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MEET OUR MAKERS: Mason Hainey, Founder of MIZU Brand

Steely Dipuccio Anderson

Mason Hainey Headshot.jpeg

My obsession with MIZU Brand was immediate. I had been searching for the perfect luxury sleep masks, and I found them (and so much more!) with MIZU. I reached out to Mason to inquire about his sleep masks and it has been such a pleasure getting to work with him and feature his amazing work in our gift boxes. The detail and thoughtfulness that go in to everything he makes is so obvious in the finished pieces. The images are stunning but the actual products are even better than I imagined. What's more, Mason is such a joy to work with and takes just as much care in providing the best service and partnership as he does in making his products. When I think of what Bon Vivant stands for, I can't think of a better match than MIZU and I am thrilled to be able to feature his products and share more with you about Mason and how he got started. Might I add, just in time for Father's Day gift ideas. Enjoy!

When did you start your business and why?

Everything started with a bow tie. At 19, while attending art school in Maine, I was starving to find an interesting, well made bow tie ( these were very trendy, circa 2011 ). I remember searching everywhere- local stores, thrift stores department stores, malls, but all I would ever find was the standard, boring, stripe silk bow ties that were far too large for my already-rather-large head. It was on the bus ride home from searching at the mall that a friend from college says “why don’t you just make one?” And so I did. I went to the local Salvation Army on Adler St, picked up a few vintage floral dresses, cut and stitched some crudely made ties on the sewing machine my grandmother bought me for Christmas when I was 11.  I wore them everywhere, and people began to notice me ( or the ties, at least ). I began to get stopped on the street and asked where I bought my ties and where they could get them. So I took a chance, cleared the racks at salvation army and cut up a lot of old dresses to make a run of limited edition bow ties. I sold my goods at the local monthly-market ( “ First Friday”  ) alongside the other crafters and makers of Portland, Maine. And my designs sold really well. I continued to do these markets each month and would consistently sell out. 

It’s at this point that I knew I could do something with this and that MIZU brand was born. 

In short, I started my business out of a desire to fill a gap in the market, bringing affordable, contemporary, well crafted design to classic styles.  

Bomi Bow Tie

Bomi Bow Tie

What/who are your major influences?

I am inspired by the unknown. At the end of the day, I feel my best when I’ve spent time out of my element and have grown in some way. Whether that’s walking a new way home, cooking something different or traveling someplace abroad. I so easily fall into a consistent routine that I crave new-ness to rock my world a little. And that’s what I work so hard to bring to my brand. I source my materials from all over the world, importing vintage fabrics from Asia, sourcing essential oils that have been distilled from plants grown in there indigenous locations, finding a mix of vintage and new fabrics from stores in the US. Everything that I create tells a story of heritage and is mindfully designed to be inviting but also unfamiliar. The goal with every product is to inspire the consumer in some way. 

Do you have a favorite piece or product that you’ve done?

That’s like asking me to pick a favorite child. 

Perhaps my line of candles because it’s, in a way, a return to my roots. When I was younger, around 9 or 10, I started my very first business…  I think I called it Mason’s Gel Candles. With a team of loving investors ( my parents ) I made dozens of candles and sold them to every classmate, parent, teacher and relative that would look at me. 

Palo Santo Soy Candle

Palo Santo Soy Candle

What’s the best part of owning your own business?

Creating something from nothing and watching it grow and evolve. Having that absolute freedom to do what you want, when you want. Being able to convey to others what you think is new, fresh and inspiring; and then being able to watch how they react to it. Sometimes it’s a hit, others not so much. But above all, what I think I like most about being a small business owner is how soulful and crazy the journey is. It’s a journey that I get to bring YOU on, and that beats being stuck in an office where passion is questionable. 

What is a typical “work” day like for you?

Work days are every day. I’m up at 5, guzzle the blackest coffee you’ve ever seen and start with a list of manifestations and goals for the day; followed by a very thorough to-do list. Then I get to work! Usually emails / web-work, followed by packingorders and an AM post office drop-off in the morning. Lunch. More work, primarily production-based or more packing orders, followed by a PM Post Office-drop…or just a walk to clear my mind, which at this point is very full. Then it’s time to make dinner and Netflix & Chill for an hour, before ending my day with whatever’s left - quick emails, pressing, packing. etc.

What does the process of making a piece or product consist of?

Speaking broadly, it’s a 3-part process: Inspiration, Research + Development, production. 

Everything starts with some source of inspiration; a big fresh idea, a interesting place, a flavor, a memory.. anything that really speaks to the moment and is big enough to create an entire collection around. I’ll sit and sketch and plan out things preliminary, but this process is very much fluid and tends to evolve ( or completely change ) as I enter into R+D. 

When creating something completely new to my brand, I have a tendency to immediately jump into production, foregoing any research or plans. I like to get my hands dirty as soon as possible. 9 times of out 10, that first product is a flop, but a huge learning experience that better helps me understand the process before I step back an really do the research. 

