Melinda Huff’s business philosophy is let’s take women from beach to brunch.
Blending her Honduran heritage with a New York flare to create outstanding outfits, Melinda Huff’s company, Mirame Swim, sells small-batch swim and activewear, taking women from the beach to brunch. What’s more, she does it using upcycled fabrics that leave the world a better place. Here’s what she had to say about running a business as a Latina who lives by the heart.
LBT: If you had to describe Mirame in three words, what would they be?
Sexy, sophisticated, timeless. If your inner clown had to put on a suit, and perfectly balance edginess with refinery, they would choose Mirame.
LBT: Where did the idea for Mirame come from?
Both grandmothers worked in garment factories when they emigrated to New York City…sewing bits and notions were always around. I developed a love of vintage through my grandmother’s leisure suits and my father’s soccer track suits (this was pre-streetwear). I started mixing Adidas pants with heels, and rocking mechanics coveralls. I couldn’t find what I liked in traditional stores, and even struggled in vintage stores, so I enrolled in a sewing class and also had my grandmother teach me. Starting in 8th grade, I designed and made my own clothes.
Working at Norma Kamali, as well as for various women and locally-led designers enabled me to clarify my vision and know that I could do it all close to home. It also honed my production skills. Here we are 11 years later!
LBT: What makes Mirame unique?
We offer women swimwear that they can work into their wardrobe. Our one- piece collections are strong and the most popular. Women love our bodysuits for their versatility. The one pieces allow women to feel covered up while still feeling fashion- forward.
In addition, our suits are produced locally within NY, utilizing upcycled fabrics. Our components are also sourced locally. It is a win in terms of quality assurance, and for the planet.
Q: How did your roots influence your career path?
Growing up in a trilingual/tricultural household, there were a wide range of influences. I like to think that Mirame walks the line of the restraint that comes from my German heritage as well as the flair and color from my Latina roots. It is a fun process to achieve that balance, to edit where necessary, but to always maintain that sense of vitality and free- spiritedness.
LBT: What would you say was the most important obstacle/challenge you had to overcome in getting to where you are today?
It is difficult to be a woman and be in a position of negotiating and supplying. I have found myself being ‘mansplained’ often. I also find that in cold emails, they are often addressed as ‘Dear Sir’. Although I was raised by a high school dropout- turned- entrepreneur, this spirit of entrepreneurship was not encouraged or even taught to me – and I highly suspect it was because I was the daughter, not the son. So, there is a lot of work I have had to do in terms of stepping into my power and commanding the room when this was warranted. I am a work in progress.
It is also very difficult to be self- funded. I have entertained several possibilities of outside investment, but have always chosen to remain 100% woman owned. I think autonomy is important in the creative process, and that is why I have chosen this path. However, I think this has caused things to move along slower than if I had had a large cash investment. I’ve always walked my own path.
LBT: Was there a time where you thought you wouldn’t be able to make it?
Um….about every other month. It is not easy being a solopreneur. Again, capital is huge. Because I produce domestically, the cost is tremendous. I often find myself investing my personal money in the business as well. To help with this, I have sought partnerships with different support systems like the Women’s Enterprise Development Center, as well as Kickstarter and Kiva. I also outsource a lot of gig work. This helps me to achieve more of a work/life balance.
LBT: What about aprendizajes? What is the most important thing you’ve learned along the way?
To always think about the long game. You cannot be short sighted when you are a solopreneur. Things will happen over time, so you have to ration your energy and resources to be in it for the long haul. Otherwise, there is burnout.
I have had burnout phases where I took a step back. I allowed myself the time and space to recharge. These resets have invigorated me to move forward.
Reflection and community are also important. I like to periodically take the time to step back and look at my body of work, and say, ‘Wow. ‘This girl, who was considered a flake by her family, a whimsical child who was shy, who was raised by immigrant parents and encouraged to either marry a doctor or choose a safe profession, has done all of this.’ Then I look at my previous collections, and think about the larger vision and just feel proud. This is mine, and I created it. This gives me confidence and energy.
