Maguelone Calmels is a fashion expert who combined a love of art and a flair for style to create Mahka -- a fashion lifestyle brand, based in Hong Kong. The French art lover drew from her cross-cultural understanding of how art and fashion can transcend borders to create the DNA of her brand. Maguelone talks with FEW about how passion and trusting her gut as she embarked on her entrepreneurial journey.
A FEW WORDS ABOUT MAHKA
Mahka combines art and fashion under one roof. Every fashion collection is made in collaboration with an artist, spanning various mediums, from photography to music, writing, painting, and street art. The fashion label also represents a lifestyle community from all corners of the world -- with a French touch.
A FEW WORDS OF ADVICE
"I started Mahka as a way to express myself. That was something that meant a lot to me. My brother is a street artist, so I’ve grown up in this artistic environment and it was in a really natural way that I came up with this concept to link art and fashion together. I wanted to try to bring people together connected through art, fashion and music."
"The biggest challenge was opening the actual shop. The tricky part was the design. I’ve never done interior design in my life, so communicating what I was envisioning with the workers was difficult."
"To find a place, rent it, create your own image -- but something that other people will like too. You don’t do these things only for yourself. You need to bring this community into the shop."
Build a community
"Running a brick and mortar store allows you to meet your customers, to create a real relationship and to be aware of real needs. You can also create and reflect a palpable atmosphere."
"Online brands can be powerful in its own way, but offline events have helped us to consolidate a strong and intimate community around Mahka -- around common values as art, fashion and music. Offline events offer the possibility to meet closer your customers and in a more authentic way, I guess, and to be more creative."
"But we also use social media to spread brand awareness: acebook for events and news, and Instagram for sharing lifestyle and product pictures."
Find your people
"The other part was to find a good supplier in terms of products, because I wanted something that’s was good quality at a good price."
"Every collection I do comes in about six styles and every style has only 30-50 pieces, so it’s quite limited. It’s hard to find someone who is happy to do only 50 pieces at a time."
"With suppliers, you have to get in touch directly with various suppliers and start to build a real relationship based on qualitative work and efficient results. I was very lucky and thankful to be introduced to my current suppliers by friends."
"It’s important for me to always question myself. You never know if you’ve done the right or wrong thing, but at least step back and think about what you’re doing."
"Are you enjoying it? What are you doing? Will people like it or not? For me, I do the thing because I love it, and then if other people like it then that’s the best, you know?"
"Be curious of what’s going on around you. Not always your direct competitors, but just even checking what’s happening in Hong Kong. It’s a source of inspiration and that helps as well.
"For me it’s not a recipe, it’s daily inspiration. It’s an artist’s path to put all that creativity into a box. People are inspiration as well."
Be the first
"Especially in Hong Kong, things are always moving very fast. You have to try to keep up. But even if you plan everything, most of the time, things don’t happen as planned."
"I think you have to make the first move, make space for a little bit of luck, and from that you have to structure and plan your business plan and strategy."
"But from the beginning, you have to be a little bit crazy and just try, you know? Do things because you love them and you trust the concept. When you do things with passion, I trust that things will work out quite naturally. That’s kind of my motto."
Don’t be shy
"When you have a challenge, you have to accept it. I think as soon as you accept it, you can start to deal with it. Don’t be shy -- ask advice from your friends, from professionals, from experts, from people who have more experience."
"There is a contrast, especially in Hong Kong, where you have to act fast -- but not too fast. You have to try to analyze and do things properly."
"Just do it! Don’t overthink it. Do it, but in a smart way. Trust and believe in yourself and just do it. Because you have nothing to lose -- even if it doesn’t work, it’s a learning experience. I don’t see that as a negative thing. It's valuable in another way."
A FEW MORE QUESTIONS
How do you prioritize?
"In terms of daily life, I try to separate things and compartmentalize. So one day per week I am focusing on the administrative tasks, the other day I am working on production, the next on communications."
"But of course, this is always changing. I have deadlines but I never really follow them because there is always a last-minute thing you have to deal with. There is always an emergency."
"Everything is a priority, and nothing goes to plan. That's what I love actually. It’s always challenging and always changing."
Where do you find inspiration?
"I guess when you have your own company, you don’t have to count your hours -- it’s a different philosophy. Because it’s your baby, every day, all the time, even when you travel, even when you’re on holiday -- you always have ideas."
"You meet people, you go to a new place, you get inspiration. I’m like that -- I get inspiration from everywhere in every moment."
Is there a strong creative network in Hong Kong’s start-up scene?
"For me, the music people like Cliché and FuFu -- these guys started about five years ago and now they’ve opened clubs and do festivals. They’re getting bigger and bigger. Of course this makes you feel stronger and like you're part of a community."
When you do get the time to relax, what do you like to do?
"I love to travel, traveling is my No. 1. I don't even have to go anywhere -- I love to listen to music, close my eyes and travel like that."
"I also love to sit down with my friends and chill -- literally doing nothing and just connecting a little bit. Of course, spending time with my family is also important to me."
Any final words of advice for entrepreneurs who are starting up?
"If you’ve got an idea, think twice about it, of course, but everything is possible with the right tools."
"At Mahka, we sell fashion apparel, we sell paintings, we sell accessories, but what I love is that artists and non-artists come by to we can take the time to have a coffee or drink talk about art and what’s happening in Hong Kong."
"That’s what I like about it. Taking the time to breathe and talk -- which is rare in Hong Kong."