Welcome to the Mikumo online store official blog!
To give a quick recap of our brand's short history - Mikumo launched via Kickstarter in March 2022, raising $24k+ to manufacture our first collection of sustainability-forward clothing.
In October, we transferred our domain to Shopify, but don't worry - all the old blogs are archived *here.*
I’m currently working hard on our new collection, which will include designs like the Teddy jacket, Sylvie skirt, and Sinclair dress, featuring recycled wool and eco-viscose fabric. All of these designs are at various stages of development, so I’m not quite able to share when these designs will be available for purchase just yet, especially since…
Big news - I’ll be visiting India early next year to tour factories!
My flights are booked and I am ready to go!
Truth be told, I've been thinking of manufacturing outside of the USA for quite a while now. It's a thought I've entertained ever since I first began working on Mikumo's concept, in late 2020.
Initially, I had wanted to work with factories in China, as I myself am Chinese-American and can speak Mandarin. However, due to multiple issues, including US-China political tension, the resulting trade disincentives, and China’s pandemic response, I ultimately decided that I wasn't in a position to take on that amount of risk at the very beginning of my journey.
Manufacturing in the USA has its plus sides - for one, you can visit your factory on a frequent basis. Shipping between you and your factory is uncomplicated and fast. And on a basic level, it does feel nice to support domestic manufacturing!
However, the truth of the matter is that USA manufacturing capabilities are just not up to par with that of textile giants like India and China. Many factories in the US are limited in the complexity of designs they can handle and often don’t have specialty finishes available in-house, like embroidery, snap + grommet installation, smocking, and more, requiring designers like me to ship garments to multiple locations. One US factory on the east coast I talked to said they couldn't even do button plackets - which are simply the button-up part of button-up shirts.
Considering the complex nature of my designs, this just wasn't going to work out for me long-term.
Another difficult aspect of manufacturing in the US is the relatively high cost of labor. Since most garment workers in the US are paid minimum wage or lower (due to being paid per piece rather than per hour), a $20-25/hr wage is considered a very good wage. Many ethics-conscious brands, like Christy Dawn, pay in this range, and so does Mikumo.
With small scale production quantities and the complexity level of my designs, this means that any given piece I ever produce in the USA will have a base labor cost of about $40-80 dollars per piece. Once you add material costs, you get a production cost of $60-120/piece, resulting in a price range of $150-275 IF I take a small 2.5x margin. If I were to take a more standard but still reasonably low 3x margin, our price range would be $195-330. I'm currently taking an average margin of about 2x which is very, very low, but that's what I need to do at the moment to have my prices where I want them.
One of the greatest challenges Mikumo faces right now is finding that balance between an accessible price point and what’s feasible for me to produce. This brings up questions of sustainability in the business sense - am I as an individual designer making enough to sustain myself and continue designing? Not to mention, it has been exhausting for me to run Mikumo as a one-woman show.
Manufacturing in India would allow me to take a higher margin (2x -> 3x) while also lowering the prices for my customers by 10-20% (remember, my factories are top of the line in sustainability/ethics and I am still doing small-batch production, so I’m not making as extreme a profit increase by moving from the USA to India as one may assume). This increase in our profit margin would give me the capital to invest in other areas, such as marketing, and to hire help for areas that I am weak in, like web development and accounting, allowing me to focus my energy on what I love - designing and development - rather than having to juggle many hats on my own.
Since India is a garment manufacturing giant, there is naturally a lot of competition, meaning that the top factories in India actually surpass the quality of most USA factories by a significant margin. Many USA factories, even the ones that pay a decent $20/hr+ salary, do not have any notable 3rd-party certifications, as this simply isn’t the norm here. This means that the best I can personally do to ensure my items are being produced with ethical labor is to ask and trust the answer. On the other hand, in India, I can rely on regulations and reputable auditing systems to get a much clearer and wider picture of the sustainability and ethics of any particular factory.
The factories that I plan to tour in India are all of the highest quality, with multiple third-party ethical trade and sustainability certifications from Sedex, Inditex, GOTS, GRS, Fair Trade, Fair Wear, and more, with several factories also running their own women’s empowerment, training, and corporate responsibility initiatives.
I have toured several factories in the US - and trust me - there are still plenty of unethical factories in the USA that pay minimum wage or somehow get away with worse (some US states don’t even give garment workers the rights to minimum wage). Just because something is made in the USA does not guarantee that it was made ethically. I was appalled by some of the big-name brands I saw in these factories, where the owners refused to tell me how much the workers made, only stating "not much."
While there is no true compromise when it comes to balancing ethics and logistics, the best way I could think of to balance out the margins for both me and the cost for our customers was to work in another country, with much lower cost of living and thus a lower cost of labor, without sacrificing the human element. This is also why I am making such a huge effort to actually *be* there - because I want to actually see and know who is making my clothes, to know their names and faces.
Also - we will still be producing some of our items in the USA, such as our on-demand zero-waste knits (as the benefit of on-demand production is greater if the manufacturing is domestic).
The Sinclair and her longer sister, Clarice, are currently in India, getting prepped to move into the production stage. All that is left is to finalize our fabric choices and grade and fit-test the sizes. Although I still can’t give an ETA on when you can expect these designs to be available in our shop, I should be able to shortly, so stay tuned!