Just a brief backgrounder : All stories under our new category, Inspiring Women, will be done through an interview. The question and answer format will give us a clearer and better picture of our cover story since answers will come straight from the interviewee herself. The Spoiled Mummy will only edit as deemed necessary.
My very first feature under our new section in the blog, Inspiring Women is Mitshi Rodriguez. She is a Filipina now based in the United States. She recently started an online boutique for children’s wear, called Chichi Mary. After only a few months, the retail site has blossomed into something big with several citations by the local and international press, aside from an inclusion in the recently held New York City Kids Fashion Week. Aside from being a successful entrepreneur, she is also a devoted wife and a hands-on mom to her adorable little girl, Mary – who is a budding fashionista herself and to whom the retail business is named after.
Read about her inspiring story below :
Who is Mitshi and what is Chichi Mary all about?
I’m a Filipina born and raised in the Philippines. An Industrial Engineer by education, I worked for multiple multinational companies in Manila as a Supply Chain Professional. I migrated to the United States when I got married since my husband’s work is based in Boston, MA. My first few years in the US were spent pursuing my Master’s degree and taking care of Mary, our baby daughter.
After completing my Master’s in Supply Chain Management, I had to reflect if I was willing to go back to the corporate world and give up being a full time mom to my daughter. My husband advised that if I were to commit to anything at all – and give up even a small part of my time spent with our daughter –it should be something absolutely worthwhile that I can imagine doing for the rest of my life. And thus, Chichi Mary was born.
My passion for fashion – and kids fashion in particular – as well as online shopping made Chichi Mary the emotional as well as logical choice for us. Pronounced as “shi-shi” and meaning stylish/fancy/fashionable, the name came from a close friend’s comment that naming a business in your child’s name is good luck.
When I became a mom, I realized how fun kids fashion is and how dressing up our little ones brings so much joy. Our fast-paced and hectic life here in the States also made me fully appreciate and enjoy online shopping – it’s so much more convenient to search for beautiful clothes for Mary without having to hop from one mall to another. Most moms would agree with me that it’s really hard to look for something in the mall when your kids are around.
Online shopping gives you this convenience, and as long as you consider each brand’s size guide (typically based on height and weight), it’s still easy to get the correctly fitting size for your kids (especially since kids clothes in general don’t have complicated forms). Part of this convenience is our fast delivery, which is within 1-3 days locally. Chichi Mary is a US-based company with a Philippine office, which gives our customers the option to do quick and easy returns.
How many brands do you have in your online retail site now? How do you choose which brands to feature?
Having publicly going live with Chichi Mary on June 2013, we now have almost two full seasons under our belt, and we’ve had the chance to feature ten different brands on our site.
I chose our brands based on their uniqueness, form, texture, and dress quality. As much as possible, I make it a point to personally experience the touch and feel of each brand so I have a high level confidence of the brand’s beauty, quality and durability. All of these are boutique brands and will not be found in outlet or factory stores here in the States, so each piece is really special and unique. In addition, I also account for the critical reception to these brands — if the brand is creating a buzz in NYC’s kids fashion scene, I will make sure to check it out. One thing that has definitely helped Chichi Mary is that I get to talk directly with a lot of the designers of our brands, giving me an insider look at how a brand works.
Given that these are boutique brands, these will be more expensive than your typical department store dress, but price point is still a significant consideration. One of my main goals is for parents to feel that they are always getting tremendous value whenever they purchase something from Chichi Mary.
For our Spring 2013 collection, the most popular brands were Sophie Catalou and Stella Cove. Sophie Catalou, a Spanish brand, is known for its great fabric and sweet designs while almost everyone loves the bubble dress from Stella Cove, which is a Swedish brand. My personal favorite is Djaknemala (also Swedish), it’s always described as very “couture like” while still being a great fit for the weather of a tropical country like the Philippines. We also have Eliane Et Lena from France, Me Too from Denmark, as well as Nohi Kids from the US.
For the current Fall 2013 collection, we added four beautiful new brands. Biscotti/Kate Mack is a US brand that is very whimsical and romantic. Siaomimi/Siaomimi Play is a Hong Kong based brand that emphasizes the innocence and simplicity of a child while still showing their strong individual character. Petit Lem is a Canadian brand with soft, cozy and eco-friendly fabric for an active child. Last but not least is Bleu Comme Gris from Paris which combines contemporary spirit with the perennially fashionable clasics.
What’s exciting about Chichi Mary is that we’re continuously in the hunt for new and exciting brands. This is something that our customers can look forward to. Whether it’s a well-established or still an emerging brand, we won’t hesitate to offer it in our store as long as we’re confident that the brand has something great to offer. One thing I’ve learned is that there are some beautiful brands that are not represented even in the biggest tradeshows in New York City. So at Chichi Mary, we’re definitely working hard to look for boutique brands coming from different parts of the globe be it US, Europe and Asia.
