. I've already learned so much, and I'm so excited to continue along this path to launch in Spring 2022. I hope to share details about the launch timeline, crowdfunding plans, and sourcing & manufacturing progress (and struggles!) and other ideas here on this blog, so if you're interested, please stay tuned! And consider signing up on the mailing list here and follow @mikumoapparel on instagram for more updates and opportunities to share your opinions!
If you've read this far, thank you so much!! Your support means everything to me! ｡ﾟ(ﾟ´ω`ﾟ)ﾟ｡
The audience survey was live from August 10-24th and received 44 responses in total. Big thanks to everyone who participated! The art raffle winner was @angela.musings on IG and I'm currently working on drawing her prize :3
In this blog post, I will go over the main findings of the survey and discuss how the results have affected our decision-making.
52.3% of respondents are located in the USA and 11.4% in Canada - these were the two largest groups, with the remaining submissions being scattered across the globe! mikumo apparel will most likely start with shipping to the USA only and slowly branch out over time. International shipping, customs, and logistics are very costly and complicated for a baby small business to deal with; I hope those of who who are not located in the US or Canada can understand ˃̣̣̥-˂̣̣̥
Under 18: 20.5%
Between 18-26: 56.8%
Shout out to our single 35+ respondent - I'm a firm believer that cute fashion has no age limit!
XS (0-2): 18.2%
S (4-6): 43.2%
M (6-8): 20.5%
L (10-12): 6.8%
XL (12-14): 2.3%
The remaining percentage were write-in answers like "S-M," "I like to wear oversized clothes," and "26/28."
Our starting range of sizes will most likely be XS-L or XS-XL and expand over time. Developing extended sizing does cost more and poses potential inventory and waste issues if there is not sufficient demand. I learned about these issues first-hand from Factory45 mentor, Crystal Cave, founder of Poppy Row, a sustainability conscious and body-positive fashion brand that caters to sizes 2-40 - so rest assured that these decisions are coming from a well-meaning and well-informed place. I will also point out that many if not most East-Asian brands produce clothing in "one size fits all" or only XS-M in western sizes, so offering XS-L or XL is still a baby step forward in terms of making J- and K-style accessible to more people.
That being said, inclusivity is important to mikumo apparel and we do hope to expand our size range sometime after we have launched and have a more stable financial situation. Thank you so much for your patience in the meanwhile!
Under 5'4 ('petite'): 52.3%
Between 5'4-5'8 ('regular'): 45.5%
Over 5'8 ('tall'): 2.3%
I had the opportunity to follow up one-to-one with many of our respondents, and a really common issue that was brought up was petite fit! As I mentioned in the clothing sizes section above, developing additional sizes - whether it be the size itself or the length (like offering petite, regular, and tall options) - all require additional cost.
Fortunately, many of the petite respondents who I interviewed said that they do not have length issues when buying from Asian brands, such as those on YesStyle - and as a 5'7 lady myself, I also like the fit of clothing from Asian brands! I have researched the measurements of skirts, tops, and dresses from various popular brands on YesStyle and am using them as a reference to develop clothing which fits well on both petite and regular height people. We didn't receive a lot of entries above 5'8 (only 1 respondent), so that will sit on the back burner for now.
How much you are willing to pay for sustainable/ethical fashion?
I have bad news for 31.8% of you...
Product costing and price transparency are actually very important and interesting topics that I will be elaborating on shortly in a future blog post. To sum it up though... it is impossible for a piece of clothing that is constructed of high-quality sustainability-forward materials and is ethically made in small batches (generally defined as under 300 units at a time) in the USA to end up with a retail price under $50, unless it is a t-shirt or something similar that is simple in design.
I really tried to find a way to at least have one item under $50, but had to come to terms with the fact that none of the items that were selected to be part of the launch collection via the design survey could viably be sold for that low (though in the future, items like cute tank tops might make that cut, no promises though). Trust me, if I could make cute clothing for cheaper without exploitation or cutting corners, I most certainly would!
Please try to compare our prices, which will be in the $75-$250 range, to other sustainability- and ethics-conscious brands like Reformation and Christy Dawn.
I understand that many of you are young/under 18 or are lower income and don't wish to spend more than $50 on a single item, and that is totally okay! I just hope to shed light on the real cost of making sustainable/ethical clothing so that no one feels purposefully excluded by our price points. This is simply the reality of what it means to be a brand with a mission like mikumo apparel's, and I promise to be radically transparent about why our prices are what they are. Stay tuned to learn more~
Other interesting survey findings:
- 52.3% of respondents identify as Asian or Pacific Islander! Huge thanks to my AAPI babes for the support ʕ ´•̥̥̥ ᴥ•̥̥̥`ʔ
- Many respondents said that it is important to them for brands to be sustainable/ethical, but don't consider themselves very knowledgable about what sustainable/ethical fashion entails (I highly recommend looking up brands on the Good on You database if you are confused if a brand is actually sustainable/ethical or if it is just a case of greenwashing!)
- Most respondents said they would be more inclined to buy from a brand that gives to charity. That's great, I'm very eager to incorporate charitable giving into our brand's platform! There are so many causes that I'm sure we would all want to support, so I am wondering if, instead of limiting ourselves to just one charity, we should feature a different nonprofit each quarter to receive a percentage of our profits? Alternatively, we can keep it simple by partnering with a single charity, like One Tree Planted. Thoughts, suggestions? I am always happy to hear from you guys ♡
If you've read this far, wow I'm impressed! A similar write up for the pre-production design survey results is also now live [here]. That blog post is chock full of juicy updates, check it out! ʕ￫ᴥ • ʔ
3. Big updates + launch collection reveal! ʕ ᵒ ᴥ ᵒʔ | Oct 20, 2021
Ahhh~ I'm so excited to share more updates and progress on mikumo apparel's launch!
I want to start off by sharing that we are expecting to receive our first round of samples in about 3 weeks! For the first time, I will have physical pieces of clothing to share with you guys, how exciting! ʕ ᵒ ᴥ ᵒʔ
Keep in mind that typically in apparel development, you can expect to need 1-2 rounds of revisions before arriving at the final production-ready prototype, so these first samples are just the first draft and will likely undergo further edits before the designs are finalized.
As some of you know, we hosted a pre-production design survey from Sept 3rd - Oct 12th in which you could vote for your favorite designs, features, and colors to be included in the launch collection. Thank you so much to the 54 of you who shared your opinions! This blog post will be way too lengthy if we go into the results in detail, so I will simply go over the pieces in the launch collection while sprinkling some insights from the survey throughout.
Matching blazer and skirt design
Since the survey was published, I have altered the blazer's design to include princess seams and also a removable belt, so that the blazer can be worn loosely or cinched in. Additionally, the blazer will feature inconspicuous welted pockets.
The matching blazer and skirt will be made of a high-quality, made-in-Japan 100% recycled polyester with an oxford weave (giving it a slightly "wooly" impression) and lined with silky 100% recycled polyester. Having the lining and shell material be of the same composition ensures that the garment will be especially easy to take care of and resistant to uneven shrinking. These fabrics are easy-care, anti-pilling, and have a little bit of natural stretch to them. The buttons will be made of 100% natural corozo nut, and the skirt's closure will be a YKK invisible zipper.
The three most popular solid colorways in the survey were beige (44.4%), maroon (40.7%), and black (38.9%). Unfortunately, the fabric we decided to use does not come in maroon, so we will be making them in beige and a charcoal-black color
Those of you who took the survey may recall that there were plaid colorway options as well, but unfortunately due to ongoing and unpredictable freight delays between China and the USA (over 80% longer transit times compared to pre-pandemic), we have decided to save this fabric for a future collection to cut down on risk and potential issues with launch.
I know all of us were really hoping to have plaid, but recycled polyester plaid is a very uncommon type of fabric that seems to only be available from China and Taiwan. If you're wondering why the fabric needs to be polyester, that is because polyester is the best fabric for pleating (you will notice that almost all pleated skirts on the market are made of polyester).
