A few years ago during the active years of my photography career, I met and collaborated with many talented individuals along the way. Through my amazing hairstylist Tammy Nguyen I connected with Michelle Hébert, who was barely beginning her career as a budding fashion designer while attending community college and working at our local Abercrombie & Fitch.
Over the years, 25-year-old Michelle Hébert has worked through countless of sleepless nights to create her brand, Michelle Hébert. I’ve witnessed a tremendous growth in both her technical skills and her self-conjured marketing strategies that have lead to numerous projects with TV personalities such as Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Taryn Manning of Orange is the New Black.
This inspiring young woman has gone through all the phases: working and crafting in her ice-cold garage to buying a P.O. Box for business and delivering her garments to celebrity wardrobe stylists like Monica Rose.
I was able to sit down with Michelle and engage in a very nostalgic interview, to which she recollected the earliest stages of her business and excitedly gushed about her future plans. Continue reading below to learn more about this talented artist and how she was able to use her passion for art and sewing into a career of owning and operating her own LLC.
What first sparked your interest in fashion design? Was there a specific moment or project that got you interested?
From the beginning I have been obsessed with art and exploring my creativity, spending almost all of my spare time drawing. As early as the age of 5 I knew I wanted to become an artist, but as I grew up I wasn’t sure what “kind.” But, at the age of 10 during my “aspiring-comic-book-artist phase,” design came to me by accident. Inspired by my love of Sailor Moon, Powerpuff Girls, and Archie comics (we all remember the fashionable Veronica), I created a team of girls who fought evil while living normal yet fashion-filled lives. It was during this phase that I realized I had no interest in re-drawing characters over and over and over but instead enjoyed creating their outfits, and that was it! I had my eureka moment: I decided I wanted to design clothing.
How long did it take for you to get the ball rolling?
It has been no easy thing trying to break into the fashion industry — about a fifteen-year tango. It didn’t begin to feel serious until about 10 years ago. As a sophomore in high school, I entered into Seventeen Magazine’s “17 Best Dressed Girls in America” contest and out of thousands I was chosen as one of the 17 girls! Suddenly, everyone knew I intended to be in the world of fashion, and in my family I went from “Michelle” to “Superstar” according to my Auntie Carole and Uncle Chuck. Following high-school, within 3 years I sped through two A.S. degree’s worth of fashion courses at my local community college. In the midst of my courses I decided to launch my Facebook Page “Michelle Hebert | Art & Fashion” to document my school projects, and eventually my early photo-shoots. Friends who followed my Facebook page took notice of my pursuit of design, and that’s when Tammy Nguyen connected me and you! You were the first photographer to collaborate with me on a design, and one of the first to professionally shoot my work. I started posting your images on portfolio websites and attracted the attention of fine art photographer Alex Stoddard. Through his images I was discovered by more photographers such as Brooke Shaden who led me to more connections, and the rest is history. Collaboration is powerful. All-in-all, the takeaway of my journey is: be obsessed, get ready to work, and collaborate — don’t be a lone wolf!
Did you encounter any obstacles or troublesome times when you were starting out?
— Cash flow to fund my personal projects. Because of limited cash flow, I would put all my focus on client pieces and side jobs moreso than the amount of time I worked on Michelle Hébert. If your cash is low, either try to build a stable separate income or work on seeking investors.
— Maintaining a healthy life outside of fashion design. I juggle playing a third parent to my teenage siblings, trying to take breaks and spend time with friends, and keeping myself healthy as my work has taken it’s toll on my body. I’ve had to learn to work through the pains of tendonitis, but to avoid this I would recommend lots of stretching and a balanced diet at minimum.
— Balancing a relationship with my career path. As I became more serious about design, I had trouble maintaining a past relationship. Many issues we had were unrelated to my career path, but through having an outlet in my work I realized my value and independence — I became less attached to being with anyone at all. We separated on good terms and I have since been with a new partner who I love deeply, but I wasn’t actively seeking a relationship when I met him.
What was your most memorable and successful opportunity to date?
Just this April, with endless thanks to stylists Odessa Nikolic & Monica Rose, my Hera Kimono Robe was worn twice in both blush & black by Cindy Crawford’s daughter Kaia Gerber when she attended Coachella! This resulted in the sale of over 60 Hera robes in the past few months, and a spot on the Via Los Angeles online boutique. To date, my Hera robes have become my most successful ready-to-wear item and I’m happy to say they continue to receive interest.
Bess Wyrick, owner of New York-Based Celadon & Celery, is featured in this beautiful commercial shot by cinematographer Devin Schiro. Wyrick was one of the many contributors in Michelle’s Kickstarter.
I remember working with you a few years back on your Kickstarter campaign, in which you were funded a whopping $11,231 out of your $8,000 goal. Tell us about that project.
