MISSBISH Michelle Lai | Founder of the “It” Monogram Bag Line MISCHA

Author: Ali DiEmidio

It's not often that one is struck with a brilliant business idea and is able to switch career gears to make it come to life. Michelle Lai did exactly that. A globetrotter through and through, the Founder of MISCHA has created an accessories line for us busy ladies in mind. We spoke with Michelle about her favorite MISCHA bags (she hasn't purchased a handbag since she started the line!), her favorite travel destinations, as well as overcoming your fears to pursue your passion. Check out the interview below!

MISCHA was founded in 2004 and really came into its own when you released the brand's signature hexagon-print collection. Can you tell us how MISCHA came to be?
I've always been into sewing and making my own things. But it all started when I couldn't find the right clutch for my friend's wedding one year. So I cut up one of my vintage Japanese obis and made one myself. That was in 2004, and I called my brand MISCHA, after my childhood nickname. It started off as a passion project. It wasn't until 2010, when I launched the Travel Series - a line of hexagon print tote bags, that things took off, so to speak. I had a core group of clients that were tired of carrying the same thing everyone else had and kept asking me to design something they could use every day. The concept behind the Travel Series was my version of the heritage brand monogram in timeless shapes, but with an Asian influence.

You made the jump from a career in education to pursue your passion for design, was that scary?
So scary! The decision was a long time coming and I had to overcome many of my own doubts and insecurities about my career path, relevant experience, and missing skill sets in order to do so. Though I had been thinking about it for a long time, the tipping point happened the weekend I finished my 40 Day Baron Baptiste yoga retreat. Something shifted and I went back to work on Monday and handed in my notice. I couldn't imagine life another way at that moment.

Do you have any advice for our readers who are trying to launch their own brands
Be ready for a rollercoaster ride and a real test of your character and mental health! For many creatives, operating a business does not come naturally so I would say get organized or choose a business partner wisely. Always do your homework and always be ready for opportunities when they come along. Always stay positive, open minded and flexible. Have trusted friends and advisors you can bounce ideas off of because it can get pretty lonely. Put your trust in your team, they will lift you up when you think it's about to all fall apart. It's not for everyone, but it's a beautiful thing.

Tell us about the SS16 Horizon Collection, which was inspired by your travels to Japan. (The gradient hues on the totes are so rad!)
An interest in Japan and its art and culture are what inspired the aesthetics behind MISCHA all those years ago. Every collection I've designed so far is inspired by my travels to different countries and the SS16 Horizon Collection is significant because the inspiration comes full circle. During a recent trip to Japan, I spent a lot of time outdoors and was struck by the beauty and mood of the sky during different phases of the day. Aoyama (pink bag) is relaxing with its pretty pink, coral and lavender hues of the dusk sky. Fuji is yellow and warm orange with the hope of new beginnings at sunrise. Shimoda is the starry night sky that meets the deep blue ocean.

All MISCHA bags are actually made with travel in mind - as a globetrotter yourself, what are your top 3 favorite places to visit and why?
I like places that I can keep going back to and discover new things every time. Japan is top of the list for inspiration, food and all kinds of craziness. It's naturally beautiful and I have a tradition of going to Kyoto for sakura season every year for my birthday. I'm in awe of the pride taken in many aspects of life there. I also love the seaside so any tropical island is great. I go to Koh Samui and Bali often. It's a great way to unplug and go diving. Paris is a cliche but I love riding my bicycle around town in the summer time and I always come back feeling more chic and inspired by the people watching.

“Be ready for a rollercoaster ride and a real test of your character and mental health! For many creatives, operating a business does not come naturally so I would say get organized and choose a business partner wisely.”

For our day-to-day, we are living for the bucket camo bag. Which is your favorite bag and why?
I love that camo print design, period. I know, I love the Camo print as well! It's one of the designs I'm most proud of. A funny fact is that I haven't bought a handbag since I started MISCHA, 7 years ago! My favourite bag still is the Jet Set Tote; my first design and most popular. It's the most versatile and useful for me because I just throw everything into it.

All of the bags in your Bespoke line with the Swarovski crystals are so beautiful. Can you tell us about the inspiration behind the collection?
I have a thing for the glamour of old Hollywood and I wanted one of my own, so I decided to design one. Working with skilled craftsmen to design minaudieres was very fun. I got to take some of the vintage obi designs and immortalize them. We still do bespoke designs for clients on a made to order basis. One of my favourites is named after a good friend of mine - The Koko Onigiri - it's a playful version of the Japanese rice ball. It makes people squeal when they see how cute it is!

What's a typical day like for you?
If I don't exercise then I take my time in the morning and I'll be in the office around 9:30am. I'll have half an hour of quiet time before the girls come in. On exercise mornings, I get up a little earlier and go to yoga or run, and I'll be in around 10am. I spend the morning focused on planning with my team and going through daily admin. I do a lot more big picture things rather than designing these days. In the afternoons, I'm in and out of the office for meetings. Now, I want to leave the office at a decent time and meet friends for dinner or go home to relax. I swing between being super sociable and hiding in my cave. Generally, I aim to be in bed before midnight because I have to have at least 8 hours sleep.

How do you make time for fitness when your schedule gets crazy?
Sadly, my fitness schedule often suffers when my schedule gets crazy. I recently injured my knee on a ski trip, so I'm still recovering. As I get older I realise how important it is to make fitness a priority. Yoga has been a big part of my routine and I make a point of doing it even when I travel.

If we only had one day to spend in Hong Kong, where would we need to make sure to stop and why?
There's so much to see and do, I'd start with a walk up the morning trail and hope for a clear day. Off to the beach for a swim and a seafood lunch on Lamma Island. Take a walk around the Old Kowloon Walled City followed by high tea service at The Peninsula. Taking a ride on the Star Ferry by night is still a magical thing for me. Explore the Ladies Market and get your fortune told by a little bird.

What's next for you and for MISCHA?
It's been such a ride the last 7 years, and I feel like I finally have a handle on what I'm doing. This is going to be a year of transformation and change - you'll start seeing in the second half of the year!

What does MISSBISH mean to you?
She's what I'd call your women of today. She's the perfect balance of strong and soft, feminine and badass. She's intelligent, soulful and curious to see the world.

Photos by: Stanley Cheng

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