For the past half year, I have gone to international trade shows, scoured paid databases, and inquired with US-based fabric mills for custom development options, yet I have still been unable to find any suitable alternatives with low enough MOQs (minimum order quantities). There are many options for virgin polyester plaid fabrics, but I simply don't feel comfortable making a compromise to use a decidedly unsustainable fabric type solely for aesthetic purposes. I hope you guys agree with my thought process, and thank you for your understanding. It was a very difficult decision for me to make and a big blow to my creative vision, but the end of the day, I want to prioritize sustainability and ensure a smooth launch experience as much as possible.
The blouse design with the most votes by a long shot was a tie-neck, collared blouse with a unique gathered sweetheart yoke. I am so thrilled that you guys chose this blouse, as I have never seen a blouse like this with a gathered sweetheart yoke (the yoke refers to the seam above the breast) elsewhere, and I just think it would look so cute and feminine!
The blouse will be made of a soft Japanese 70% Tencel 30% cotton fabric. The material itself is light and semi-transparent - meaning that you should wear a bra that matches your skin tone or a tank-top underneath depending on the level of coverage you are comfortable with. I will, of course, be sharing pictures demonstrating the opacity level when I receive the first sample! If it is too sheer, I can always replace the fabric with something more opaque, but I tend to like blouses that are a bit more on the flowy and sheer side. To me, it feels more sophisticated and elegant~
The buttons will either be made of mother of pearl or trochus shell - both all-natural and cruelty free. Even though these shells are produced by living beings, they are a durable and beautiful natural material that can be collected and utilized after the animal has died. Unlike plastic buttons (which are the most common type of button in the fashion industry), corozo nut and shell buttons are 100% biodegradable.
The three most popular colors for the blouse were off-white (64.8%), cloud grey (38.9%), and cream (35.2%). Since off-white and cream are a bit too similar, we will most likely be offering the blouse in a lighter color option (off-white/cream) and darker color option (grey-taupe).
Sailor-collar tiered dress
The most popular dress in the survey was the sailor-collar tiered mini dress. The material for this dress has not been decided yet - I am having the first sample made in a luxurious 100% lyocell fabric, but due to the high cost of the fabric ($20.20/yard * ~4yds = $80.80 just for the fabric alone!), I am currently looking for an alternative. I am considering a slightly cheaper but still very premium 72% Tencel and 28% polyester fabric, but ideally, I want to avoid using any virgin polyester as much as possible, so wish me luck in my continued search!
Bonus - this dress will have concealed pockets on the sides!
The second most popular dress design in the survey was this tie-shoulder dress, and the majority of respondents voted to include two dress options in the launch collection! I am having the sample of this dress made with 100% organic cotton twill, a heavier, more structured material that I'm hoping will lend a luxurious drape to the skirt. Organic cotton is breathable and relatively easy to care for. The back of the dress will be secured with a metal YKK zipper. This dress will also feature pockets on the sides.
All items will be sown with 100% recycled polyester thread.
I can't wait to see how the first samples turn out! Stay tuned to see what they look like~
To finish this blog post off, I'd like to share a simplified target launch timeline:
Oct 2021: First meeting with our manufacturer in Brooklyn
Oct-Nov 2021: First round of pattern & sample development
Nov-Dec 2021: Revisions made, size grading, final prototypes done before Christmas
Jan 2022: Additional prototypes in all colorways and select sizes are produced to use in photoshoots
Feb 2022: Kickstarter launch
March-April 2022: Production
May 2022: Orders delivered to Kickstarter backers
Please keep in mind that this is a tentative schedule and that there is always the possibility for unexpected events and delays, especially with the ongoing pandemic! Thanks so much for reading this far and for your support of mikumo apparel ♡ And remember, you are always welcome to let me know your thoughts, suggestions, and questions in the comments below or on instagram, @mikumoapparel!
If you're curious about how much each of these items will cost, or if you've ever wondered why sustainable/ethical fashion is so expensive, stay tuned for another blog post about *pricing transparency* coming soon! For now, I can tell you that our price range will be approx. $75-250.
mikumo apparel aspires to be a radically transparent brand, so I will be sharing all the tentative material and labor costs with you. I hope to foster a deeper understanding and appreciation of apparel development within the mikumo community, not only to let you know as much about our products as possible, but also to equip you with the tools to assess other brands' practices and claims to transparency, sustainability, and ethics as well.
4. First samples in! [Photoshoot] | Dec 1, 2021
Hi folks! With great excitement, I'm ready to share with you some pics of our first samples!
Before we get into it, please keep in mind these are only first samples and they are works-in-progress rather than representative of the final products~
The Sunday before Thanksgiving, my dear friend, Ash, and I headed out for a day in the city to snap some cute photos of the samples. On a quick tangent - Ash is an amazing friend and courageous person who has been a huge source of inspiration for me. Her dream is to open Honeycat's Cat Cafe (@honeycatscafe), and she had actually gotten really close! Her loan was approved, she was about to sign a lease for a space in a bustling downtown area, had connections at local shelters and renovation quotes to bring the space to code for a cat cafe, the whole nine yards! But when the pandemic reached the US and lockdowns began, her plans were scattered to the wind.
Fortunately, Ash is really adaptable and was able to redirect her energy into a career change instead, leaving her draining job as an accountant, taking an online UX/UI bootcamp, and securing a new, more fulfilling job as a UX designer, all within 7 months! Once all the dust settles after the pandemic and after she's saved up a bit again, she plans to continue her purrsuits (hehe), and I can't wait to see what she does in the future. To me, Ash is a great representation of the type of person I want Mikumo to represent - someone who strives towards their dreams, rolls with the punches, and has a taste for the finer and cuter things in life!
Okay enough gushing 😆 - back to the samples...
Below are the sample photos from our shoot and my notes. Photos courtesy of @jamescreates.me on IG. If you happen to live in the DC metro area and need a photographer, James is a really chill and sweet guy; we highly recommend him!
I've included a rating out of 5 on each heading to summarize my overall level of satisfaction (and how much more work needs to be done), with 5 being perfect - no changes needed, and 1 being so bad that we need to start over (thankfully, we don't have any 1s!)
I've also included wash test results where applicable ʕ •ᴥ•ʔゝ☆ Note that when I refer to "normal wash and dry settings," I mean warm water, regular cycle (not delicate wash), and tumble dry on low heat.
Hope you enjoy!
The 3-way recycled blazer (4/5)
What I like: I love how this blazer can be worn in three ways! You can wear it loose for a casual, layered look, wear it tied in the back for a more tailored look, or wear it tied in the front for a cinched, "belted" look.
Keep in mind that these first samples are unlined, so the blazer looks a bit "looser" and less structured than it will look when the lining is sewn in.
The wash test, unsurprisingly, was also very successful - the blazer came out looking exactly as it had gone in with normal wash and dry settings. Despite its flaws, polyester is truly one of the easiest, low-maintenance fabrics to care for!
Tip: A filter bag like the Guppyfriend washing bag can reduce synthetic microfiber (incl. microplastics) shedding by 86%. Price as of writing is $34.95 - not sponsored. 👌
What I'll revise: For some reason, a lot of the sample items turned out a bit bigger than I had intended. In the beginning, I simply thought, 'oh maybe this just doesn't fit me (I typically wear an XS or S), but will fit better on someone who wears a sz M.' So, when I came to my mom's house for Thanksgiving, I asked her to try on the blazer for me as well. She typically wears a sz 8, and although the rest of the jacket fit well on her, the shoulders were still a bit too wide! Therefore, I'll be reducing the shoulder measurement for this piece in the second version.
I also plan to reduce the size of the corozo buttons from 36L to 32L - a small difference in button size, but I think it will look a little more polished! The 36L is just a tad chunky for me.
On a side note - as some of you may know, I have been searching relentlessly for a suitable recycled polyester plaid supplier in the 'West,' since Chinese suppliers are not currently a viable option for me, considering the COVID global shipping situation and section 301 tariffs (basically an additional 25% tax on most textile imports from China on top of the regular ~17% import tax - big oof). I'm currently working with a promising Europe-based lead and am anxious to share with you as soon as we figure out the shipping situation and confirm whether or not it is a viable option (it's looking pretty probable at the moment, but no promises - the factory is in a smaller European country without well-established shipping routes outside of the EU). As always, I'll be sharing updates on our instagram story as they come! Plaid is the dream! ʕ≧ᴥ≦ʔ
The pleated mini skirt (5/5)
What I like: Honestly, I have no complaints about this skirt. I found it to be the perfect length for both me and Ash, and I can see myself wearing this skirt on a weekly basis. It's just easy to wear and easy to pair! The fabric is also light enough to have a nice swish, but heavy enough to avoid flashing when spinning or faced with a sudden gust of wind. Like the blazer, the skirt is extremely low maintenance and easy to care for with normal wash and dry settings.
