It has been 2 years since I first started Mimi Hana Threads.
I know, it's not a very long time. My business is just a baby. Perhaps my skills as an embroiderer are also in infancy. What can I, a budding sole proprietor, share with you about what I know about starting a niche business?
First, I think I should be very honest in saying that I have a very understanding and supportive husband. I know starting out a new business isn't easy, especially when I am also a mother of a young three year old.
He knows that before I became a mother, I was not happy as a teacher. Not because of the children, whom I really adored. It was the hours demanded of me, the high expectations to get hours of work done in just two hours or less, and not being allowed to stay overtime to complete what was asked of me. Add that level of stress to office politics and gossip, it was too much to bear. I had to get out. I found myself being asked by friends and family how work is going, asking me to talk about it. As I was trying to fake how well it was going, I could only cry instead. I cried at the lunch gathering at the table, something I wished I could hide away, but my body could no longer. It was a vulnerable and humiliating time for me.
It was after that moment, I realized my body and emotional state were begging me to leave. You must go do what makes you happy. I am lucky to have a husband who knew this, and understood this.
So I Left and Started My Own Business
Again, another honest claim: Mimi Hana Threads is not my first entrepreneurial adventure. Before I became pregnant, I started a tour and photography business called Miko Tours. Ok, let's be honest again... Miko is my real name, but more on that later.
Miko Tours was and still is an idea that I had. It was during the time when selfie sticks were first coming out. People were traveling more than ever, trying to capture that perfect shot on their own for their Instagram. If there are a few things I know, it's this: I KNOW Tokyo. I have lived in Tokyo since 2011, and before that I was an exchange student here for a year. I know all the local spots and hangouts, beyond the famous landmarks. I speak Japanese. Plus, I know that anyone can have the best camera on the market, but it doesn't mean they know how to use it to its full potential. I combined engagement style photography with travel, and it was a success. I was getting tours and requests for tours for once a month. Each tour was catered to each group's interests. For a first time business that just started, I was really happy with the result. I even somehow booked kd lang and her family to tour with me.
And then, I got pregnant.
No, no, this isn't a regret. We planned for our daughter to have a space in our hearts. I remember singing karaoke with kd lang, and she tried to get me to drink with her. I was in my first trimester. I think she eventually understood that I may be pregnant though. Much love to her! I remember traveling around the greater Kanto area to Mount Fuji's Kawaguchiko with a large group and a mini basketball in my belly that loved to kick my bladder around like a tetherball.
A month before my daughter was due, I took my final trip around Tokyo with a middle aged couple. After that, I was officially on maternity leave. Miko Tours was put on hold.
New Motherhood and the Yearning to Grow
It would be a year before I could say I even had the energy to think about going back to work. The logistics of having a new baby and touring around Japan seemed impossible, no matter how romantic the idea appeared before she was born. I couldn't imagine myself trying to hold camera equipment and a newborn, then suddenly being interrupted by a dirty diaper, or a hungry mouth looking for breastmilk. Not only that, but touring clients love to drink with their guides. I would not be allowed into smoking bar with a baby, or even enjoy a beer. She would eventually need to sleep in her crib in a quiet environment, and my husband, no matter how supportive, just cannot produce milk.
Miko Tours would be put on hold a little bit longer.
Eventually she started sleeping consistently, and we were right on top of sleep training so we could have this advantage as early as possible. I started to get a full night's rest, and she started daycare from 16 months old. As soon as I was able to get enough sleep, the desire to have my own business grew inside of me.
I don't know why, but embroidery caught my eye. I remember seeing a woman at a local cafe sewing lavender flowers in a hoop and being instantly attracted to it. I always loved the idea of sewing, and as a child my mother taught me how to sew. I didn't have a sewing machine. Embroidery might be the next best thing.
When Embroidery Meets Girl
Hoop embroidery is beautiful, but no matter the stitching technique or even with a sassy cuss word thrown in, it's still the same. Flat, in a circular frame, hanging on the wall with no one to see it but the owner.
Embroidery was a technique made to personalize clothing. To make it unique to the owner, and to show it off for others to see. That for me is what made embroidery special. It was a way to show off how skillful the seamstress was, and to adorn the wearer with hours of painstaking detail using nothing but a needle and colorful threads. How do you give the impression of a gradient when you only have a few colors of thread? How do you combine them to make highlights and shadows? What does it take to make a single solid piece of thread turn into an elaborate portrait or a blooming rose?
And yet, as amazing as all of that is, it is still two dimensional. The colors jump out at you like a painting on the wall. The tangibility is left to be desired.
One day, I was roaming a bookstore called Tsutaya in Daikanyama with a friend from Portland, Oregon. She was also looking for a book about an embroidery related craft called darning. Right next to her book on display was something I had never seen before: a book about freestanding three dimensional embroidery. I purchased it immediately.
I had found something that not many were making in the sewing world. Not many even thought to make their embroidery wearable in a three dimensional way. Mimi Hana Threads was born. Though the book began my love for embroidery with pre-conceived designs, it wasn't long before I found myself making my own using the same techniques. The Venus fly trap ear cuff was my very first design. Then the gingko earrings were my next.
They say after 10,000 hours of doing anything, one can become a master at their craft. Even though I have only been embroidering for a little over 2 years now, I can say I must be close to that number. I have spent all of my days and some of my evenings doing nothing else but embroidery. I have even started to take on needle painting, a technique where realistic imaged can be obtained through gradients. My first attempt was the Sleeping Fox Brooch. Then the gingko earrings. Shortly after I embroidered Japanese maple leaves in autumn.
I found that embroidery can be daring, versatile and adventurous. If you can think it, you can embroider it. You can make it yours. All you need is a dedicated week, practice, a needle, fabric and thread.
Though I know after all of my hard work, I'm yet to be recognized as a professional embroiderer, I know I am good at it.
So what can I share with you about what I know about starting a niche business? I only know one thing: you only need the heart to do it. No matter what you endeavour. If you hone your craft, someday, someone will come looking for you. I may be still waiting for that someone to see my work, but I won't give up.