The globetrotter and her bags

What better way to celebrate the International Women’s Day than to publish an interview with a talented female entrepreneur?

The other day I visited Michelle Lai, the designer behind bag brand MISCHA, in her studio here in Hong Kong. After several years of hard work the brand is doing very well, and is stocked in shops around the globe: Hong Kong (Lane Crawford, Kapok, Sidewalk, amongst others), China, Singapore, Italy, the US, Japan & Australia.

It’s always very interesting to hear how designers started out, and these days I find that a lot of them come from other backgrounds than fashion. Lai studied human biology in London, before moving back to her hometown, Hong Kong, where she worked as an English teacher for a few years. At the time she was travelling a lot, collecting antique things and, especially, japanese kimonos. From her London days she had also picked up a fascination for all things vintage.

– I always loved fashion, clothes, accessories. But it was just for fun, Lai says.

First collection

It all started when she was looking for a clutch bag and couldn’t find one she liked. So she made her own out of a obi she had lying around. People noticed the bag and started asking where she got it from. Shortly after Lai ran into an old friend, who had recently started her own business.

– I always thought that starting a business was something other people did, I didn’t think I could do that. But that inspired me, Lai tells me.

In 2004 she made her first collection within the space of four months.

– I made 40 handbags. I didn’t sleep, didn’t see friends, just worked on the collection. I already had the obi material, so I really wasn’t spending anything else than my time, she says.

She launched it at a fair the same year and it completely sold out, as well as generated new orders.

It was amazing to see that the love and passion I poured into it was worth it.

“The Travel series”

After that Lai kept doing more collections, but was still working as a teacher and not believing she could design full-time. Then, in 2008, things changed. She met her investor and, after a 40 day-yoga programme, she went into work and left her notice.

Using vintage Japansese obi and kimono handpicked by the designer herself, each individual piece is accompanied by a certificate of authenticity. Old traditional material is made into a modern, timeless bag.

Mischa is well-known for the “The Travel series”, which launched in 2010 at Lane Crawford. For this collection Lai set out to make her own print.

The vintage obi patterns I previously used weren’t my own, they were not exclusive, and so I wanted something that belonged to Mischa.

In the end she went for a hexagon print.

– I looked back at old lookbooks and fabrics I owned, and realised that the hexagon pattern was present everywhere. Then I started researching what the hexagon pattern meant. It symbolizes a sea tortoise shell, and that symbolizes longeivity, something that lasts a long time, something wise. That completely tapped into what I wanted to do. I don’t want my bags to be a fad or follow trends, I want them to be classic and long-lasting, Lai says.

The print is in black, and the bags can be found in many different colours and sizes. They’re in cotton canvas, with genuine leather trims and coated waterproof.

Interacts with customers

Lai loves to travel and is very much inspired by globetrotters and jet-setters. “The Travel series” was a reply to requests from customers.

A lot of the women who bought my clutch bags would be asking for bigger bags for travel. I like to interact with my customers and the collections evolve from that.

Some of her customers even send photos from travelling with their bags around the globe, to put on her blog.

The entrepreneur finds Hong Kong a good place to start up a business.

– It’s really dynamic, energetic and everything is possible here. You get things done and meet people, everyone is so driven here. It’s my home.

It might be Lai’s home, but the MISCHA bags are finding new homes all around the globe as we speak.

MISCHA’s spring collection is released in April. More info:

MISCHA website


All photos copyright Maren Kvamme Hagen 2012.

One Response to “The globetrotter and her bags”
  1. Solipsism Dreams says:

    i love the prints!

    Loretta xx

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