What I'll revise: I won't be making any substantial changes to this sample. This first sample is unlined, and the second sample will be lined, but I don't anticipate that it will make a major difference to the outward appearance of the skirt. I am not adding sewn-in shorts - as a relatively tall woman with a long torso, I have personally found sewn-in shorts to be more problematic and uncomfortable (camel toe much 😒) than they are helpful. Wearing your own shorts is a great way to maximize comfort and and get custom coverage that works for your body.
Also, I'm just dying to see this skirt in plaid!!! Wish me luck in obtaining that elusive recycled plaid fabric! 🙏
The semi-sheer tie-neck tencel blouse (4/5)
What I like: This blouse is the perfect level of sheerness for me! In these pictures, I am only wearing a bra underneath that is a similar color to my skin tone, and as you can see, there is so issue with it showing through, even though the fabric is indeed semi-sheer. You can also opt for a skin-toned camisole or undershirt if you prefer higher coverage, but for Ash and I, a skin-tone bra was sufficient and not visible. Although the material is light, Tencel is fantastic for temperature regulation, so it keeps you warm when it's cold, and cool when it's hot. Honestly, I would sleep and lounge in this blouse because it is so airy and comfy!
The gathered sweetheart yoke and mother of pearl buttons really make this blouse feminine and unique. There isn't another blouse like this on the market - I have looked! I also love how versatile this piece is - it gives off totally different vibes when worn with and without the ribbon, don't you think?
The blouse experienced very minor shrinkage (not enough to significantly affect the size) when washed and dried on normal settings. Machine wash cold on a gentle cycle and lay flat dry to avoid shrinkage. The material does not "hold" wrinkles (as in, there may be temporary wrinkles, but most of them will come out on their own if you leave the garment hanging overnight), but you may use a steamer if needed to smooth out the texture.
What I'll revise: My only issue with this blouse is that, like the blazer, it is just a bit too wide in the shoulders! Easy fix.
The tencel sailor dress (4/5)
What I like: Ahhh, don't the ties and the tiered skirt just look so adorable! The 100% lyocell is so flowy, breathable, and incredibly comfortable on the skin, and of course, having the pockets just makes everything a million times better. To me, this dress is the perfect balance of cute and casual!
What I'll revise: Even though I love this 100% lyocell fabric, the one I'm using in this sample is way too expensive, at $20.20/yard. This dress takes about 4 yards of fabric to make, which drives the raw material cost of just the fabric to $80.80 (which translates into a final retail price of over $300). I've spent the last couple of weeks searching high and low for a replacement fabric with the same fiber content, weave, and weight, and I'm happy to say that I've found quite a few high quality options from Canada that look and feel virtually the same, but at a much more reasonable price of ~$12/yd! The second sample will be made with this new fabric.
Also, there was a miscommunication about the collar on this dress, which is not supposed to connect under the armpits. The second version will have a true sailor collar (also known as a middy collar) with detached flaps.
The tie-shoulder dress (2/5)
What I like: That skirt though! Wearing this dress, I just wanted to twirl and dance the night away~
What I'll revise: Okay, I know you may be thinking, "this dress looks so cute, why is it a 2/5?" and let me just start by saying that it definitely photographed better than it looks in real life! This fabric is a 100% organic cotton twill - and to give you some context, denim is a kind of cotton twill. This material is kind of like a light denim and is stiff with zero stretch - I only wear a 32B and my boobs felt like they were being pancaked. The waist was also a bit too loose, so I am adding another ribbon for the waist tie.
As for the wash test - yeesh - this material wrinkles like hell when washed and dried on normal settings! This material also experienced very minor shrinkage. Shrinkage and wrinkling can be prevented by washing with cool water on a gentle cycle and lay flat dry. A steamer is not strong enough to remove wrinkles from this fabric - you would need an iron and ironing board. To me, this is just too much work.
I'll be replacing this 100% organic cotton twill with a similar sustainability-forward woven material, this time containing a small percentage of spandex to better accommodate different body shapes. Also, note that the white zipper is just there for sampling purposes, and the final version's zipper will be color-matched to the fabric.
Overall, I'm very happy with how the samples turned out, and am really looking forward to the second samples, which we are aiming to have done before the end of December!
I hope you enjoyed seeing the progress so far, and please let me know your thoughts! Thank you so much for reading this far and for your continued support. ʕ•ᴥ•ʔﾉ♡ - Tina
5. The Search for Sustainable Plaid ʕ •`ᴥ•´ʔ | Dec 20, 2021
As those of you who have been following progress closely may know, I have been desperately searching for a sustainable plaid fabric for over half a year now! Being able to offer cute sustainability-forward plaid mini skirts was a huge part of my vision going into Mikumo Apparel, and I am still doing my all to make that happen. However, the search has been anything but easy - in fact, it has been almost exceptionally unfortunate - and I thought it would be fun (and also pretty educational) to document and share my rollercoaster of an experience with you thus far!
This hunt for plaid has taught me so much, perhaps more so than any other singular aspect of pre-production, and by sharing this story with you, I hope to provide deep and unexpected insight into what goes on behind-the-scenes of an independent slow fashion brand.
Starting out hopeful
In May 2021, I joined Factory45, an educational accelerator program for sustainable and ethical entrepreneurs, and thus began my fabric sourcing journey.
The main garment I wanted to create was a high-quality, sustainable pleated miniskirt, as plaid pleated mini skirts are the cornerstone of my wardrobe. From some quick research, I learned that polyester is the most suitable material for holding pleats, as the plastic gets heat-sealed into position and therefore does not lose form when it is laundered, unlike wool and cotton, which pleat well initially, but do not hold the pleats permanently and would require more intensive care and ironing. Most pleated skirts on the market are composed of at least 50% polyester for this reason.
Obviously, I wasn't about to use virgin polyester, which is derived from oil/petroleum in an energy-intensive and polluting process - I knew I would be looking for recycled polyester (aka rPET), which is made from existing plastic waste - usually water bottles - and emits >70% fewer emissions than virgin polyester according to the Higgs MSI. I started searching for recycled polyester plaid fabrics, attending textile trade shows, and connecting with fabric suppliers and mills around the world. Although I could tell early on that it would be a challenge to find what I was looking for, I felt hopeful.
Venturing into uncharted territory
After searching for a couple of months and attending trade shows, I began to realize that my only option seemed to be to import fabric from outside of North America, particularly from China or Taiwan. At Texworld NYC, the only mills that even offered recycled plaids were from these two countries. I was extremely reluctant to do this, as I had hoped to source as locally as possible and, frankly, did not want to take on the additional risks of importing during the pandemic, which has caused unprecedented delays in international shipping times (avg ~83% longer transit time) as well as skyrocketing shipping prices, which are currently up 8-9x (in Sept 2021, they were up 13x) compared to pre-pandemic averages. Additionally, none of the mentors in my Factory45 program had experience importing unfinished goods from Asia either, leaving me to learn everything for myself. Despite all these disadvantages, it seemed that China or Taiwan were my only options if I was dead-set on having recycled polyester plaid in my collection.
As a Chinese-American who likes to think that I have my finger on the pulse of international relations, I already knew that it would be more favorable to import from Taiwan rather than China (though I had no idea the true extent of it... will get into this later), so I began by reaching out to the Taiwanese mills I had found via Texworld first. Unfortunately, even though they offered the exact kind of fabric I needed, it turned out that both of the Taiwanese mills I got in touch with had a MOQ (minimum order quantity) of 1000-4000 meters of fabric per color - which is downright inaccessible for a startup slow-fashion brand like Mikumo, which focuses on small-batch production to minimize waste (we would be looking to order in the range of ~300m of fabric per color at most). I was so saddened and disappointed, but knew that there was nothing I could do about the situation, so I thanked them for their time and began reaching out to the Chinese mills.