Community is important, because I think as women, we value family, and sisterhood. We need those moments together to recharge, to know that we are not alone.
LBT: If you had to give our readers financial advice for their businesses and/or start-ups, what would it be?
Only spend on what you have to. Don’t spend on vanity. Outsource what you can in gigs, because your time is also money, and if it can be done for less, do it for less (meaning outsource). In the beginning, look for 0% loans like Kickstarter, GoFund Me, and Kiva.
Also, many designers make the mistake of investing everything in inventory. This can be a mistake. Is there a way you can do pre-order, or on demand? Also, think about Evergreen products. As designers, we want to make what is interesting and what we love. But people often like what they know. Think about making some bread- and- butter styles as well.
LBT: Would you have done anything differently?
I would have focused more of my dollars on SEO, ad spending, and marketing, rather than on product development. And always niche down in the beginning.
LBT: Most of successful people are surrounded by people who inspire or help them reach their greatest potential. Who was that person (those people) for you?
My friend Beatrice is a huge influence for me in terms of my business. She has been in the fashion world for many decades, and always consults with me on where to spend. She is always on the cutting edge of technology. She is the one to turn me onto 3-D printing, avatars, and using graphics to simulate, rather than always spending money on sampling.
She is always a fighter, a single mom with a disability who fought her way to the top in a time when the fashion world was (AND STILL IS), tough on women, rife with ageism, and also not kind to people with differing abilities. There is so much wisdom in her experience.
LBT: How do you balance professional and personal life?
I can’t say I have found this balance. I have 3 young children. I get creative mania and I check out and it’s really hard on everybody. Lately I have been trying to take at least one day off to be present. I also finally put the toddler in daycare, which has been huge.
Building and maintaining my business has shown me strength I didn’t know I had. As I mentioned, I was written off early on in my family as being the ‘butterfly,’ not grounded and thus not productive. But I have done so much. I was also very shy as a child and pitching my brand to Macy’s in the Workshop at Macy’s program, auditioning for various reality shows, pitching at FIT Design Entrepreneurs and Zappos…all of these experiences have helped me to find and realize my potential.
LBT: What does being Latino/a business owner in the U.S mean to you? What would you say to other Latinos/as who might want to start a business?
I would say that my Latina culture helps me to inject some fun in the business. American fashion can be quite somber and utilitarian. Think of the work uniform, tailoring, our color palette. Everything is pretty rigid, but my Latina side helps to bring the color and a sense of playfulness. I also feel pride in my culture, in the sense of family and history of craftsmanship. I treat all my manufacturing partners as part of the family. We take care of each other and refer one another.
I would say to other Latinos who want to start a business that now is the time. The US is becoming more and more Latino by the minute. My own neighborhood is 70% Latino. Let’s show our faces more, share our stories more, uplift one another.
LBT: How has the Latino/a Community helped you? How have you helped the Latino/a Community?
My Latina culture is a huge source of inspiration. I look to the traditional dress of the Señoras in my neighborhood, with their cardigans and midi plaid skirts, I look at the cowboys with their denim and pick up trucks. I find ideas and stories in all of this. I help many women in my community through my work with women and children as a social worker. Most of my clients are newly arrived migrants and I enjoy sharing resources with them. I plan to start teaching in a local trade school soon, where we can show one another the heritage crafting skills we have and keep them alive.
LBT: Where do you see Mirame in 10 years? And yourself?
I plan to build out the business into a lifestyle brand. My husband, Dr. SaltPaw, and I have been developing an idea for a wellness center. We are exploring the idea of purchasing land in the Bay Islands where he can practice his Naturopathic Medicine and I can sell my swimwear and resort products. We want to make it accessible to different socio- economic levels, and reflective of his African roots, and my bi cultural roots. The Bay Islands, and the Garifuna people who inhabit them,it feel like the perfect place for us.
If you’d like to hear more about Melinda Huff’s entrepreneurial journey, check out our piece on her titled “How a Swimwear Designer’s Meandering Path Led her to Entrepreneurship”.