Who are your typical online shoppers and where are they mostly from?
My primary vision when starting Chichi Mary was to make global kids fashion accessible to Filipinos season after season at the same time as when they’re available anywhere else. So when we officially opened shop in June this year, the Philippines was our primary target market, with the intent to expand this more and more to Southeast Asia and beyond. That being said, we’ve started to receive inquiries from the US as well as getting a lot of site visits from Europe, so we will rethink and reevaluate our supply chain as necessary to respond to these potential demands.
Our typical market and shoppers are those who love to shop abroad and/or use international shopping sites. These are moms who really love fashion and love to look for unique and quality clothing for their kids. Our customers definitely love to shop for and appreciate the value of designer clothes. Based on our sales in the previous months, our customers are busy moms/business owners who probably enjoy the convenience of shopping fashionable clothes online.
What are the usual challenges you face in this kind of business, especially in a very competitive retail environment?
The usual challenge in our business is logistics. It is not unusual in our operations to receive a wrong dress, missing order or even a canceled style. My prior work experience as well as my Master’s has prepared me to handle these hiccups and put in place systems to minimize their occurrence. It is also one of my primary objectives to move goods efficiently so that I can pass along my savings to my customers and provide even better value.
Where is Chichi Mary now and where do you plan to take the business in the future?
Currently, Chichi Mary is still in its start-up phase. We are still a small business and are still undergoing birth pains but I’ve received a lot of encouragement from our satisfied customers, so that definitely means a lot.
At some point, we will expand our focus to include Southeast Asia as well as beyond, but we currently don’t have any plans to open our own brick and mortar store. The trend in the fashion industry here in the US has been to focus on online retail, and I want to do something similar. Another one of my goals is to be a pioneer and contribute to improving the online shopping experience in the Philippines. I want people to associate Chichi Mary with fast, convenient, premium quality products and great customer service. I’ll be so happy exposing people to the enjoyment of browsing beautiful products online and having them on-hand the next day – all without having to leave the comfort of their house.
I’m still toying with the idea of coming up with my own clothing line for children. My exposure to kids fashion has led me to understand what makes a certain brand better than another, but I also know for a fact that designing clothes entails more work and it includes finding a great source of fabric. For now, I’m still enjoying my role as a retailer, digesting and learning a lot from consumer behavior patterns. Baby steps, I guess.
Chichi Mary has been featured several times by both the local and international media. Tell us more about this.
I feel blessed that Chichi Mary has been featured several times and I consider all these very important to us. I’m very thankful to all these wonderful Philippine-based blogs like Dainty Mom, Manila Fashion Observer, Go Jackie Go, Glam-O-Mama, WhenInManila, My Mommyology and Smart Parenting Online that they gave Chichi Mary a spot in their blog. It also helped me a lot in terms of reaching out to potential customers and explaining what makes Chichi Mary special.
On print, I’m very grateful that BC Magazine features our dresses in their product editorial section. BC Magazine, formerly known as Baby Couture, has established its name here in the US and so seeing our products printed in their pages is really flattering. I know NYC showrooms already work with them, so I can definitely say that it is a magazine that you would love to read especially if you’re looking for what and where to buy the latest kids fashion.
Chichi Mary was also part of the recent New York Kids Fashion Week with no less than Heidi Klum on stage with your brands. How was this experience?
Chichi Mary was fortunate to have been included in the Petite Parade Vogue Bambini Fashion Show held in New York City last October. This is a bi-annual and by-invitation only children’s fashion show meant for a select group of buyers, media and celebrity tots and parents. The fashion show featured some of the most well-curated and premium children’s brands. It was both a humbling and a memorable experience for a small, start-up business like Chichi Mary to witness and be part of a runway showcase that features established retail brands and of course, to be side by side with Heidi Klum!
You wear many hats. You are a wife, a mom and a successful entrepreneur all at the same time. How do you manage your time and business efficiently?
To borrow startup terminology, I have a lean and agile workforce consisting of myself and my brother (as well as my mom and hubby who’ve been “volunteered” into service). I think being able to stay lean is one of the biggest advantages of online retail. I handle sourcing, marketing & other admin staff like site maintenance and even bookkeeping. My brother (and Mom) in the Philippines handle the distribution and customer service side as well as photography. My husband is a technology guy so he’s the one who deals with our website’s technical side. This setup would probably still work even when after serious expansion outside of the Philippines.