The Kickstarter I launched in 2013 was meant to take me from a small-time designer to the big time. The goal I aimed for was modest and not enough to fully launch a business, but it was an incredible boost that sped me farther ahead. The night before the Kickstarter was successfully funded, I had less than $100 in my bank account — $26. Prior to the Kickstarter I had quit my retail job, entered into a 4-month designer boot-camp program that cost about $1200, and was stretching every last dollar I had. Considering my financial situation side-by-side with my massive dreams, I was mortified at the thought that it might not work, and that I may not get funded. As most people are, I’m not a fan of failure. And this Kickstarter began to symbolize so much to me. I felt I was putting myself on the table by sharing all of my vulnerabilities, and then holding my breath to see if enough people believed in me. Thankfully, friends, family, and strangers came through and I was funded by about 120% over my goal! I first used the money to fulfill any physical products that were purchased and then finally incorporated becoming a limited liability company. With the remainder, I was able to comfortably afford more fabrics for future designs, replace my ancient laptop, hire a PR agency for a few months, and lastly donate a portion of the funds to an incredible after-school youth program called Inner City-Arts.
The night before the Kickstarter was successfully funded, I had less than $100 in my bank account — $26. Prior to the Kickstarter I had quit my retail job, entered into a 4-month designer boot-camp program that cost about $1200, and was stretching every last dollar I had.
Aside from your couture designs, I know you’re breaking into bridal design. How has your experience with the wedding industry been so far?
The world of bridal gowns has been really enjoyable and rewarding! Knowing that the piece I am designing will be part of an irreplaceable moment in the bride’s life is an honor. Many people assume I must deal with “bridezillas,” but to be honest, I’ve been fortunate as the women I work with often have this great confidence about them. They know who they are, and they know what they want. Within the Michelle Hébert brand, Bridal has been the most successful. For the past few years I have worked very closely with between 3 to 5 brides per year. That number seems small, but at this time it is perfect for the scalability I can handle, given my gowns are completely custom-made— I work mainly solo with the occasional assistance of my seamstress. Custom wedding gowns average in price between $1,500 – $5,000 with the price being more or less depending on the gown’s intricacy, materials, and labor. What I have is currently successful and the work flow consistent; however, in the coming months I have plans to seek investments so I can figure out how to scale my designs while keeping the same special quality.
I LOVE the “Lexi” bralette and panty set you gave me earlier this year. Tell us more about your plans for your lingerie line, because I know that’s brought you some massive fiscal success this year.
Intimates was an unexpected success! As soon as I dipped my toes in lingerie design, it took off. There was a bralette that drew immense interest called the “Chloé”— had the material been more accessible and the design more scalable, I’m sure it would have been one of my most popular pieces. As for what the future holds… I have some new ideas brewing, as well as collaborations with the brand Birds n Bones Jewelry and model Skully Smith! There is also a current collaboration on the market called the Versa Bralette. It’s a versatile bralette set that can be worn multiple ways that I designed with blogger Annette Tang of @theversastyle.
A few Halloweens ago, I remember you were on a roll with creating mermaid tails that were in high-demand. How come you didn’t do that this year?
This questions makes me laugh while crying a little on the inside. The mermaid tails are the perfect example of the importance of staying true to your brand, even when faced with a great financial opportunity — thinking long-term vs. short-term. The mermaid tails rose in popularity after three popular women on Instagram commissioned them to me. Without considering the future of my brand I felt compelled to make them, and customers loved them. However, what I love is to create evocative innovative designs and the mermaid tails do not fall under that category. By selling something that didn’t make sense with my brand, I may have confused people and attracted customers not interested in my actual style. It was initially a tough decision, but I stopped offering the mermaid tails even with the money they could make me. But since embracing this laser-focus, I’ve attracted customers who pay me what I’m worth, trust my creativity, and value my designs.
By selling something that didn’t make sense with my brand, I may have confused people and attracted customers not interested in my actual style.
What are your goals for your business within the next year? Where do you see yourself by the end of 2017?
Within the next few years I plan to do everything I can to make Michelle Hébert a national luxury brand. I’ve had this same goal for years, but when I look back I realize that I needed to fail a LOT, toughen my skin, and be successful independently. In the coming months expect a new partnership, more collaborations, work with new technology within design, a new line of bridal gowns, my expanse into luxury ready-to-wear, and the launch of something I’ve hoped to produce for years!
Michelle continues to be a one-woman show by self-managing all aspects of her brand, from hand-sewing each garment to administrating all of her social media accounts. Her pieces can be seen at the CREATIV PR Showroom in Los Angeles and purchased online at her website.
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Liked this interview? Check out the rest of the USE YOUR TALENT interviews featuring many other remarkable individuals in the archives.
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