While some of the Chinese mills also had inaccessible MOQs, I was able to get in contact with one that was more flexible and would allow me to order 300m/color. They were capable of producing plaid polyester fabric with 30-60% recycled content and were very friendly, informative, and communicative. We began to develop three colors of60% recycled polyester plaid, and I was feeling excited about how things were going, however there was something that the mill had not been clear about communicating - that being the shipping and tariff situation.
With growing knowledge, a growing wariness...
Once we had begun to make real headway on the development of the fabrics, having already done two runs of lap dips (sample swatches that are dyed to your specifications), I started looking into the actual logistics of getting what would have been a literal ton (about 550kg) of fabric from China to Brooklyn, New York.
As I mentioned above, I knew ship times and prices would both be extraordinarily high, but figured that the low cost of raw materials from China would level out the costs when spread across each meter of fabric. I shopped around for quotes from various freight carriers and got a feel for what to expect - about $2k to pay for the actual freight shipping and about 30 days shipping time. Combined with the 50 day lead time for the manufacturer to produce the fabric, I was starting to feel like I was introducing way too many variables and opportunities for things to go wrong - which I definitely did not want to do for my first ever collection and especially not for a crowdfunding campaign.
On top of that, I was slowly educating myself about customs and importing. Let me tell you - it was almost like people were trying to hide a secret from me... even though I had the total value of the goods and the HTS code (an international code used to identify goods), which should have been sufficient to give me a quote, no one seemed to be willing or able to tell me up-front how much I could expect the customs to be or where else I could go to find out on my own. It was only when I posted for advice in one of my tight-knit college's facebook groups that a highly informed alum, who works as a director of trade compliance, made me privy to something called Section 301.
Section 301, to boil it down, authorizes the President and/or the United States Trade Regulation (USTR) to enact economic retaliation, often in the form of tariffs, against foreign governments that for one reason or another are perceived to have slighted the US. These additional tariffs are expected to be paid for by the US-based importer, which in many ways, negatively affects the US economy. In many cases, importers are unable to source domestically due to scarce and outdated manufacturing. Many small business owners, including myself, feel these tariffs are unfair, as China is still overwhelmingly the leading textile manufacturer in the world, accounting for over half of global textile production and exporting each year. In comparison, the USA only accounts for 5% of global textile output, and the few factories that we do have offer very limited services. I believe that if the USA is to discourage trade with China, then we must also nurture domestic manufacturing via grants, initiatives, and subsides.
If you're curious about the tariff amounts as they apply to my situation - the standard tariff on importing this kind of polyester fabric is about 17% of the total value of the goods. The Section 301 China Tariff would add an additional 25% on top of that. No matter what, this extra 25% tariff must be paid upon the goods' arrival to the USA.
On the plus side, the USTR does allow importers to file for Section 301 Exclusion (essentially, applying for a tariff refund) if you can make an argument that the additional tariff causes undue financial harm to your business and/or that there are simply no other countries that sell the specific item that you need. Apparently, these exclusion requests are typically approved without difficulty, however, it can take over a year to actually receive your tariff refund.
In the end, after considering all of the above factors, I decided not to proceed with this custom-dyed plaid fabric for the launch collection, though I will likely return to it in the future, after we have launched and have a bit more working capital and experience. The team at this mill was so awesome to work with, I feel compelled to order from them just to support them!
Well, what now? I had spent nearly three months exchanging emails with this mill, only to eventually decide to stall the development of this custom-dyed plaid fabric for an indefinite (but hopefully short) period of time.
I knew at this point, after five months of actively searching, that I needed to pull out the big guns if I wanted to see my vision actualized. It was time to lean into obsessiveness and leave no stone unturned. I spent every morning after I woke and every night before bed pursuing recycled plaids, trying seemingly infinite combinations of keywords in hopes of finding a new lead.
I started by contacting Repreve (one of the leading rPET brands in the world), but only received a pretty generic response with a list of US suppliers, none of which carried what I was looking for, as I had already figured would be the case. I managed to track down the listing for a single plaid skirt from Volcom that was made with a small percentage of Repreve fiber, but the sales representative was unable to track down which supplier or mill that fabric was from.
Feeling dejected and starting to accept the possibility that I may need to consider less-than-ideal alternatives, I also started looking into recycled wool and deadstock fabrics. However, I soon found that recycled wool options would increase the retail price of the garments by nearly double and make the garment more high-maintenance.
Searching for deadstock was also very challenging - there is only a very small selection of deadstock available at any given time, making it extremely rare to find any suitable listings if you are looking for something specific that is also available in production-level quantities (more than 50m available at the very least - most deadstock comes in quantities of fewer than 30m). In late October, I did manage to find one promising deadstock polyester plaid on Queen of Raw (a popular deadstock buying & selling site) that I posted about in our IG stories and placed an order for sample yardage. However, after over 14 days without receiving shipping updates, I contacted customer service inquiring about the order, only to find out that the seller didn't have the fabric in stock and never bothered to update their listing. I was promptly refunded, felt disappointed, but promptly moved on to searching for new leads.
Deadstock is probably one of the least sustainable kinds of "sustainability-forward materials" - or rather, the least regulated - so I wasn't especially keen to work with deadstock anyhow.
At my most hopeless point, I even entertained the idea of using regular (virgin) polyviscose fabric, which is a popular suiting material that typically contains a blend of polyester and viscose and often comes in check patterns. Although polyviscose can be considered more environmentally friendly than straight virgin polyester, it is definitely inferior to recycled polyester, no matter how you cut it. Though I admit polyviscose was extremely tempting, given the wealth of options available compared to recycled fabrics, choosing this option would have felt like a form of defeat to me.
A lucky and unlucky turn of events
Finally, one day, during my routine nighttime obsessive searching, I got super lucky. While browsing the RCS/GRS certified section of a Spanish fabric supplier website, I stumbled across a listing of a beautiful check fabric. The description of the fabric didn't say there was any recycled content in the composition despite being in the recycled fabric section, so I reached out to the supplier and confirmed they were 75% recycled polyester, 12% polyester, and 13% viscose - one of the best compositions I had seen so far (most recycled multicolor checks need a little bit of virgin polyester for quality and color purposes). They had only recently received certification for their factory, so the listings were not up to date yet!
I was so excited, I immediately asked to purchase sample yardage. However, the sales representative soon discovered that there was some kind of QA issue with the fabric that they had in stock and told me they were unable to sell it. I asked if they would be re-stocking the fabric, but received no response for two weeks even after following up twice.
Where we stand now
After a couple of weeks anxiously waiting to hear back, I was told that the company had recently been dealing with staffing issues, and I finally received swatches of a few recycled check fabrics, though it is still unclear if the one I am primarily interested in will be made available again. I was able to get in touch with someone else at the company and am now just waiting for a response to my inquiry. Hopefully, I will be able to use my top choice fabric, but at least now I have some backup options as well!
Despite how difficult and time-consuming this search for plaid has been, I'm grateful for all the connections and knowledge I've gained along the way. Even if they're not relevant to my launch collection right now, they will hopefully come in handy in the future as Mikumo Apparel continues to put out new collections and expand!
Hope you enjoyed catching a glimpse into this aspect of the Mikumo launch journey! Even though this story is specifically about recycled plaid fabric, I think it illustrates the unexpected struggles and obstacles that come with being a small, independent fashion designer on the leading edge of sustainable and ethical fashion.
Thank you so much for reading and stay tuned for more blog posts about our manufacturer, pricing/price transparency, and more, by signing up on our mailing list and following us on Instagram @mikumoapparel! Friendly reminder that mailing list subscribers will receive an exclusive 10% off code when our Kickstarter campaign goes live early next year 😉
6. Second samples update & pricing reveal [Photoshoot] | Jan 10, 2022
Hello lovely, hope you had a wonderful holiday season and New Year's! Let's kick off 2022 with another big update~
Right before Xmas, I received the second iteration of our samples. Good news - 4/5 garments are finalized - meaning that the second sample of those garments is a "photo sample." They're still missing the care labels and tags, but are otherwise the same as the final product and can be used for our official photography!
The last item that needs just a little bit of tweaking is the organic cotton tie-shoulder dress, but the alterations should be minor and simple.
Along with the second sample photos and notes, I will also be sharing some insight into the pricing of the finalized items. Please note that the pricing itself is still potentially subject to changes, but it should be pretty accurate/representative of what the final prices will be!
