Franki Michels, founder and designer of The Secret Society of Ex Mermaids shares her journey in creating an eclectic teen brand.
Where did the idea for Ex Mermaids come from?
The idea for Ex Mermaids began with the intention to build a fashion brand that I could sell and market online. From there, I knew I needed a catchy name and I also needed to find a certain type of girl who would be looking at social media and willing to shop eCommerce. I worked on names for about 2 days. It really didn’t take long because I knew what type of girl inspired me and I just tried to capture that.
An ex mermaid is a human girl who has irreversibly left her world behind. She is misunderstood in her new world, but still an amazing creature. I think most of us feel alien and different at some point.
What struggles have you come across while starting the brand? How were you able to overcome them?
The biggest struggle has been finding the time to do all of the jobs required to run a fashion brand online! I have had to learn so many new skills…and really quickly! Money and time are always the hardest things to work around. There’s never enough of either, but somehow, something turns out.
What does being brave to you?
Bravery is not simply chasing your dreams or expressing yourself. It has been used to mean those things lately, but I believe true bravery involves a readiness to sacrifice. Starting a fashion brand is bold, it takes moxie, but I don’t see it as bravery.
What has been the most rewarding part of The Secret Society of Ex Mermaids?
The best part of creating Ex Mermaids is getting emails and fan art from people who really love and understand the brand. It’s not a brand for everyone, and when someone really ‘gets it’, I feel like it’s all worth while. It feels like I’ve made a friend! And, of course, getting to do fashion design is a great reward in itself.
What was your experience with fashion as a child? How has that influenced your designs?
I had very little fashion experience as a child. I grew up in East Tennessee. Lisa Frank and Clueless were both influences, but I started reading Vogue (at the grocery store… I wasn’t allowed to buy it) when I was 11. That’s how I learned about New York and the fashion industry.
When did your associations with mermaids as an identity begin, and what does it mean to you? In your words, what is an ex mermaid?
Ariel was always my favorite Disney princess, but I wasn’t particularly into mermaids before. The idea of the Ex Mermaid has more to do with someone who is an outsider in the human world, than with actual mermaid lore. An ex mermaid is a human girl who has irreversibly left her world behind. She is misunderstood in her new world, but still an amazing creature. I think most of us feel alien and different at some point.
How do you hope or try to inspire and reach out to girls around the world?
It’s impossible not to be global when you are an online brand! I have sent Ex Mermaid orders to Japan, Turkey, Australia, and Qatar! That’s the magic of Instagram. I hope that the idea of being part of a society of amazing, yet misunderstood ex mermaids will inspire no matter where you’re from!
Where do you want to take the brand in the future?
My background is in women’s wear design (I graduated from Parsons) and it has always been my hope to grow Ex Mermaid beyond streetwear, to be a full fashion line. And fragrance. One day, there will be a perfume…
Who are some of your role models or inspirations when it comes to fashion?
I just finished reading the book Mademoiselle: Coco Chanel and the Pulse of History and I have a new respect for who she was and what she brought to fashion. Schiaparelli, Charle James, and Christian Lacroix are my favorite designers. I think Christopher Bailey is ahead of the times as far as bringing Burberry into the digital age.
What kind of support or lack of support did you have from friends and/or family when you were starting the business?
It began with one t-shirt style! The day it arrived, my best friend came over and we put them on and went out! I would say that a lot of people around me don’t entirely understand the brand, but they all say encouraging things. At least to me! And when I have a fashion show, the volunteering is amazing. My parents travelled from TN for my last show!
Where do you search for or find inspiration for your products?
I find inspiration in anything visual. Tumblr and Instagram are sort of the shortcuts. I took a trip to Tokyo last year and I think it will influence me forever! I am inspired by oddball girls. Girls who have style and are doing things their own way … whether characters in books or movies, real girls I know, or girls I find and stalk on Instagram! Petite Meller and That Poppy are my current favorites.
What message do you hope to spread with The Secret Society of Ex Mermaids?
The message of The Secret Society of Ex Mermaids is about knowing who you are and feeling very ok with being different from everyone else around you.
How long have you lived in New York, and where did you live before? What does location mean to you? Has it influenced you in any way?
I have lived in New York for a cumulative 8 years! But I spent a few years in London in between. I love New York like no other place on earth, but living in Europe was very special. You get to experience how the girls dress, how they shop, a different lifestyle and it’s nice to have so much history around you.
Do you have any exciting upcoming projects for the brand, or personally?
I am working on new swimwear pieces for this summer..so get excited! I am also completely rethinking how I present my next collection. I really want to break the collection to my online audience and to my customers rather than at a runway show during NY Fashion Week. The brainstorming has included a concert setting, a hotel sleepover event, and a live feed photoshoot. All suggestions welcome…
What is your personal fashion style? Favorite style of clothing?
My style is a blend of pastel kawaii and retro ladylike. I wear blouses with scarves and then also Barbie level pink on pink with plastic earnings. A lot of my wardrobe is from Asos.com. I am 5’1” so almost all of my shoes have a heel or wedge and I hate when people ask me to remove my shoes!
What advice do you have for someone following their dreams?
It’s important to have dreams, but it’s also important to learn that you can’t know what path might get you there… so working hard and taking the small steps that are in front of you is key. Be bold.
Photos by Anna Zhang
Interview by Ilana Newman