We have been fans of mi cielo for YEARS. We discovered this adorable brand when it was featured on Cool Mom Picks; Erin took one look at the website and impulsively bought Star Wars-themed shirts for her entire family. And their clothes have only gotten better and more fun over the years! This week we were lucky enough to interview mi cielo’s founder Kayo, who told us how she built her empire of clever, gorgeous children’s clothes.
Work Kids Wine: Let us start by asking how you decided to launch your business. Was it something you planned for a long time?
mi cielo: No! I had no intention of starting a business! I worked as a paralegal and a translator for seven years, and I loved my job. While I was on maternity leave after having my baby, I planned to go back to work.
WKW: So what changed?
mi cielo: My baby was a boy. After he was born I couldn’t find any clothes that were cool or unique for him. It was all the same old thing: baseball, puppy dog, soccer. So I started making appliques and using them to cover up the boring onesies I was buying. Then I started getting compliments on his outfits every time I took him out out.
I loved making the appliques and soon I had piles of them lying around my house! My husband suggested I try to sell them, and then a friend introduced me to Etsy. These were the very early days of Etsy, where it was all small businesses with handmade merchandise. So I set up an Etsy shop…and that’s how it started.
WKW: That is amazing. At that point were you still considering going back to the law firm?
mi cielo: Yes, I still assumed I would go back. But I had also seen the challenges of working at a law firm as a parent. Kids get sick and they have no backup care, it’s not a field that’s really understanding of family needs.
WKW: We hear you on the law firm environment being tough. We’ve both been there.
mi cielo: Right. And then my husband pointed out that I was making OK money from my Etsy shop. He told me I should try it for a while and just see what happened. The money I was making was not nearly as much as my salary from my paralegal/translator job, but it was enough to allow me to stay home and spend precious time with my baby boy!
Life is so crazy, I never thought I would be doing this! I’ve always loved art; I took art classes on the side during college. I was a business major, and one of my art teachers told me I should switch my major. But I just laughed. Who makes money out of art?
WKW: You do! So once your shop was up and running, how did you grow it?
mi cielo: I had no money to spend on marketing or promotion at that point. But then five or six months after the shop opened, Etsy featured me on the homepage, and BOOM…so much traffic! Not necessarily a ton of sales right away, but a ton of traffic. That was my first break. A lot of people started finding out about my work. Then Cool Mom Picks featured us, and we started to get a lot more publicity. We feel very lucky!
WKW: Do you have employees now, with all this growth?
mi cielo: I’m the only employee, but I have about fifteen contractors, ten in Austin and five in Hawaii.
WKW: Has it been scary to involve more people?
mi cielo: Nothing goes out the door without my checking it, so it’s not scary. Although I’ll admit that I’m a control freak like many small business owners, and it’s hard to let go. But my contractors are wonderful. Many of them have been with me for many years now, and I completely trust them. They’re all moms with small children; they like the flexibility of working with me. My husband calls them my “Mommy Mafia”. We all know each other’s kids, too. It’s a big family.
WKW: So not only did you build your own business, but you’re also getting other moms into the workforce. This is one of the coolest things we’ve ever heard.
mi cielo: It’s great for all of us! Most of them work from home. Then about once a week we have a huge shipping date and everyone comes together to work. I love it.
WKW: You’ve done several collaborations. How did those come about, and have they been fun?
mi cielo: There’s a fun story behind my first collaboration. Have you ever heard of the store Story in New York City? They’re kind of like a magazine – they completely change the theme of the store almost every month, and each theme is called a “story”. It’s a unique place; a lot of celebrities shop there. About four years ago they did a month themed “Made in America” and I got to participate. I think they initially ordered about a hundred shirts from me, with the assumption that order would cover the entire month.
Well, two days into the month they called me to tell me they were running out of inventory of my shirts already, and asked me to send more! I was astonished! Since then I’ve worked with them several more times. It’s been great in growing my business, and it led to my first collaboration with Nickelodeon. And then Neiman Marcus picked up my Nickelodeon line!
Since then I’ve had several artists approach me about collaborations, and every time I do one it leads to other inquiries. I love collaborating and I should be more proactive about it!
WKW: What’s the scariest part of your business, and what’s the best part?
mi cielo: There is always fear! It’s great that I get these big orders now, but hitting a deadline on a huge order scares me. If I don’t make it, it could damage my business. Plus, I feel the weight of having my contractors depend on me. If I fold, they lose their work too. And I know what the work means to them.
In terms of the best part, I love working out of a home office. It’s fantastic to be able to start dinner, get the laundry done in between work, and pick up my kid from school everyday…all of those kinds of things.
WKW: Do you have any advice for aspiring entrepreneurs?
mi cielo: Follow your passion! Starting a business and keeping it going is a LOT of work. Honestly I think about my business almost every waking moment. I dream about it at night sometimes! If it wasn’t something I loved, it would feel oppressive because it’s so much time and effort. But since it’s something that I absolutely love, it doesn’t feel like work! Even if I didn’t get paid, I would probably still do it. That’s how much I love it!
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We’ve teamed up with mi cielo to give away two gorgeous custom shirts from her line! Head over to Instagram and enter right now! Yay! Official rules here.