R+D is the most time consuming( and EXPENSIVE ) aspect of creating something new. This is where all the juicy design details are laid out and perfected. It’s my favorite part of the process where I get to explore, experiment and learn as much as possible…butif I could draw you a graph of my emotions during this stage, it would probably look like a a very tight zig-zag that ends with an upward arc. It’s a crazy ride of ‘aha’-moments followed by failures, followed up success, followed by set backs, and it keeps going until I can really step back and confidently say I am happy and ready to present my new product to the world.

I am currently in the R+D phase of my new home collection, due out later this summer. It’s been a grueling ride.. without going into too much, i’ve spent the entirety of last week developing this one new scent ( of 7 ). It’s completely taken over my mind, giving me so many moments of grief, doubt and pure joy. It’s really like a blank puzzle and you’re trying to get all the right pieces to fit together.. but once you find the right fit all the grief becomes so worth it. 

Production is often very chill. Put on some classical or meditation music and just get to work. All of this leads to photography, photo edit, copy writing ( all done by me ! ) and finally, the launch.  Last year, my 4 collections each had a development time of about 8 months, from concept to market. To me, the launch of every collection literally feels like giving birth, in the best way.

What are your favorite ways to unwind when you aren’t working?

Lately, I’ve found solace in cooking. Cooking and baking have always been a passion of mine, but it’s kind of been on the back burner as I’ve been developing my business. I’ve recently become allergic to everything, so I’ve been having a lot of fun baking dairy-free, gluten-free, peanut-free things. I also love trying new flavors and dishes inspired from around the world. In my opinion, eating traditional dishes from different cultures is one of the best ways to get inspired….Even if you cant make it over the actual country, you can usually find ingredients to make a traditional meal.

To learn more about MIZU Brand, visit their website here.

MEET OUR MAKERS: Stephanie Montes, Founder+Designer at s.t.e.f.

Steely Dipuccio Anderson

Stephanie Montes is the Founder+Designer at s.t.e.f. in Austin, TX.

Stephanie Montes is the Founder+Designer at s.t.e.f. in Austin, TX.

One of the most inspirational and rewarding parts of owning Bon Vivant has been getting to meet the makers of our featured brands. I absolutely love learning more about how they got started and what motivates them to follow their passions. From the very beginning, I knew that I wanted to focus on small-batch and artisanal makers and goods. I have tested the products and researched extensively to ensure that every item in our boxes is of the highest quality, and made as ethically as possible. That being said, I am honored to be able to share not only the brands and products with you, but also some background about the makers. 

Stephanie Montes is the Founder+Designer behind s.t.e.f., which is a play on her name and also an acronym for Sustainable+Threads+Ethical+Fashion. She launched s.t.e.f. in Austin, TX, in 2014. I first came across her work on Instagram as I saw a photo of one of her beautiful clutch purses and became obsessed! The more I learned about her and her business, the more I realized that both are exactly who and what I want to represent Bon Vivant. I reached out to her and we met shortly thereafter. Stephanie is one of the sweetest, most intelligent, supportive, and talented people that I've had an opportunity to meet. I am so thankful for our partnership and beyond excited to feature her amazing work in our boxes!

When did you start your business and why?

I launched my line at Austin Fashion Week 2014 after moving back to Austin from Dallas.  I learned how to sew when I was fifteen and started designing my own clothing by cutting apart and altering vintage pieces that I would find while thrift shopping.  I always knew that I wanted to be a fashion designer but I knew I had a lot to learn before I became one.  I studied at the University of North Texas and graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Fashion Design in 2009.  My first job was as an assistant designer at White House/ Black Market HQ.  Most of the clothing was manufactured overseas, so there was some disconnect between the designer and the final product.  I wanted to learn more about American made clothing so I moved back to Texas to work for a Dallas based womenswear designer.  It was during my time at this company, working in design + production, that I learned what it takes to design and manufacture a clothing line in the US.  After many years working in the industry I knew that I was finally ready to start my own brand, and I knew that Austin would be the perfect place to begin an eco-friendly clothing line.

What/who are your major influences?

I am obsessed with the work of Iris van Herpen, a Dutch fashion designer who incorporates 3D printing into her couture collection. Her work reminds me to continue innovating; something I have found is a requirement when working with eco-friendly textiles. Many of the natural textiles that we source come in neutral tones. In order to add interest to these fabrications, we’ll often hand-dye and hand-paint them.

I am also very inspired by the work of Austin based illustrator, Sophie Roach. She has several colorful murals throughout Austin and her intricate drawings are all created by hand, which inspired my to start designing my own prints by sketching them first. After sketching our prints by hand, they are then digitized and printed in the USA on the chosen textile, usually 100% Organic Cotton.

 Do you have a favorite piece or product that you’ve done?

My favorite designs tend to be the more one-of-a-kind pieces.  The hand-painted clutch is a very special product that I love and am very proud of.  Each piece is hand-painted individually in small batches, making each clutch different and unique.  They completely sold out in our online store and are currently only available through Bon Vivant Delivered.

The Limited-Edition "Perfect Clutch" box from Bon Vivant, featuring s.t.e.f. hand-dyed indigo and vegan leather clutch.

The Limited-Edition "Perfect Clutch" box from Bon Vivant, featuring s.t.e.f. hand-dyed indigo and vegan leather clutch.

