Misha Mendicino doesn’t just design beautiful women’s clothes — she’s on a mission. The Phoenix designer, who won the 2014 title of Designer of the Year at Phoenix Fashion Week, donates five percent of all sales to a cause she cares deeply about, elephant conservation through The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust.
Mendicino started her line Misha Mendicino Designs a year and a half ago, out of a desire for the kinds of styles she craved but could never find. Now, she comes out with new looks twice a year, with her line consisting of comfortable dresses, pants and a jacket. Find her looks online and in local boutiques Velvet Boutique, Daniela Jay Boutique, LONNI Women’s Fashion Boutique, Allie Ollie Boutique, Charmed Avenue, and Random Boutique.
Mendicino talked about her design aesthetic and her goals as a designer. Watch her name her five favorite reasons for living in the Valley in a video, too.
What brought you to Arizona?
I came to Phoenix in 1992 to go to flight school. I moved here from Maui and attended Western International University and Aero Mech Flight School. Their programs intertwined to give you a bachelor’s degree in technical operations and professional aeronautics.
I was born in Santa Maria, California. When I was 17, my friend and I decided we wanted to move to Hawaii, so we moved there on a one-way ticket with $800 in our pockets and no plans of coming back. She’s still there. I got a job as a flight attendant and moved to New York. I had a back injury that forced me to quit my job, so I moved back to Maui to heal.
I missed aviation so much, I decided to go to flight school. I’m a commercial multi-engine instrument-rated pilot. I flew cargo for awhile and did some passenger service in the San Juan Islands in Washington and ended up coming back to Phoenix, since I really missed it. I’ve been back here since ’97.
How did you get involved with fashion design?
I was always looking for something I really had in my mind I wanted to wear, a particular style, color or print on a dress, and I would search and search on the Internet, in malls, in boutiques, anywhere, without finding it. This went on for years, so I finally decided to start my own clothing line and design things I love.
My mother collected elephants growing up, and I really wanted to incorporate one in my line to honor her, and also figure out a way to give back to help the elephants and secure a future for their survival. That’s how the elephant came about in my line.
How did you start your line?
It took a lot of research. I really had to narrow down exactly what type of clothing I wanted to design and create. I spent a lot of time as a flight attendant in hotels and resorts, and I really loved the resort style of living and the feel of the clothing. I want it to be relaxed. I want it to look effortless and chic at the same time and have it travel well.
Granted, my line is resort wear, but it’s more of a lifestyle contemporary brand. I really don’t want to pigeonhole myself into resort wear, because a lot of people have different thoughts when they think of resort wear. They think, “Oh, I don’t go to resorts. It’s not for me, so I can’t wear it,” which isn’t true. I really want women to think about resort wear for everyday living.
I was toying with the idea of producing here in the U.S., but Indonesia really has some beautiful fabrics. Import tax there is really high, so when you source, everything is in the country. I really wanted to give my line that exotic feel and flair along with promoting elephant conservation, so Indonesia seemed like the perfect spot. I researched several factories there and found a boutique-style factory, where minimums aren’t an issue.
What made you want to partner with The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust?
The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust was really an easy choice for me. They’re based in Kenya, Africa and work towards the conservation, preservation and protection of wildlife. I give five percent of the total sales to them.
There are a lot of things that are happening to threaten the elephants’ survival, from poaching to deforestation. We’re losing thousands of elephants a year, and by the year 2025, we’ll only be reading about elephants in history books if conservation doesn’t happen now. Everyone needs to make a stand and say no to ivory and poaching and really make a statement.
I’m finding a lot of women are passionate about elephants. I don’t think there’s anything in this world cuter than a baby elephant, and I’ve received a lot of positive feedback from the philanthropic efforts here. That’s what’s in my heart. I think that was put in my heart for a reason, and I’m doing whatever I can to help.
How would you describe your designs?
I want my designs to be clean and simple and minimal. When I’m choosing colors, I really go off the Pantone color chart. My whole line is 100 percent handspun rayon, which is very soft and unlike any other rayon I’ve experienced, seen or felt. I wanted to use a fabric that was soft, that doesn’t cling to the body, that drapes beautifully, and that feels good against the skin.
What’s your typical week like?
I’m here at the studio from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day and sometimes on weekends in case I have people coming down for a private fitting. I’m working on email campaigns, marketing, new designs, new patterns and prints, sales, reaching out, building my database and social media.
What are your next steps for the line?
We’re trying to get into the resort boutiques now. We’re being really well received and are trying to do our best to get the word out and gain a following. By the end of next year, the goal is to be in 70 boutiques.
Long-term, I would love to have a long, successful business, to be known as a designer who made a difference, and really make a positive impact on elephant conservation, along with a ban on all ivory sales worldwide.
What was it like to win Designer of the Year at Phoenix Fashion Week, and how has that affected you?
It was a whirlwind. It was so exciting being up on stage and to hear my name being called as the winner. It really came as a surprise. I’ve been doing a lot of editorials, and we went out to California for the SELECT trade show, and I’ll be doing the MAGIC trade show in Las Vegas in February. I am thankful for the win because it gives me a bigger platform to address the issues surrounding the elephants.
What have been the most surprising things to you about the fashion industry?
There are a lot of people who don’t return emails or phone calls. I like to think I have good manners, so that’s been surprising for me.
The design part is the most fun. The hard work is the back-end of the business, getting those sales, and doing the marketing and social media. That’s all very time-consuming, but the best part is the design and then seeing a woman you don’t know wearing one of your dresses.
How would you describe your client?
I would say she is between ages 21 to 65. She’s a lover of the beach, a shopper, not frugal but expects value for her purchase, and she loves nature and loves to travel. She loves animals, she gives back to her community, and, more than likely, has her own family. That sums up our customer.
How would you characterize the Valley’s fashion scene?
I think there are a lot of excellent designers here in Phoenix, and the recent show with Phoenix Fashion Week has proven that.
With the Valley and our hot, hot weather, you see a lot of loose-fitting clothes and light-colored clothes, which is functional and smart. Everyone wants to be comfortable and cool.
What advice do you have for aspiring fashion designers?
Do your research. Design what you love, and hopefully you’ll be able to sell it. If you design what you love, you really put your passion in it, and it shows.
Why should people purchase your clothes?
I give women something special with my line. I haven’t seen anyone similar. If you want to be unique and stand out and make a statement, buy Misha Mendicino Designs.
Learn about other Valley fashion professionals:
Learn more about fashion designer and co-owner of Studio Joy Li Joy Li here on Phoenix People.
Learn more about Femme Athletic designer and Phoenix Fashion Week executive director Brian Hill here on Phoenix People.
Learn more about State Forty Eight designer Nicholas Polando here on Phoenix People.
Learn more about T-shirt designer Sebastien Millon here on Phoenix People.