Interview with Alyssa Kerbel
was founded in 2008 by Alyssa Kerbel after the birth of her daughter. At that time, Alyssa found it very difficult to find simple, soft, well-made basics, particularly in neutral colours.
Drawing upon her previous fashion industry experience, she set about creating a collection of ethically-made, organic baby and kids' basics. The very first mm orders were shipped out to customers just six months later.
Why did you decide to found the company?
Hi there. My name is Alyssa Kerbel, and I am the founder and president of Mini Mioche. We are a baby and kids apparel manufacturer based out of Toronto, Canada. We actually make all of our clothing, from start to finish, in Toronto right in Canada, including our fabrics which are knit and dyed, and washed and dried here, and our garments are all cut and sewn here. I decided to start the company after I had my daughter, who just turned eleven - so the company is now 10 years old. When I had her, I found it really difficult to find just great, simple, good quality, unisex basics, that didn't have graphic prints and things all over them, and it just seemed like there was a lock on the market for that type of product. And so, drawing upon my fashion background - I do have a background in fashion sales - I decided to see if I could just start a collection and produce it myself. And so we started with a line of infant basics - organic and made ethically and locally - that was our points of difference. And we started out with just ten styles and about ten colors, just for babies: newborn to 18 to 24 months. And we launched that six months after I came up with the concept for the brand, and then we essentially started out wholesaling it to stores across Canada, and then a little bit into the US. We then launched our online store within about a year, and then we opened brick and mortar retail stores about two years into the business, and that was 10 years ago now.
Who is Mini Mioche Retail's biggest competitior in your industry?
So the question is: who is Mini Mioche Retail's biggest competitor in the industry? This is a question that I find rather difficult to answer. I don't think that there is anybody, really, in our industry who does exactly what we do, which is really simple modern fashion basics that are often unisex; that are made ethically and in a completely transparent way; and using organic and eco-friendly fabrics that are knit exclusively for us. So technically, nobody does exactly what we do. That being said, there's lots of amazing brands that have been launched - especially in the last, I'd say five years - that are not huge brands, but that are moms or fashion designers who are making really interesting and cool products for kids that I love and think are amazing. And there's just so much more on the market now, and there's so much more available, that I think that there's just more general competition in terms of amazing cool kids clothing options. But I don't think of any one retailer, really, as our "biggest competition", so to speak.
What makes Mini Mioche Retail unique from other apparel businesses?
So this question is: what makes Mini Mioche Retail unique from other apparel businesses? So I'd say our main point of difference - and the reason why most people shop with us - is our aesthetic, which is very gender neutral, very simple. We basically make clothing that we would wear, but in take down, miniature version. So it's very comfy, and casual and wearable - you see lots of kids who are wearing these like really cute outfits but they look so uncomfortable. And also in a lot of cases, you feel like it's not going to necessarily last or stand the test of time. A lot of our customers really love the fact that they can pass our garments down from one child to the next, to the next, and that there's been things that have been passed down for years and years because of the type of clothing, the quality, and the aesthetic of the brand. The fact that it's organic and eco-friendly - that also makes us unique from a lot of apparel businesses. Everything is organic and eco-friendly in our brand. All of our fabrics, like I said, are knit exclusively for us, which is unique. We don't buy fabrics from other suppliers and we also have total transparency on our production process. Our factories are 20 minutes from our downtown Toronto office - we go there all the time. We show videos and pictures and everything, which also makes us unique from a lot of apparel businesses at this point, that manufacture off-shore and often don't even know who or in what conditions they're their garments are being made in. So I would say all of those things are kind of what make our business unique. And the other thing is that we run a core basics program all the time in very gender-neutral colors, - like black, and white, and heather gray, and heather charcoal and vintage plum - that people know that they can get from us season after season, and this is just wardrobe staples, and that's sort of unique to Mini Mioche.
How did you find the right production factory? How long did it take you until you were ready for production?
So the question is: how did you find the right production factory? How long did it take you until you were ready for production? So at the very beginning, I didn't have a design or manufacturing background. I knew that I wanted to make it in Canada - and locally - and I knew that really was the only option for us, because we weren't gonna go offshore and be able to meet the minimums right away - financially or volume wise. So I ended up working with a local friend of mine and contact that I met through the fashion industry, who was essentially doing adult clothing that was very similar in aesthetic and quality to what I wanted to do for kids. And I essentially asked him if he could help me and help me source the factories, and just sort of manage the production process from the beginning, which is how I got things off the ground. And he helped me with the design and the execution, basically manage the production at the beginning and oversaw the fabric and the dye house and the factories. We still work with one of the same factories that we worked with since the very beginning - we have since recently onboarded some new local factories to keep up with production demand. I was very fortunate that I got hooked up with a great factory through my contacts right from the beginning, and as a result of that I was able to get things moving and off the ground pretty quickly. We started the process of just figuring out the designs and what we were gonna be offering in basically January, and we had launched our first collection and were shipping our first orders in July of that year, which is a pretty quick turnaround time. And because also it's made in Canada, the timing for it to be delivered to us is a little bit quicker than if you're producing off shore, so that also contributed to that quick six month launch period that we were able to achieve.
What's next for Mini Mioche Retail, as well as your own career?
So the next question is: what's next for Mini Mioche Retail, as well as your own career? So in terms of the business, we've had a crazy year: we hired a bunch of new team members on our leadership team; we launched a U.S. online store and website; we actually opened our first brick and mortar store in the U.S. in September of this year, in Los Angeles, so that's just about a month ago now. So there's been a lot, lot going on. So now, in terms of at least the next one year or so, we're going to really be looking to leverage all the stuff that we've built and just grow the business in a really smart and profitable way, and not do anything huge, maybe, in the next six or twelve months - although I'd never say never. But that's sort of the plan for the next year at least, is to really just slow things down and implement a lot of processes and systems that we don't quite have in place yet, that we need to really be able to scale and grow the business going forward. And then in terms of my own career, I mean I'm still learning tons all the time, growing a team, the business is growing like crazy - so I still feel like I'm really learning and figuring a lot of things out as I go. I also enjoy mentoring people, and meeting with other entrepreneurs, and being part of that world, and sharing some of the things that I've learned along the way, and supporting people as they go through this very, very challenging journey. So those are kind of my main things right now, in terms of both the business and my own personal career. And I think that it's an exciting time for our business - there's lots going on and lots of growth on the radar. So we'll see where we are in about a year.