The Tatler 10: Michelle Lai
The founder of MISCHA tells us why being adaptable and firmly believing in your product are the keys to success
Twelve years ago Michelle Lai returned to Hong Kong after finishing a degree in biomedical sciences at King’s College in London. She found herself at a crossroads in her life as she was about to embark upon a career in edcuation, but longed to travel and explore the world. On the sidelines, she decided to kickstart her passion project of handmade accessories, MISCHA.
Michelle wouldn’t be able to fathom the success of MISCHA, from what started with a small collection of hand-stitched vintage Japanese obi clutches quickly gained a cult following and soon after, Michelle expanded MISCHA’s product offering by debuting the Travel series, which features the hexagonal print that has proved to be a hit around the world. Proving she has the entrepreneurial game in the bag, I spoke to Michelle about her inspiring journey to date:
I visited Hong Kong many times as a child and thought it was a weird and wonderful place. I moved here with my family as a teenager when it was still a British colony and it felt quite different. After finishing university in the United Kingdom, I came back and haven’t been able to stay away. It’s home for me now and I love how vibrant and dynamic this city is.
I design handbags and accessories under my brand name MISCHA. I started because I couldn’t find what I wanted, so I decided to make it. I’m inspired by my travels and that’s a big part of what fuels my designs and who I design for. The rest is history!
My proudest accomplishment is being able to inspire people to take the crazy leap of faith and believe that they can do anything. I remember I was at a pop up in Japan; and a customer came and told me that after watching my TED talk, it had inspired her to pursue her childhood dream of becoming a pastry chef.
The best aspect of running your own business is that it’s never boring! It’s a huge character building experience. Through the good times and bad times, it shows you who your friends are and it lets me travel to the places I love. It’s connected me with so many inspiring individuals that I would have never met otherwise.
My advice to budding entrepreneurs is do all the planning and research you can do ahead of time, as life always throws you curve balls, so always be adaptable. You have to really believe in your idea and what your mission is. When challenging times come along, your mission is what will bring you back on the right track.
I try not to think too much about my competition and just concentrate on what we love to do. Comparison is really the thief of joy. I started the brand as a creative expression and this is what guides me in what we do and how we do it. We may be small and new, but we do it with heart and I think that’s what makes the difference.
Everyone has something special that I admire and there are so many. I’m especially inspired by people who have overcome adversity and have transformed their lives with it. If I had to choose a person, I’d say Oprah. She’s become a wonderful example for women and I admire her philanthropy and her work with girls’ education.
Looking back, for better and for worse, everything that’s happened in the past is what makes me who I am today. Maybe in a strange Sliding Doors scenario, I would have continued studying medicine and would now be a plastic surgeon, helping people feel good about themselves. Different profession, same goal? Nah, I don’t think so!
My end goal is to have a happy healthy life, travel often and always be learning new things and be surrounded by loved ones. Professionally, I hope that my brand grows into something that inspires positive change.
My words to live by are simple, I’ve always believed “what goes around, comes around.”
Photography by Michaela Giles