A Conversation with Miki Miette's founder Sawako Yamauchi

Written by: Cody McBurnett

Miki Miette was founded in 2011 by Sawako Yamauchi, a Los Angeles-based fashion designer. After 12 years in womenswear and menswear, the arrival of Sawako’s son inspired her to create a “beautiful little brand” that could grow and evolve with him. We chatted with Sawako about her family's favorite spots in LA, intentional diversity, AAPI Heritage Month, and how her heritage and family inspire Miki Miette.

Meet the Founder: Sawako Yamauchi of Miki Miette

How have your family and business evolved since you started Miki Miette?

This brand really did start right at the birth of my son, Grey - I feel like there are so many parallels between becoming a new mother and starting my own brand - I was really just winging it in the beginning, a little naive, a little scared, but very excited at the endless possibilities. It’s been so fun to watch both grow and evolve over the years. And now,we have our almost 5yr old spitfire of a girl, Emi, who is VERY excited about designing clothes and prints with me.

You’re based in Los Angeles. What are some of your family’s favorite spots in LA?

One of the things I love about LA is the diversity - it’s such a beautiful thing! Exposing my kids to all cultures, views and beliefs is one of my top priorities as a mother. I want them to know how amazing all cultures are and in turn, to nurture their empathy for others. I think an easy and fun way to do that is through food. It’s a universal language, and nowhere else in the world can you go get breakfast at an authentic French bakery, go get a snowcone at a festival at a Japanese temple, then go have dinner at an amazing Brazilian restaurant, all within driving distance from the house.

Another thing we love to do is go to Disneyland. We splurged on passes this year, as we’re in the sweet spot where both kids love it (and still want to hang out with us)! I’m big on creating memories, the kind where you can close your eyes on a busy Wednesday afternoon and picture yourself on the teacups with your giggling kiddos.

What can you share about your background and how your family’s culture has inspired your work?

I come from a family of entrepreneurs in Japan. They instilled in me the values of hard work, perseverance, and being fair - all common lessons in Buddhism, which my family practices. I’ve learned a lot through observation and osmosis, which I think was important, as I learned pretty early on that, like a lot of things in life, business can be unpredictable, and the “downs” you experience are an opportunity to learn something.

Your website points out that Miki Miette is a diverse working environment, noting that your team includes 6 women, 5 people of color, and 5 working parents. Is this diversity intentional? How do you see diversity benefiting your team?

The diversity is definitely intentional. I think the more people can normalize interacting with people that don’t look like themselves and come from the same types of places and backgrounds, the more empathetic we can be towards each other and work towards a common goal - whether that’s launching a kids collection or creating a more inclusive world for their kid’s generation. It all starts with the one-on-one interactions we have in our lives.

I know that you’re very proud of your production team that creates your high-quality goods while being paid fair wages, getting family time off, and enjoying a positive work environment. Was this something you prioritized when you started Miki Miette? Do you have any tips for businesses that want to follow your lead but aren’t sure where to start?

I wanted to create an environment that I would want to work in if I were an employee. And it’s just about sharing what I would want for my own mental health and work/life balance. My motto is, as long as you take care of your responsibilities, you can take a ½ day to go to your kid’s school performance or leave early on Wednesday’s for early pick up, or whatever it is. So my advice for anyone looking to build a positive environment is, just do what you would reasonably want for yourself. Be kind, be fair. And at the end of the day, a happy team member is a productive and loyal team member. Put transparency, communication and compassion first, and the dollars and cents will work itself out at the end.

What does AAPI Heritage Month mean to you and your family?

It means a step forward, intention and acknowledgement. All things that were harder to see when I was growing up in the Midwest. It’s refreshing to see, and am so happy for my kids that they will grow up in an environment that is much more inclusive.

What are three other AAPI-owned businesses Danrie’s community should check out?

  1. Communion by Joy: Gorgeous jewelry by a friend of mine 
  2. Poketo: Cutest stationary and home goods
  3. Mitsuwa Market: It’s a big Japanese grocery usually with a bookstore or homegoods store attached. I just think it’s so fun browsing, buying treats w kiddos, having them try different foods :) 

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