Mended Mosaic, a Chicago-based maker of custom-designed leather and other types of garments, is a year-old business partnership that grew out of the romantic partnership of its founders, Louie Mendicino and KC Van de Markt. Pursuing the classic dream of earning a living from their art, the pair travel between the states and Bali each year to supervise production of their unique designs. In this interview, Mendicino discusses how they made the transition from passion to a business.
Between you and your fiancée KC, who does what in the business?
We both take on equal parts of the business and the design side. I design all of the men’s wear and KC designs all of the women’s wear. We cross over on occasion, adding in our two cents, but for the most part it’s split down on the middle. On the business end, she picks up most of the computer and Internet work, and I pick up the accounting.
You go to Bali every year to work with craftspeople over there to produce your designs. Why Bali as opposed to the U.S.?
It would actually be cheaper for us to do production here. The problem is, I’ve never met anybody through school that said, “I want to be a tailor or a seamstress.” It doesn’t happen anymore here in the states. It’s kind of a lost art, and out there it’s truly an art form. People really take pride in what they do, and the craftsmanship is above and beyond anything I’ve seem come out of the states. That’s the primary reason that we do our work in Bali.
KC and I bought plane tickets to Southeast Asia about three weeks after we met. We traveled there fairly extensively and were there for about three months when we came across Bali. We had heard from a number of friends that that was the place to visit. That’s actually where we got engaged. We found a local tailor, a gentleman and his wife, with a couple of sewing machines. We made a few things – our designs – and saw some opportunity there.
How many people help you and what are the working conditions like?
We have six tailors working for us now. Half of them are leather tailors and the other half do our garments.
The working conditions are really good. When we’re there we’re cutting fabrics and working on the sewing machines with them – we’re right there in the thick of it with them. The only thing that we saw that we could help them with to better their working conditions was to buy some fans for their homes, to help oscillate the air better.
What are some of your concerns in supervising, from afar some of the time, a global workforce to produce your product?
The language barrier isn’t too bad. We get a little mixed up on occasion, but we’re in the process of learning Indonesian, so that helps. There is a lot of pointing and grunting that happens; there’s a lot of drawing as well. Generally our ideas and concepts get communicated well. Usually before we go over there we’ll already have prototypes made.
Sometimes, though, because we don’t have enough capital to pay an agent over there, some of the quality control gets lost in the mix. So on occasion we’ll get five pieces that are supposed to be mediums and they have medium tags on them but they’re all extra larges. It’s subtle things like that that are easily fixable.
You are one of many emerging, young firms to use MySpace in your customer outreach. How does the social networking platform fit your target demographic?
That’s a tough question because every target demographic is on MySpace. Inherently it suits it wonderfully considering that at this point I’d say we know maybe 60 percent of the friends list on our MySpace page, which is a good portion. What I’d like it to become is the type of page where we know 10 percent of the people on there, which means we’re reaching more of an audience.
What other marketing vehicles do you use, or plan to use?
We just took some product pictures for our main website and are working on getting a web store going so we can point people from MySpace to that. What I’ve primarily been working on lately is the wholesale end of the business. When it’s all done we’re going to have two areas of the website: one for individuals to buy at retail value, and the other for any businesses – local ones or larger boutiques – to go in, enter their tax ID number, fill out a contract with us and buy direct from the website at wholesale value.
What advice would you give another artist who aspires to turn their passion into a business? What are the caveats?
When you’re starting out you have to look at every dollar spent as an investment. Maybe not initially, but you’re going to see a return on them. So for instance for every dollar out, you would like to see a minimum of $1.15 coming in. And when you’re starting out, you’re going to make mistakes and you’re going to take losses – that’s inevitable. But in the first six to eight months, if you can keep it at a dollar out, a dollar back in, that means you’re building a foundation. Maybe you’re not going up the ladder at this point, but you’re building a solid foundation to be able to work your way up.
You need to look at the bottom line at all times. Otherwise your foundation will collapse and you won’t be able to turn your dream into a reality – in our case, to be paid artists.