Without further ado...
Second Samples Photos
The Sweetheart Blouse
I'm so happy with how this blouse turned out, it's seriously my dream blouse! 😍 Not only is it super cute, but it's also extremely comfortable - I'm going to be wearing this all the time.
In this second round of edits, I adjusted the fit so that the subtly puffed sleeves lie a bit higher on the shoulder, giving a more pristine and feminine look. I also took in the measurements for the sides of the blouse as well as the length, as before, there was too much excess fabric that would stick out when worn tucked into a skirt.
Now that I'm satisfied with the pattern of the blouse, I've ordered an additional colorway (kind of a mushroomy brown-grey) with dark mother of pearl buttons (I ended up going with trochus shell for the cream blouse color since I thought it matched the fabric a bit better than the light mother of pearl). I'm really looking forward to being able to mix and match the ribbon colors! Should I add a pure white color as well?
The Recycled Classic Pleated Mini Skirt
I am going to be living in this skirt - I love the fit and texture so much!
I didn't make any edits to the skirt since the first sample, since the first version was already perfect; I simply added a silky 100% rPET lining underneath in the second version, which didn't make any noticeable difference to the external appearance.
Moving forward, we will be making additional photo samples in a light taupe color (same 100% rPET oxford material as pictured, just in a different color) and our recycled plaid (75% rPET, 13% viscose, and 12% polyester). By a huge stroke of luck, I was able to get my hands on a small quantity of my top choice recycled plaid from Europe, which arrived at the factory this past Wednesday. I can't tell you how excited I am to see this skirt in plaid! If you read my previous blog post called "The Search for Sustainable Plaid," then I'm sure you can imagine how hyped I feel right now. 😤
The Recycled 3-Way Blazer
Like the sweetheart blouse, the initial sample of the blazer was just a bit too wide in the shoulders, so I took them in a bit. The blazer still has an oversized look, as intended, but is no longer frumpy looking. Additionally, I reduced the button size slightly, as I thought the buttons in the first sample looked a bit clunky. You can wear this blazer loose (my preferred way), belted in the front, or cinched in the back.
Now that the blazer is lined, it has more weight, warmth, and structure, and is perfect for 50-70F weather (tried and tested by me, courtesy of our recent wild weather fluctuations in Virginia!)
The Sailor Dress
I know I've already said this twice, but this is another piece that I know I'll be wearing to death! Flowy and breathable, it's the perfect everyday dress that can be worn as loungewear or out and about.
I was actually hesitant about making edits to the first sample of this dress, since it was already really cute, but I knew I wanted to adjust the pocket placement, so I decided to try a different collar type as well. The second version of the collar is cute, but I think the first version was actually better, since the fabric is so flowy that it doesn't really suit the traditional sailor/middy collar look, which demands a more stiff kind of fabric. Because of the nature of pure Tencel, having the collar loose like this makes it more prone to wrinkling and folding. Therefore, I'll be returning the the first version of the collar for our finalized sample, but keeping the new pocket placement from the second version.
A black version of the fabric is on the way - I'm really into cute + grungy looks for those days I feel a bit punk, and in my head, a black colorway of this dress would be perfectly paired with my combat boots and dark accessories!
The Tie-shoulder Dress
And here's the problem child! Just kidding - it's really not that bad, it just needs a little shaping (literally) 😆
The only remaining fix is to refine the bodice measurements, which were increased from the first sample because it was too small. If you have any experience getting something tailored, you may have heard that it is always easier to reduce the measurements of a garment that is oversized than it is to increase the measurements of a garment that is too small - it's the same case with sample development! The bodice of this second sample is a bit too large (I'm wearing the dress pinned in the back in these photos, as you may be able to tell), but now that I have the extra fabric to work with, I can easily pin the excess down to my intended measurements.
In good news, the new material, which is still organic cotton twill, but now contains 4% spandex, is much better than the pure 100% organic cotton twill that was used in the first sample. The previous fabric was simply too stiff and denim-like, whereas this fabric has moderate stretch and a smoother hand-feel. Bonus points for this fabric being made in the USA!
Now for some juicy transparency! Remember, these prices are still subject to change, but unless something unexpected happens, they should be relatively accurate. Also, note that these items will be offered at a discounted price during launch on Kickstarter, especially for early-bird backers and bundle orders!
Here is a summary of prices for your ease of reference:
Sweetheart blouse: $168 Retail | $158 Kickstarter
Recycled pleated mini skirt: $168 Retail | $158 Kickstarter
Profit margin: 2.4x (industry standard is ~2.5-3x for direct to consumer and ~5-6x for wholesale to retail)
Retail price: $168
The recycled classic pleated mini skirt - $168 retail
Fabric cost: ($12.05/yd * 1.2yds) + $1/yd for est. materials shipping = $15.66
Lining cost: ($4.10/yd * 0.7yds) +$1/yd for est. materials shipping = $3.57
Zipper cost: $0.56
Tags, labels, and packaging: $1.65
Total material cost: $21.44
USA labor cost: $48
Total cost to produce: $69.44
Profit margin: 2.4x
Retail price: $168
The recycled 3-way blazer - $298 retail
Fabric cost: ($12.05/yd * 2.2yds) + $1/yd for est. materials shipping = $28.71
Lining cost: ($4.10/yd * 1.9yds) +$1/yd for est. materials shipping = $9.96
Buttons cost: $0.60 * 8 buttons = $4.80
Tags, labels, and packaging: $1.65
Total material cost: $44.85
USA labor cost: $90
Total cost to produce: $134.85
Profit margin: 2.2x
Retail price: $298
The sailor dress - $189 retail
Fabric cost: ($10/yd * 2.3yds) + $2/yd for est. materials shipping = $27.60
Tags, labels, and packaging: $1.65
Total material cost: $29.25
USA labor cost: $48
Total cost to produce: $77.25
Profit margin: 2.4x
Retail price: $189
The organic cotton tie-shoulder dress*
Fabric cost: ($7.50/yd * ~2.5yds) = $18.75
Zipper cost: $0.56
Tags, labels, and packaging: $1.65
Total material cost: $20.96
USA labor cost: $40
Total cost to produce: $60.96
Profit margin: 2.4x
Retail price: $148*
[*Since the tie-shoulder dress design isn't finalized, ie. not sure how much fabric each piece will require, I'm not able to share the full pricing breakdown just yet, but I expect it to retail for approximately $148 based on the estimate that it will use 2.5yds of fabric.]
A bit more transparency for those who are curious how much I've spent so far and how I managed to save money in the first place: as of now, I've spent a little under $14k since May 2021 on educational materials, sample/prototype development, and more, and I still have a few more expenses coming my way! I saved up about $20k by living with my husband at my mother-in-law's house rent-free for almost two years between 2018 and 2020, and I think that amount was pretty spot-on for what I needed to cover development costs. Living with parents can require a lot of compromise, but not paying rent is one of the fastest ways to build up a good savings, and I am so grateful that I had the privilege to do so.
I hope this info was insightful and helpful! As always, please feel free to reach out to me with questions or comments here or on IG (DMs welcome). Can't wait to receive our next photo samples with different colorways in about 3 weeks (I'm especially dying to see the recycled plaid skirt 😱)!! Stay tuned for more info and updates as we steadily approach our Spring 2022 launch on Kickstarter!
Thanks for reading 💕 -Tina
7. Prepping for Launch, Part 1 | Feb 11, 2022
As our March 2022 launch steadily approaches, I'd like to share a quick progress update on where we're at right now! Specifically, I'll be sharing details about the Kickstarter campaign, including our funding goals, shipping details, and rewards (with *updated* pricing 😉), as well as what we're up to right now with size grading.
As always, please note that all the details presented below are still potentially subject to change!
The Kickstarter Campaign
Our base funding goal will be $22,000.
This number is based on the cost to produce 100 units each of the Sweetheart Blouse, the Recycled Classic Pleated Mini Skirt, and the Sailor Dress. We must produce at minimum 100pc of each design in order to be able to offer a relatively affordable price-tag, as the smaller the production run is, the higher the labor cost per unit. This is because the more units of the same style the manufacturer produces, the more they are able to automate and streamline certain aspects of production, resulting in a lower amount of time needed to produce each unit.
