Starting from his college dorm room, Michael Saiger has played the proud parent to Miansai, watching the brand grow from an infant obscurity to one of the most sought-after accessories brands on the market. Now in its fifth year, Miansai recently opened a store in New York City, located on the low-key hip Crosby Street in SoHo. The brand’s penchant hook-and-rope bracelets give it a kind of artisanal vibe, which is thanks to the intuitive talents of self-trained Saiger. This crafty, natural attitude is repeated in the store’s space: a welcoming walk-through of rich wooden pieces, accented with custom copper lamps (again, that Saiger built himself) and the smell of fine leather. Alongside the product offerings, Miansai NYC also hosts a café at the front, a build-your-own bracelet station, and more. We stopped by the store with a brief interview with Saiger, which can be found below. If in the New York City area, be sure to visit Miansai NYC.
33 Crosby St.
New York, NY 10013
Can you talk about what influenced the brand’s aesthetic at its inception?
From the beginning, it was something that any guy could wear. That’s what was important… great design and accessible price points. I wanted something that a guy could wear every day. With the first line, it was stuff that you can wear in the ocean, in the pool, you can go fishing – you can do whatever you want with it and it’s going to last. Everything that we use is really high quality, and it was about the craftsmanship of us making it here. We have our own factory, and we make everything [there].
When I first started, I was making stuff for myself. There was nothing else out there. I realized that no one else does this – and no one else does it well – [so,] I thought there was a huge opportunity. It went from there. It was about doing things right, and I never sacrificed anything. I would never skimp out on anything; I would never sell to the wrong kind of store – I’m very particular about everything.
Some brands go lengthy spans of time without opening a brick and mortar. What prompted the decision to open a store?
I’ve been looking for about a year and a half now, so it was definitely [on my mind for a while]. We had a 1958 Airstream. It was a traveling store, really dope. We had it out on Montauk for the past couple of years, and it was something you can really experience a brand with. We saw it with all the best stores, and you can go and find our products [at a lot of stores]. But aside from being online, where can you experience the brand? It was really important that people could come and feel the brand, see what we’re about and everything we do. That’s why I wanted a brick and mortar.
Did you shift some operational duties up to New York?
We have a small office – about 300 sq. feet – in the basement, but our headquarters are in Miami. It’s a 1,000-sq.-foot office there. We have an office here for our New York people, but our major operation and everything goes from [Miami].
Obviously designing a store is a big endeavor. Can you describe the process of creating this space?
I’ve been around this stuff my whole life: I designed our studio in Miami. I haven’t had a renovation like this, one that was completely gutted out. Designing this was kind of like designing one of my pieces, I had to come up with a concept. After I locked down the concept, it was about building around [it]. It’s a very narrow, but long store. I needed it to be warm and welcoming, so I wanted to let the wood speak for itself. I wanted it to be Scandinavian, a cottage, or summerhouse – that kind of feel, but within New York City. [Ultimately,] it’s white, it’s warm, it’s welcoming. The space is narrow, so I didn’t want it dark.
There are so many things that you don’t even see, [from the way] we put the cameras in the walls to how you don’t see AC vents in here, and we directed all the ventilation system to the ducts on the side – anything you could possibly think of. Until you do something like this, you can’t imagine every little decision that needs to be made. I loved doing it. My vision at the beginning is exactly as it is right now, which I was so [excited] about. It’s rare. It took a little tweaking, but it was the same as designing any piece that I design. I asked myself, what do I want to do, [then executed] it. Designing jewelry is much faster, this is a process that was spread out over four months. It was a great challenge for me, and I’m excited to do it again. I like the challenge.
Are there any products that are launching alongside the store?
We’re just launching our leather good products. [We made] journals, iPad mini cases and iPhone wallets. [We also have] candles, ‘soap on a rope,’ as well as copper and brass writing pens that we make in Miami. Those are all launching with the store, it’s almost like another category for us. We have our belts that launched a couple of weeks ago, but [they] haven’t even hit floors yet. Everything’s kind of launching now [with a focus on] our leather goods. We have camera straps as well for DSLR cameras.
Are you carrying any other brands in-store?
The only other brand we’re carrying is Shwood. I know those guys pretty well. They’re really cool guys, and I really like their products. I wear them [myself]. I carried them in our [mobile store] the last two summers, so I thought it was a natural progression bringing them into our store. They are accessories – glasses and whatnot – so it worked.
Are there any other special features to the store?
We have the custom bar, where you can pick any color or metal finish that you want. With any bracelets that are tie-able, you pick your colors and we tie them on the spot. [We also] have a custom monogramming station. Those are the customization areas that you saw in the space.
Do you have a favorite aspect of the store?
I think it’s the cabinetry as pieces of furniture. That was the main thing going in. Even if you look at this bench (points to front), you see how the metal goes into that? It’s furniture; it’s not like [your traditional] ‘cabinets’ or ‘cases.’ I love that, and I love integrating metal. We have our copper tea bar with wood lay on the top. I loved figuring out what spaces I could use different materials to make them come to life. I think it’s boring if you just go all wood or something, you need to mix and match materials. That’s what I try to do with my jewelry; I try to combine them with different things.
Could you summarize the evolution of the brand so far and talk about some plans for the future?
I started off with just me and […] our co-founder. We grew from two people just doing it ourselves to about 50 people. It has just kind of evolved, and [we’re] constantly pushing the bar as far as design, always pushing new and different product. It’s been a cool ride just staying innovative. There are people that try to knock us off, but their stuff is sh*t – it’s not the same. We’ve [grown the business] as well. There’s a lot that goes into growing the business on the inside. A lot of people get caught up because that alone is a whole other monster. Making sure everything is in place so everything runs smoothly. It’s definitely a challenge, but it’s definitely something I’ve enjoyed. It’s always about getting the right people that are good at what they do. That’s helped and allowed me to focus on designing. For years [though], I ran our sales team, design, fabrication, our trade shows – everything. That’s what you gotta do.
For the future, I want to stay in accessories. I’d like to open up some other stores. I’d like to open [a door] in Tokyo, that’s a big market for us. We have a good following over there. I’d like to eventually open up a store in LA. [Other than that,] I’d like to keep growing our wholesale accounts – we’re really selective about where we sell, that’s important to me. [It’s] just about evolving, just changing. That’s what I say is important in a brand: product. With product, you always have to be innovative. That’s the most important thing there could possibly be. Definitely.