What’s the best part of owning your own business?

Having the freedom to design and create what I want to is something that I love.  Although to some extent, I do have to keep the designs consistent with the brand.  Interestingly, over time, the brand has developed its own look and aesthetic because that is a reflection of my own personal style.  I love black and white and I rarely wear prints, which is why we only have one to two prints in the collection.  When I sketch ideas for print designs, they tend to have the same look and they all have Spanish influence, something that I attribute to my heritage.

Another benefit to owning my own business is the ability to design + manufacture collections at a much faster rate than larger clothing brands. Although I have a small company, my team is incredibly skilled and able to produce high quality pieces in a short amount of time. I can come up with an accessory design and have it produced in less than two weeks. Producing limited quantities gives us the ability to test a design in the market.  We don’t have excessive amounts of inventory and we don’t waste our materials by over-producing.  I have seen many companies make the mistake of trying to grow larger by producing greater quantities only to be left with unnecessary amounts of inventory.  That’s when you see brands advertising sales every season in order to counteract the excess of over-production. We price our clothing and accessories using an ethical formula in order to keep our line accessible while also keeping it well made.

Seeing my designs in boutiques throughout Austin, and knowing that they are selling out very quickly, continues to inspire me to be true to my vision. I feel honored when a customer sends me a picture of how they wear and style my designs. I am grateful to anyone who chooses to shop s.t.e.f. and who prefers to support a small, locally made brand over a department store brand.  When I see how excited people get when viewing my designs, it makes the struggle to be a small business owner worth it.

Dress from the Ready-to-wear Collection. Available at Blue Lux Boutique in Austin, TX.

Dress from the Ready-to-wear Collection. Available at Blue Lux Boutique in Austin, TX.

What is a typical “work” day like for you?

Emails take up the majority of my morning.  I spend the beginning of my day on my computer, responding to emails and checking in with our vendors.  I also often check in with the local boutiques that carry our line to see if we need to produce more of a certain design in order to re-stock their inventory.  As I mentioned, this is one of the benefits of being a small batch designer + manufacturer; we are able to quickly produce and reproduce designs for our local buyers. This allows boutiques to only order what they need, while allowing us to test out what designs work and don’t work.  We love receiving re-orders from our wholesale buyers because it informs us of which designs are performing well. We value our local boutique stockists and they know that they can trust us to quickly fulfill their orders.

Also, every day we are balancing design and development with planning and production.  We are designing the next season while producing the current one.  Some days we are drafting designs for upcoming collections, and other days we are cutting patterns from fabric and handing it over to our seamstresses to sew in order to fulfill online and wholesale orders.

What does the process of making a piece or product consist of?

Patience is an integral part of the process.  It is easy to get excited about an idea and want to make it right away, but I have learned that it is important to perfect every element of an idea before it can be produced in larger quantities.  I learned this the hard way when I decided to create a hand-painted skirt design, a process that took up to 3 days per skirt, and was intensely laborious. I made a few more hand-painted skirts that completely sold out at a trunk show and pretty soon I was producing larger quantities to fulfill wholesale order demands from boutiques.  Initially, it was easy to make just a few at a time, but when demand increased, it was a challenge to keep up while maintaining the quality of each piece, especially since they are hand-painted individually in our studio.  I learned the importance of making sure that a design is producible as well as beautiful.

The process of making a product starts with a ton of ideas, inspirations and quick sketches. Then we choose which designs to move forward with based on how they work with the entire collection.  We create a technical sketch of the design chosen and draft a pattern based on the sketch.  Then a prototype is cut from the fabric, and fitted on a model. We also perform a wear test to correct imperfections in the design. For clothing, it is wear tested and washed according to the fabric care label and accessories are tested for durability through use. This can be a fun part of the process because it allows us to try out designs for ourselves.

Hand-painted clutch from the new Heirloom Collection.

Hand-painted clutch from the new Heirloom Collection.

What are your favorite ways to unwind when you aren’t working?

As a designer, it can be hard to step away from work when you love the creative process. I never truly stop thinking of ideas for designs and will often use my free time throwing together prototypes rather than following the standardized process I described above.  Although, this always leads to my favorite designs being created. For example, when I have an event to look forward to, I’ll drape, cut and sew a dress for myself for fun and wind up loving it so much that I add it to the collection. 

As a business owner, however, I find it very easy to step away from tedious tasks like crunching numbers, paying our sales taxes, sourcing materials, monitoring our bookkeeping and inventory, etc. When I do take time off, I prefer to keep my hands busy and enjoy fixing things in my home and playing classical guitar. Another pastime I enjoy is biking and exploring my east Austin neighborhood along with my husband.  One of my favorite things to do is bike to Quickie Pickie and have a local beer after a long week.  Because my work week is so busy and structured, I prefer not having too many plans and obligations on weekends and the freedom to be spontaneous. It is in these moments away from obligations that I feel most inspired. Stepping away from my work helps to remind me that although it is very hard to be a small business owner, designing and manufacturing a clothing and accessories line, I am very lucky to be doing what I love.

To learn more about s.t.e.f. and view all of their collections, visit www.shopstef.com.