Mina Alyeshmerni on family tradition & staying true to yourself
Mina Alyeshmerni is every bit the storyteller as she is an aesthete. With a background in Costume Design and robust experience working in the fashion industry, Mina made a curatorial transition and founded Maimoun, an online store that merges the warmth and eclecticism of traditional Iranian "meh-mouns", or gatherings, with her own contemporary sensibility.
On a crisp January morning, Mina invited us into her home in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and spoke to us about being first-generation Iranian-American and the trajectory of building a successful business.
Mina, tell us a bit about yourself.
I favor collecting material that inspires me, or moves me from one thought, feeling or form to another. I crave connection with most people I decide to spend my time with. I can listen to podcasts for hours, I think it's because I miss learning about things, anything. A year and a half ago I launched an e-commerce store that's made me feel passionate in connection with the vendors I support, the material itself, and the relationships that have come my way since.
How has your Iranian background informed how you curate and structure your business?
I think that growing up it was a lot of assimilating, what I could do to fit in and what I could wear to fit in…which is where I must have developed some of my humor, making people laugh was the most cost effective and self-relieving way to get around not having a white-washed background. Being first generation in suburban America, and feeling like I had to cover up the strange food my mother would serve or the foreign music that would be playing in my house when friends were invited over. I really only came around to it in college- that everything I grew up around was the most pure, it wasn't layered under or weighted down by someone else's opinion. Maimoun translates to the act of inviting guests over to your home, what I mean to say with this is "come inside, this is me, look around, see what I have to offer, and if you think it's something unique – here… have it." It's playful and curious, just like I imagine my customers/guests to be.
What prompted you to create Maimoun? What did you feel was missing in the fashion retail industry?
It was a pretty natural process, I simply wanted to have an opinion on something I felt really strongly about whether it was fashion, music, aesthetics and curation. I felt that there needed to be a return to what was thoughtfully created vs. created for consumption. I'm still learning how to be a good curator, how to grow and challenge my customers to trust me and evolve their taste with me.
What have been some of the most valuable lessons you have learned through the process of starting your own business?
There's many but looking back it's funny that people feel they have to be ready or knowledgeable to take on a daydream. I say that most definitely referencing myself. You will never feel completely ready, the timing won't ever be right, you will never have enough knowledge, but you will fill those gaps as long as you're willing to give yourself a very honest shot of trying. Also, also, also – collaborate as much as possible, build relationships as much as possible.
You wear several hats for Maimoun, from buying to marketing and front-end development. Do you have any mentors you're able to turn to for guidance?
I have an intimate group of friends that I trust if I need second opinions, mostly relating to web design which I nowhere near have a degree in but have pushed myself into taking on. Another is a dear family friend who gets me to think more in terms of numbers and business which I often tend to shy away from, as it's a weakness of mine.
What has been your most affirming experience as a shop-owner and businesswoman?
I think it has to be the relationships I've built mainly with the guests of the store, having a dialogue with them about anything, just getting to know who your supporters are.
What advice do you have for someone wanting to venture into e-commerce?
As more stores and brands evolve to set up online, you need to make sure you are bringing originality to the store, whether it be through the user experience of your website, the culture you are invoking, or the product you are selling. I believe that customers are looking for all three, but at least a focus in one of them will set you apart.
Who are some new designers you are inspired by?
Recently I've introduced a London based designer, Kepler. I also love the women behind Kahle; they are constantly evolving season to season and their inspiration references are always so obscure yet thoughtful. Yohei Ohno, a Tokyo based designer has been playing a lot with movement and texture which results in some unique work. Mozh Mozh, a Peruvian based designer has also been changing the landscape of what it means to protect artisans and support techniques that would have otherwise died out.
What is your experience with incorporating what you're passionate about into your professional life? Do you feel the need to draw boundaries between the two or do they strengthen each other?
I don't think I could work the hours I work (which are long) if I wasn't passionate about Maimoun. There's also a big element of it being personal, so I take it personally if things don't pan out or collaborations flop or whatever it might be. I've been told it's unhealthy but while it might serve as a weakness in some areas of business it also, reflectively speaking, has been my biggest strength.
How do you decompress after a work day?
I usually like to decompress in solitude. In the summer/spring, I like to go for walks at night and listen to music. In the winter, I like going to the nail salon across the street and getting a ten minute massage.
What's next for Maimoun in 2018?
This year the site will re-launch to include platforms that will build on the brand culture, that to me is the biggest initiative as well as telling our story in various ways: creating short candid films, hosting intimate gatherings, just inviting our guests into our world a little more.