Since Kickstarter takes a 10% cut from your campaign (5% commission and ~5% for payment processing fees), they recommend that you build that 10% into your budget, as well as an additional ~10% as a "buffer" for taxes and in case your cost estimates are off. Doing so would result in a base funding goal of $26,400, however, since I have conducted thorough R&D, discussed costs at length with my manufacturer, and feel relatively confident about my estimates, I'm happy to not include part of the recommended fee & contingency buffers to the funding goal and simply swallow the majority of the extra fees and costs myself, if it comes to that. By keeping the base funding goal as low as possible, I hope to give Mikumo Apparel the highest chances of successfully being funded. 🤞
Our campaign will also have a stretch goal of $50,000, which will enable us to 1) offer additional colors for each of the designs and 2) unlock the 3-way Recycled Blazer. Since the blazer design is so labor-intensive, we must be able to order a minimum of 200 units in order to offer it at a reasonable price tag. To produce 200 units of blazers, we need an additional $26,038.
The $26,038 for the blazers + the $21,595 needed for our base goal = $47,633, adding 10% for fees/contingency = $52,396.30. Like with the base goal, I am okay with swallowing some of the additional costs, which is why I have set the stretch goal as a flat $50k.
Our base rewards will include the Sweetheart Blouse, the Recycled Classic Pleated Mini Skirt, and the Sailor Dress.
The Sweetheart Blouse is a 70% Tencel 30% cotton blouse featuring natural seashell buttons (trochus or mother of pearl, depending on the color). It will be available in Cream and Mink. If we reach our stretch goal, an additional color, Snow White, will be available. Although the fabric appears sheer in some lighting, it is actually surprisingly opaque when worn on the body - in all photos & videos, I am only wearing a bra that matches my skin tone underneath.
The Recycled Classic Pleated Mini Skirt will be available in Dove, Charcoal, and Earl Grey Plaid. The solid color versions are all 100% recycled polyester from water bottles, whereas the plaid version is 75% recycled polyester, 13% viscose, and 12% polyester. All skirts have a silky lining that is also 100% recycled polyester. Colors Chocolate and Fawn will be unlocked if we reach our stretch goal.
The Sailor Dress is 100% Tencel and will be available in Dove and Shadow. I haven't decided on which additional color(s) to add as stretch goal incentives, so please reach out if there's a particular color you would like to see!
(On a side note - due to my dissatisfaction with the Organic Cotton Tie-Shoulder Dress, as of now, I will not be including it in the Kickstarter campaign; I'm very sorry to those of you who were looking forward to that dress, but I simply cannot justify selling a product that I don't believe in with my whole heart. Although I like the fabric and the skirt, I'm not quite happy with the fit of the bodice, so I will continue working with my sample-maker to refine the design to my liking. If it happens to be ready in time, I will include it in the campaign, but most likely, it will be released in a later collection.)
Since the last pricing reveal blog post, I've had some time to think about my priorities, and I have decided to make all the prices lower by reducing my profit margin.
As a reminder, the typical industry markup is ~3-6x. A 2.5x margin is already considered to be very low, as a healthy margin is important to cover any overhead costs and things like free shipping and shipping insurance, but since it's just me behind the brand, and I currently don't have employees, payroll, company health insurance, office rent, etc. to worry about, I have more wiggle room than most other brands that do have to consider heftier overheads. Of course, given that the brand grows and expands in the future, I will have to adjust my margins accordingly, but I figure that we'll cross that bridge when we get to it!
I've also discussed this with my mentors, who have echoed to me that profits are not as important in the beginning as simply getting your product out there to more people, and I have to agree! At the end of the day, I am just so grateful for all of you who have been supporting Mikumo Apparel that I don't mind taking a low margin for myself in favor of passing on a more enticing price to my precious early backers. You guys are the real MVPs, and this is just another way for me to express my gratitude and appreciation for your vital early support. 🙏
- New Kickstarter price: $169 Regular | $159 Early Bird
Below is a list of the current countries I plan to offer shipping to for the Kickstarter campaign, the estimated shipping costs for customers, and the respective pledge thresholds to unlock free shipping. Price estimates were calculated via PirateShip with Simple Export Rate turned on.
Est. Shipping Cost (if you don't meet the Free Shipping Threshold)*
Free Shipping Threshold
Free for all domestic pledges!
*Note that the above shipping costs reflect the customer's est. shipping cost for pledge orders with total values under the free shipping threshold (which logically, I know would not surpass a certain weight). The actual cost for me to ship to certain countries can be a lot higher for orders that surpass a certain weight and insurable value - for example, if you're in Australia and you pledge Early Bird for a blouse, skirt, and dress (resulting in a total pledge of $435) my shipping & insurance cost would be $45!
If you are interested in pledging for items but don't see your country listed here, please send us a DM on instagram or shoot us an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, and I will see if it is possible! A follower recently inquired about Austria, which was not on the country list before, and now it is~
Some countries are simply not easy to deal with, especially since I plan to ship everything myself for that special personal touch (after the campaign, I will likely switch to using a fulfillment center). For example, I am unable to offer shipping to the UK, as the UK requires VAT to be collected at the point of sale, and Kickstarter does not have this functionality (if you're familiar with Kickstarter, that's why you've been seeing so many post-Brexit campaigns exclude UK from shipping destinations).
❗️IMPORTANT❗️: International backers - please note that all shipments will be sent DDU (delivery duty unpaid), meaning you will be responsible for paying any applicable customs, duties, and/or fees once your package enters your country.
For those of you in the EU, this can mean paying an additional 17-27% VAT upon import depending on your country, plus any handling fees. Please research the relevant costs for your specific country before placing your pledge to avoid any unpleasant surprises!
All shipments will come with tracking info and insurance, so no need to worry about your parcel getting lost.
For the crowdfunding campaign, we will not be offering returns, but will offer exchanges for unworn merchandise with the return tag still attached for US and Canada orders. However, since the profit margins are already low, the customer will be responsible for the cost of shipping. I will be sharing our temporary Kickstarter exchange policy in Part 2 of this blog post, and our official returns & exchanges policy will be announced when our regular online store goes live after the Kickstarter campaign.
Product Development Progress
Clothing Samples: Sizing
Currently, I have all of the approved photo samples I need except for the Dove color of the Sailor Dress, which is still a slightly outdated version (will be getting the updated version in soon). That means that I am now ready to move into marking and grading! During this process, the paper patterns get converted into digital patterns and fed into an advanced industry software that extrapolates patterns for additional sizes based on the brand's size chart.
As a reminder, we will be aiming to grade for sizes XS-XL, with the hopes of expanding our size range as our business scales. Recently, I've gotten quite a few good faith inquiries about including larger sizes, which I've been happy to receive and address, and thought this section on grading could be another good opportunity to further elucidate and be transparent about an additional reason why sizing isn't as simple as it may seem at first thought, specifically for small brands (there are no excuses for billionaires, of course!).
Expanding a size range not only requires additional upfront costs ($50-75 to grade for each size offered, plus - if you're responsible - additional sampling and fit modeling fees in the hundreds) but can also impact the overall per-unit cost of production for small batch runs.
For example, we know my goal is to be able to produce a minimum of 100 skirts - perhaps more - but in that ballpark. If I place an order for a production run of 100 skirts, offered in three colors and 5 sizes (XS-XL), the workers would have to shift their working station set-ups around every 6-7 pieces on average, which is already quite frequently - the more the workers need to shift gears, the less efficient and more expensive it is. You can then imagine how adding one or two more sizes to a small batch of around 100 garments can start to be a real problem for efficiency and subsequently one's budget and price tag. It's a simple problem of scale that I will do my best to deal with in the future as we grow. 💪
Lastly, I don't want to make it sound like it is entirely unfeasible for a small start-up brand to have a large size range, but this tends to only be possible if it is the brand's major marketing strategy or if the brand is so small that they don't worry about minimum order quantities. I've also noticed many size-inclusive brands offset the additional sizing costs they incur by producing simpler designs, often with knit fabric (which is much more forgiving fit-wise and usually cheaper than woven fabric, but isn't appropriate for many kinds of garment designs), that cost less to produce in the first place. Hope that sheds some light on the sizing challenges we small brands face and provides reassurance that it is something I have spent a considerable amount of time researching and discussing with mentors and my manufacturer!
