When I moved across the country to New York City, one of the first brands I encountered was Min & Mon. Roaming the SoHo Artist & Fleas (RIP), I was immediately drawn in by the bright colorways and lash-lined, eyeball motif. The whimsical, silly designs captured my heart immediately, and after holding each purse in my hand longingly — because as a grad student I couldn’t afford such indulgences — I promised myself that one day I would own a Min & Mon bag.
Six years later (and now the proud owner of not one, but three Min & Mon bags), I sat down with co-founder Catherine McKenzie in the brand’s flagship shop in Nolita. The two of us talked culture and discussed how heritage informs our relationships with fashion. As a Honduran immigrant who co-founded Min & Mon with her best friends (both of whom hail from Colombia), this is something McKenzie says is integral to the brand.
“We come from a long line of storytellers and I hope that we can continue to tell the stories that not only inspire us, but have so much depth and can uplift,” she said. “We hope that every single charm — with their whimsical story and their happy factor, their cuteness — that it can just be a source of happiness and joy in people.”
Ahead, McKenzie chats with Bustle about dopamine dressing and what the Latinx community means to her.
How do you incorporate your heritage into your designs?
It’s hard to put it into words, because I would not know how to create or design as anything else. It's in everything we do. It's in every piece of inspiration. It's in the colors that we incorporate. If you look at our brand, it's colorful, it's happy. It represents what we grew up seeing: color and livelihood, joy and happiness. It's in our identity.
Dopamine dressing has been trending in recent months. Do you think Mon & Mon fills that need?
When we started, we knew that we wanted to incorporate color because we know what color does to us. We knew that it's something that just brightens your day — it changes your outlook, it really does give you a boost. Then when we started getting reviews and it was evident from what they were saying that this was a happy brand.
It's also how it speaks to you, how you can make it your own. A lot of our bags have the opportunity for you to add a charm. When you place a charm on a bag that you chose, it's about the story you're telling. It's about how it connects to you and your life.
What is the story behind the signature eye design?
People will interpret whatever it means to them, but for us it was to give life to inanimate objects. The eyes are the soul. We started putting eyes on things that are inanimate — that don't have life — but, yet, we are giving it life.
What about the octopus logo? Can you tell me the story behind how that came to be and what it represents to the brand?
The idea of the octopus was many reasons — partly because it symbolizes friendship, it symbolizes togetherness, connectedness. If you see our octopuses, they're not the same — they're not symmetrical. There is a difference between the two and yet they're connected and in friendship and an intimacy with each other.
The octopus is a reminder to live in connection with others. We knew early on that we wanted to make our bags in Colombia. This is not a country known for manufacturing, but we wanted to create these ecosystems where people are really connected to their communities and helping their communities by employing them and giving them honorable wages.
I feel like that also reflects the connectedness of BIPOC people through uplifting Asian-owned brands, Black-owned brands, Latinx brands, and the way that we can uplift each other through stories like yours — through community.
We really prize community, we prize connectedness. When I think about the people that are buying our product, there is already a connection. Sometimes we don't relate to our purchases that way, but the hope is that we can get there — that everything we purchase, how we consume, is really an expression of how we live. How can we connect makers to the buyer? How can you not be so far removed from the people that are making the things you are wearing? With Min & Mon, you are never more than one or two degrees removed from the person that actually put the back together. We celebrate those that have sewn the bag, that have printed the bag.
We had a capsule a couple of years ago that everybody that actually touched the bag got to sign it. The idea was how can we connect you as a consumer to the people that are actually putting together what you're consuming and how can we make them part of your purchase and your story — have you carry their names around, because they're the people that put together your bag.
What has been the experience of being a Latinx designer in the fashion industry?
That's a story that we need to tell more of, because up until this point we have been so concentrated on just creating a product that people can connect to. New York has been such a gift, because there is respect to our existence and there's even celebration. Every one of our bags tells a story, but if you dig just a little deeper, you will know that we're bringing Colombian artisans to you — their craftsmanship to you. That's the first thing we tell people when they walk in, where our bags were made.
What would you say has been the most rewarding part of starting your own business?
As rewarding as it is, it's also hard work. Creating our products in Colombia is not always easy and it's certainly not always a popular choice, just because sometimes the conditions are not the most ideal. But being committed to that has anchored us. So that's rewarding to find success in the hard choices.
What advice do you have for aspiring designers looking to start their own business — particularly, Latinx designers?
Flexibility, because along the way there's sometimes doors that open and others that close and you have to be flexible enough to go on this road that you might not know where it's leading. I guess when I think about giving advice, I'm like, "Oh my gosh, I'm still in it." But I think flexibility and also stay close to your customer, because you learn a lot about yourself through what people see, what they connect with.
But also, success will look differently at many stages along the way. Celebrate the small victories. Let them fuel your path.
Interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. We may receive a portion of sales if you purchase a product through a link in this article.