Being an online store allows me the blessing of working at home. We’ve established a small office in the house but I still tend to roam around the house while working depending on my mood — I can work in our dining room, breakfast nook or even in the yard. A typical work day usually starts when my daughter is at school. I maximize the time for working while she’s at school, taking a nap or enjoying her allotted TV time. My morning/afternoon work session is usually spent dealing with my current/potential suppliers in the US and Europe. I frequently have to work during nights also, which is good in that it’s morning in Asia and I get to quickly respond to any new customer concerns, etc., but potentially not so good in that it could cut down on quality time with my hubby. It’s a great thing that he’s so into what I’m doing also, so we’re able to treat our night work as a sort of bonding opportunity.
What inspires you, or better yet – who is your inspiration?
Fashion-wise, it’s been my grandfather, Cesar Gaupo, who’s had a great influence on me. I grew up observing his atelier and it always seemed to be a natural part of our daily family conversations to talk about different aspects of fashion like the right form, construction, fabric and texture. On top of that, I see my lolo still very energized and passionate — he’s in his sixties already but he still keeps on working as an outlet for his creativity. I definitely admire how, even with how much he’s accomplished, my lolo stays grounded and humble and never hesitates to share Christian values with us.
I’m also inspired by my husband—he’s a great believer in looking for your passion and pursuing a career out of it even if you don’t see an immediate financial reward. From him, I’ve learned the value of investing time on your interest, honing your skills and cherishing your learnings because the most important thing is that you’re happy with what you’re doing and that it gives you a sense of fulfillment.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention how much I’ve been inspired by my parents, who gave us one of the best gifts we can ever receive and that is the gift of time. While growing up and even until now, my mom and dad are generous in sharing their time with us and that definitely inspires me to be a good parent to Mary. I’m really thankful that hardly a day goes by that I don’t get to talk to my mom and dad, even though we are thousands of miles away. Thank goodness for FaceTime.
From your own experience, please share some tips to women entrepreneurs out there and those who are also thinking of starting their own business.
It may be clichéd but I really believe you should look for your passion. It’s hard to start a business when you’re not really into it and the potential income is the sole motivation. Starting a business is a rollercoaster ride with very high “highs” and very low “lows”, and it’s so easy to give up if you don’t feel the passion for what you’re doing.
If you’re hesitant to do it, start small. Often times, your learnings are your most precious reward. We can read great books or even undertake advanced graduate studies but testing the water gives us a different form of learning that is often more valuable.
With a fast-growing business like Chichi Mary, tell us what is the secret to balancing career and family life?
The advantage of having an online store is that I can work at home. When I do need to travel for work, I always bring my family with me. This is a very family friendly industry — events are usually done on a weekend and typically accommodate the entire family.
With all of us moms being busy, we all try to have our own ways to deal with what needs to be done. Mine is knowing my priorities and then scheduling accordingly. If I need help, I don’t hesitate to ask for it. I recognize that if I try to do it all, I risk burning myself out, so I’m slowly learning to be kind to myself.
In our family, it is important for us to dedicate the whole weekend spending time together. Our weekend usually starts with my daughter’s Saturday morning ballet class. After that, we are free to do whatever we want to do, so we usually look for kid’s activities during Saturdays and catch up with friends during Saturday nights. Weekend is definitely a great time to enjoy New England. Visiting a new town, enjoying a scenic view and trying out new restaurants is the typical weekend for us. To cap off the weekend, we love simply spending time in our yard and eating home-cooked meals on Sunday nights. This allows us to be more relaxed and prepared for the busy week ahead.
On a lighter note, what do you think makes you a “Spoiled Mummy”? :)
I think it’s important for us mummies to take some time, no matter how small, to spoil ourselves because we always have our plates full whether you’re a stay at home mom or a working mom. Running a household is a difficult job especially when you’re trying to do it right. We are also the primary care giver in the family and the ultimate supporter of our husbands. It is when we spoil ourselves that we regain our energy, appreciate more what we have, and fully realize what matters most. On a daily basis, I try give one hour a day for myself. For me, this is the time for simple but relaxing rituals of drinking my favorite tea and/or indulging on a small dessert. It’s also the time when I pray and give thanks for all the blessings.
I’m a Spoiled Mummy because I get to live the life that I want and I have a loving family around me. I spoil myself through travel especially when I’m back home in the Philippines with all my family and friends spoiling me.
At the end of each day, I’m thankful to God for being a Spoiled Mummy because I have a loving and supportive husband who gives his daily appreciation for what I’m doing for the family.
Lastly, I’m a Spoiled Mummy because I have a funny daughter whom I can spend much of my time with and who is always fond of saying “I wanna be like you mama”.