After marking & grading is completed, measurements for each of our garments will be listed on the Kickstarter campaign.
Coming in Part 2
Thanks for reading this far; those of you who read these blog posts and send me feedback bring me so much joy and encouragement! 🥺🙏
Part 2 of this blog post will include any relevant updates, additional (smaller) reward announcements, packaging information, exchange policy, and more. As always, stay tuned~
8. Prepping for Launch, Part 2 (1 Week Until Launch!) | Mar 15
Hello my friends, can you believe that our Kickstarter campaign is right around the corner?? After over a year of research, development, and preparations, it's so wild to think that it's finally time to launch. I'm feeling anxious, hopeful, and full of energy!
Since my last blog post (Prepping for Launch, Part 1), Kickstarter officially approved our campaign, and I've made a few tweaks to our base and stretch funding goals, the rewards, early bird specials, bundles, and more! I'm also now able to share with you our sizing charts for each style in the collection.
1. Funding Goals Updates
As I mentioned in the previous blog post, a big piece of advice my mentors shared with me was to not worry too much about having long-term sustainable profit margins (which is important to me, as I'd eventually like to transition to being an illustrator & fashion designer full-time) during launch, and that simply getting your product out there should be the number one priority. Additionally, having a lower base funding goal means reaching it faster, which is better for marketing purposes and gaining traction with audiences outside of our existing community. After thinking about this deeply and consulting with my manufacturer, I have decided to lower our base funding goal from $22,000 to $15,000.
This new base funding goal of $15,000 is based on a production run of 50 units per style, rather than 100 units. Doing so increases my production cost per unit by about 30% and reduces my profit margin from around 2-2.2x to 1.5-1.8x, but after some consideration, I have come to the conclusion that it's an acceptable trade-off for the time being!
Our base rewards will include:
- The Sweetheart Blouse in Cream and Mink (a mid-tone brown-grey)
- The Recycled Pleated Mini Skirt in Dove (a light greige) and Charcoal
- The Sailor Dress in Cloud (a light grey) and Shadow (a warm-toned black)
Our old base goal of $22,000 is now our Stretch Goal 1. If we reach Stretch Goal 1, the following item colors will be unlocked:
- The Recycled Pleated Mini Skirt in Earl Grey Plaid
- The Sailor Dress in Sage (a muted green)
The previous stretch goal of $50,000 is now our Stretch Goal 2. If we reach Stretch Goal 2, we unlock:
- The Sweetheart Blouse in Snow (white)
- The Recycled Pleated Mini Skirt in Fawn (tan) and Choco (dark brown)
- The Sailor Dress in Vintage Rose (a dusty pink)
- The Recycled Belted Blazer in all color ways that the Recycled Pleated Mini Skirt is in
My hopes are that we can fund the entire $50k, but of course, the most important thing is just getting enough to get started! After all, the Kickstarter campaign is not the end - rather, it's just the beginning.
2. Rewards Updates
I'm really happy to share a few special updates about our rewards and Early Bird deals!
Firstly - I've added another reward: graphic t-shirts made with 100% certified organic cotton, featuring a design by me that expresses the meaning of "Mikumo." These will be available in sizes XS-4XL for $30.
Originally, I was going to name the brand just "Migumo," based on my and my husband's nicknames, Mi and Gu, and my dog's name, Moly, but felt that it was lacking a little something-something. After brainstorming for a while, I decided to change "Migumo" to "Mikumo," based on the Japanese pronunciation of the Kanji/Chinese characters, 美雲 - meaning "beautiful" and "cloud."
Another reason I felt drawn to this name was that my Chinese name is 雨青 ("rain," "blue") which refers to the idiom, "雨过天青" - yǔ guò tiān qīng - meaning "the clear/blue sky after the rain," or a period of clarity and peace after times of struggle. It's somewhat similar to the English idiom, "every cloud has a silver lining."
To me, the cloud represents the journey between states of rain and clear sky and the beauty of resilience, hope, and perspective in a never-ending cycle of ups and downs.
Secondly, I've updated our Early Bird deals and bundle offers:
Early Bird deals will only be available for the first 48 hours, so don't miss them! Also, note that you can select add-ons to make your own custom order. For example, if you wanted to get the Twirl Bundle, but you want two skirts and a dress, you'd simply select the Recycled Pleated Mini Skirt as an add-on. If you select add-ons during the Early Bird period, your add ons will reflect the Early Bird price - so in this example, your pledge for two skirts and one dress would amount to $420 ($282 for the Twirl Bundle + $138 for the extra skirt).
3. Size charts
Our styles have finally finished being marked and graded!
As part of our slow fashion ethos, I decided that it was important to be able to provide measurements for each style, rather than relying on a blanket brand size chart, as I'm sure we can all agree, they are not consistent, dependable references for how a specific item will fit.
Ordering simplified spec sheets for each of the styles and sizes cost me an extra $400, but I think it's worth it, if it means we can potentially reduce unnecessary returns/exchanges, shipping emissions, and waste! In return, all I ask of you is to do your part as a conscious consumer and use a measuring tape to measure your body before you select your size.
Size charts below (all measurements in inches):
(The Recycled Belted Blazer size chart will be released if we reach our stretch goal of $50k)
And, of course, all of this information will be laid out again in the Kickstarter campaign itself! T-minus 7 days...
9. Kickstarter updates & My Trip to NYC | Jul 27
It's been a while since my last blog post (about 4 months - oh how time flies!), so we have a lot of ground to cover. In this post, I'll be sharing progress on the Kickstarter campaign fulfillment, my recent visit to NYC to visit our factory & attend three fabric sourcing shows, as well as some early details about Mikumo's next collection ♡
To recap, the Kickstarter campaign ran from March 22nd - April 21st, raising over $24k! Since then, we have acquired all our fabrics and materials, despite a couple of shipping delays, and started producing our clothing at our family-owned factory in Brooklyn.
As of now, 2/3 of the styles have been completed! The blouses and skirts are currently just being steamed and packed up at the factory, while the sailor dress pieces have all been cut out and are ready to sew together, after which, they will be sent to my home, where I will hand-pack and ship each order as a gesture of deep gratitude to all my early supporters.
I will start by shipping out orders that only contain skirts and/or blouses first, and continue shipping out orders as dresses become available (current estimation is that the dresses will be done in 2-3 weeks). If your order contains a T-shirt, pleated skirt, sweetheart blouse, or any combination of those three, your orders will likely start shipping in mid-August. If your order contains a sailor dress, you can expect to have your orders start shipping in late August-early September!
NYC Fabric Shows
Apart from my factory visit, I also attended three fabric sourcing shows that were conveniently happening concurrently and located very close to each other! Although this was not technically my first time attending a fabric show, it felt like my first in a lot of ways.
When I went last summer, events were still very COVID-conscious - much more so than they are now - and the fabric show I visited was little more than fabric on hangers with a small handful of vendor booths with representatives actually present. Understandably, there weren't any overseas in-person attendants, and there were simply fewer vendors and fabrics to explore overall. There was also only one fabric show - Texworld - happening at that time last year, whereas this year, there were two additional shows happening the same week - the New York Fabric Show, which didn't overlap with Texworld last summer, and the Functional Fabric Fair, which has resumed activity after a pandemic hiatus.
And can I just say - the difference in experience between my first time and this time was astounding! It felt like being a little kid in a candy store. At the shows, I was able to meet with some of my existing suppliers, as well as make valuable connections with potential suppliers. In the fashion industry, these kinds of trade shows are still an integral part of networking, as many companies still do not have a big web presence.
All three shows focused on slightly different themes, with Texworld being the largest show with the greatest variety of vendors from all over the world, Functional Fabric Fair showcasing the latest in textile technology and performance fabrics, and the New York Fabric Show highlighting domestic and North American production and suppliers. I was able to find beautiful, promising fabrics, buttons, buckles and more at all three shows!
There was a lively atmosphere and many rows of booths with friendly and helpful salespeople. Being on the other side of a successful crowdfunding campaign and having some familiarity with the structure of a fabric show from my previous visit, I felt confident in my inquiries and was treated seriously and respectfully in turn. It was such an affirming and encouraging experience, and I can't wait to receive my swatches and share them with you! I'm so curious to see what we will be able to incorporate into our next collection...
