Design for the Cool Kid
The Mini Classy went from a Milwaukee dining room to 50 boutiques and Barneys New York.
The MINI classy, one of the coolest kidswear brands around, has its roots in hip-hop, I guess you could say. Two like-minded women in Milwaukee met through their significant others, one a hip-hop producer, the other a part-time rapper, and found they had more than just music in common. Michelle Lopez and Andrea Dotzauer, co-founders and CEOs of the high-end childrenswear line, had both been in school for fashion design and apparel development, both recently had children and wanted a business of their own. The Mini Classy was born.
The women discovered they could bypass the retailer and prohibitive manufacturing order minimums and go straight to the consumer through Instagram. So they created a killer pair of harem pants for kids in Lopez’s dining room and popped it online. The response from consumers was immediate. The demand soon led to Etsy, another direct to consumer phenomenon. “We began an Etsy shop and started out buying small amounts of fabric, like a yard or two,” says Lopez. “We developed a design off the fabric and offered a very limited release. We created the fear of missing out.”
Fast-forward three years and the duo now run a full-fledged operation in downtown Milwaukee and sell to 50 boutiques worldwide, including Barneys New York. It hasn’t hurt that celeb kids like Mason Disick, Kourtney Kardashian’s son, was snapped by the paparazzi in the line’s Dino harem pants.
It’s easy to see The Mini Classy’s appeal—it’s the antidote for anybody who’s tired of the the saccharine childrenswear color palette of baby pinks and blues. A girls’ black-and-white graphic romper, for instance, features bright pink dinosaur spikes crawling down the back. A pair of boys’ stretch pleather with black waistband and cuffs is called the “Baby Kanye” harem. Need we say more? And the little baby harem features black-and-white stripes and spikes down the sides in various neon and primary colors. The effect is edgy, urban and, most of all, fun. All are made from super-soft eco-friendly bamboo and cotton blend fabrics.
“We’re classy high-end streetwear for kiddos,” says Michelle. “We take a lot of inspiration from adult streetwear and music and try to bring that to the garments. We’re not afraid of crazy, print and pattern mixing.”
The Mini Classy is made in the Midwest, which allows the company to claim “Made in the USA” status as well as keep some measure of control. “We like to keep a close handle on the quality of our products,” says Dotzauer. “Quality is something that’s important for our brand.”
Now producing two collections per year, the two women also pepper in capsule collections to keep the cash flowing, grab the attention of customers and to keep things exciting—all the while keeping an eye on future growth. They’re currently courting potential investors and have their sights on a new territory: Canada. Eventually, they’d also like to venture into other lifestyle products like bedding or lunchboxes.
“Neither of us have prior experience running a business,” says Dotzauer, who says that means sometimes working seven days a week and holding production meetings on Sundays. “You have some growing pains and have to figure things out.”
They do have a little help. Dotzauer’s 5-year-old son, Math (yep, spelled just like the subject), and Michelle’s 4-year-old daughter, Sasha, join their mothers in the office every day. “They are huge mini designers,” says Lopez. “They show us what they like, what they don’t like, they test it before it goes into production and if it doesn’t pass their inspection, it doesn’t get made.”