Next Collection Development
During my factory visit last week, we also discussed plans for our next collection, which I’m hoping to have available for this coming Fall/Winter season, though I may have to be flexible with the drop dates, as my husband and I will be moving across states and finally going on our twice-postponed honeymoon (we got married in Fall 2020) this October. Now that I have a lot more knowledge and experience, though, I’m hoping that development will go a lot faster this time and that I'll be able to get items into production well before the move/honeymoon!
As you may have seen on our Instagram, I've already started working on some potential designs for the next release. The collection will for sure contain the two dresses below, but other than those two designs, I'd like your opinion to decide what 2-3 other items I should develop! The design survey should be going live within the next week or so, so be on the lookout~
By the way, what do you think about this cool 3D model of the Lilith Dress? I've been trying out a fashion development company that uses 3D modeling software to develop patterns, which they claim can significantly reduce development time and costs by using less labor and materials than it would take to make multiple physical sample revisions. If this works out, it will be quite the asset to have in my designer toolbox!
I'm feeling so excited for the future and grateful that I've been given the chance to embark on this journey. In just a year's time, so much has changed for me (mostly just so happy to be doing something I actually really love and care about) and it's all thanks to your support! Thanks for reading, and if you haven't yet, subscribe to our mailing list and follow us on Instagram to make sure you won't miss any updates and the upcoming design survey 💌
10. Moving soon + Design Survey results | Aug 17
I can really feel the wheels turning now - Not only have we started shipping Kickstarter orders this week, we're also developing our next collection, getting professional photography with actual models, and moving to our new online shop. This may be the last blog post that you ever read at this site!
Our URL will likely remain the same, but we are switching from WiX to Shopify, which has more integrations and inventory management functionality. During this time of transition, the best way to keep in touch with us is to follow us on Instagram @mikumoapparel. Our current estimate is that the online shop will be open sometime in mid-September. Once it goes live, all mailing list subscribers will receive the 10% off coupon code, as promised!
Design Survey Results
First of all, I want to say thank you so much to everyone who participated in the survey, which was live for one week from August 3-10. During that time, 115 people submitted a response. Our past two surveys have garnered about 50 responses each, so having more than double the responses this time around has been a real delight; it's so fun getting to know what the Mikumo community is like!
Without further ado, here are the results of the Fall/Winter '22 design survey!
Top 3 color choices:
Rose - 97 votes Winter blue - 49 votes Ivory - 45 votes
I heard you loud and clear - solid rose it is! We have already sourced a lovely EcoVero viscose that is available in a rose and cool, grey-blue color for sampling. Based on your print choices, we may also produce a floral color way, with preference for a more timeless, vintage-style floral print over trendier ditsy florals (I love them so much, but I do wonder how they will wear in a few years - I guess only time will tell).
Top 3 color choices: Rose - 73 votes Aubergine - 62 votes Maroon - 53 votes
Like the Sinclair Dress, the Lilith Dress also will be sampled in EcoVero viscose. Unfortunately, there is no aubergine-like color available in this fabric, but there is a deep wine red/maroon color that is absolutely gorgeous. However, after much consideration, I've decided to make this a Spring 2023 item, as I'd like to produce the dress without the bolero first. Therefore, this style will not be going into production this year, but we may get a head start on the development start sampling.
Other Collection Items We will develop 1-3 additional styles from the options given on the survey. Respondents were asked to pick their top 3 choices.
Top 3 Styles: Pleated shirtdress with removable collar and lace-up detailing - 56 votes Oversized drop-sleeve hoodie with ribbon detailing - 51 votes Adjustable asymmetric pleated skirt with buckle detailing - 44 votes
The votes were much more spread out here than they were for the color and pattern options! It seemed like there were fans of every design, which is great, because we can always develop a style later. I'm really excited to work with the top three designs! Since the survey ended, I've been getting the ball rolling with sourcing fabric and starting the sampling process. If you're curious, here are the tentative materials that we will be using:
The Millie Shirtdress: Linen check-pattern fabric. Real, ethically sourced horn buttons. The Hina Hoodie: Organic cotton fleece, recycled satin ribbon. The Sylvie Skirt: Recycled wool/poly blend, metal buckle.
I also have a few surprises up my sleeve with potential additions to the next collection (hint hint: knits), so please stay tuned~
Aside from the style, color, and pattern choices, I also asked respondents about their size, clothing feature priorities, and opinions on animal products. Here are the results on that:
Mikumo Audience Sizes Out of 113 people who chose to respond:
0% wear XXS 14.2% wear XS 33.6% wear S 33.6% wear M 14.2% wear L 3.5% wear XL 1% wear XXL 0% wear above XXL
Opinions on horn 115 responses 71% of respondents said they would support the use of horn on the principle of reducing animal waste and using durable, biodegradable natural materials. 4.3% of respondents said would not purchase a garment with horn because it is an animal product and adjacent to the meat industry. 22.6% of respondents said they did not have a strong opinion on the use of horn.
I'm happy to see that most of the Mikumo community is in support of real horn buttons! During my visit to the NYC sourcing shows last month, I was able to find a wonderful horn button supplier of all sorts - they not only offer real horn buttons, but also imitation horn buttons made out of recycled paper and recycled plastic. I ordered samples of each kind, and without a doubt - once they were before my eyes and in my hands up close - the real horn buttons were the most beautiful, with a smooth, shiny surface and unmatched depth of color. While the recycled paper and recycled plastic buttons are great vegan options, they undoubtedly take more energy and resources to process into their final forms than natural horn buttons. Therefore, I have chosen to proceed with real, natural horn buttons, though I will always keep the other sustainability-forward options in mind should demand shift!
Our real horn buttons are sourced from Italy, where ethical farmers raise Asian Water Buffalo to produce mozzarella, yogurt, and other such products. These buffalo are raised on large farms, where they never see the inside of a cage or pen and are allowed to roam and graze freely. Eventually, the buffalo are processed into meat for local consumption (water buffalo meat is considered a delicacy and is very popular in certain regions of Italy), leaving us with leather, bones, and horns. These bones and horns are then made into buttons by a factory (also in Italy!) that ensures a living wage to all of its workforce. I feel really lucky to have made such a great supplier connection; it just really goes to show how important it still is to attend trade shows in the fashion industry.
Opinions on wool 114 responses 50.9% of respondents said they support the use of wool in clothing 31.6% of respondents said they would only support the use of wool if it is ethically sourced 3.5% of respondents said they would only support the use of wool if it is recycled from existing wool 14% of respondents said they did not have a strong opinion on the use of horn. No respondents said they did not support the use of wool under any circumstances. Wool has been on my mind! Not only is it thermoregulating and odor-resistant, it's one of the few natural materials that handles pleating very well (cotton/linen does ok, but will definitely wrinkle and lose shape easily with wear and washing). I'm glad to see that many of you are also in support of the use of wool, especially ethically sourced and recycled wool, both of which I have found suppliers for. There may be some merino in the works...
Top 3 desired clothing qualities 115 responses Easy to launder - 82.6% Wrinkle resistance - 70% Sustainability certifications - 57.4% Balancing ease of care with natural, sustainability-forward materials can be challenging. Anyone who wears linen knows that wrinkles simply come with the territory. Many natural fabrics that claim to be wrinkle-free actually have an artificial coating on them that can negate the environmental positives of using a natural fabric. Ease of laundering and wrinkle resistance can also be improved by blending the natural fiber with some polyester. The truth is, there aren't going to be a lot of sustainability-forward fabrics that you can simply toss into the washer and dryer on high heat - many should ideally be air-dried and some should be hand-washed. However, based on previous surveys, I know that most people can tolerate machine washing on a low heat gentle cycle and air drying, which is sufficient for most fabrics. Moving forward, I will aim to design a mix of items made of purely natural materials and items mixed with recycled polyester, to provide options that will suit anyone's lifestyle, no matter how much time you have to spend on laundry.
That's it for the Fall/Winter 2022 survey results! Thanks again so much to everyone who participated, especially those of you who wrote lovely notes at the end. I'm endlessly grateful for your support ♡ Hope you enjoyed the read and as always, feel free to let me know your thoughts here, on IG, or via email at email@example.com!