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How Michael Saiger Founded Miansai From His Dorm Room

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Photos by <a href="http://peladopelado.com">Driely S.</a> for Racked
Photos by Driely S. for Racked

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Miansai's Michael Saiger didn't choose the man-jewelry life, the man-jewelry life chose him. Back in the early aughts, the then-Univeristy of Miami college student was watching his girlfriend make a necklace when things got a little competitive. "I was like, 'that's horrible!' She was like, 'let's see you make something.' So I said, 'alright, I'll be back!'" Saiger told us.

The resulting bracelet—an empty bullet case strung on a leather cord—caused a minor frenzy among the marketing major's friends, and by the beginning of his senior year, he had nailed down a nautical aesthetic and was filling orders at Miami menswear shops.

In a market saturated with gold chains and puka shells, Miansai's masculine, utilitarian designs stood out. "There was nothing simple out there for a guy who wanted to try jewelry without making a huge investment," Saiger says. Soon retailers like J. Crew and Barneys came knocking, and after a few years of kitting out a vintage Airstream as a roving shop, the designer decided to put his roots down at 33 Crosby Street last December.

With the new store—which Saiger outfitted with whitewashed brick, weathered beams, and '50s X-ray lights—comes the opportunity to showcase Miansai's full lineup. "What I want Miansai to be is a place where any guy or girl can go if they need any kind of accessory," the designer, who is currently expanding his women's jewelry and leather goods offerings, says.

We grabbed a coconut chai with Saiger at Miansai's in-store Tea Chai Te bar and talked knock-offs, the brand's (sold out!) solid gold iPhone cases, and why men should wear wrap bracelets like it's NBD.

You started this business in college! How did that happen?

I was at the University of Miami studying marketing. My girlfriend was making jewelry, and I picked up some of her supplies and started fooling around. At the time, there wasn't much jewelry for guys that was cool and accessible and masculine. I was doing it as a side project to make some extra money, and it kept on selling.

What did the first piece you made look like?

I went to a shooting range and I had a box of bullets. My girlfriend was making a necklace out of one of them and I was like, "that's horrible!" She was like, "let's see you make something." So I said, "alright, I'll be back!" I took a bullet, pulled it apart, emptied out the gunpowder, drilled it, and put it on a piece of leather to make a bracelet. It was very simple. At the time, no one did anything with bullets. I don't like that kind of stuff now, but back then it was different. I ended up making that into a cuff.

And then all of your friends wanted them?

I was wearing it out and my friends were like, "where did you get that?"

Were you always into fashion?

To an extent. I had brands that I liked. When I was in high school I liked Trovata and Siwy. I've always had my own style. I have three sisters and we'd always go to thrift stores together.

Did you always wear jewelry?

No, never! That's how it all came about. I wanted a bracelet and there was nothing out there.

Were the only bracelets out there, like, gold chains?

Yeah. Either gold chains or bracelets that felt too dainty. There was nothing simple out there for a guy who wanted to try jewelry without making a huge investment.

How did you get your business off the ground after that? Did you have to raise money?

Actually, no. I never borrowed a penny from anyone. My parents were supporting me while I was in college, and my bracelets kept selling out. So, I kept on taking the money I made and putting it back into the business. I did that for a year and a half, and that generated enough money to buy better equipment. Going into my senior year, I started going into stores and asking if they'd carry my line.

Did you have any connections to these stores?

No, I have no shame. I would just walk in. This store called Base in Miami was the first store to pick me up.

Where do you make your accessories?

We have a factory in Miami and we have about 40 people who do all of the assembly.

Do New York guys and Miami guys buy different pieces?

It's the same stuff. When I first started, when I was in college, I did a bullet that unscrewed and had a coke spoon inside, just as a joke. And it would sell like crazy in Miami! I had a couple gimmicky things like that, and people would love them. I wouldn't even offer that now. But other than that, I think it's the same crowd buying our stuff worldwide.

Our demographic ranges from 15 to 70 years old. Our accessories are for people who want something well-crafted.

A lot of your designs are very nautical. Did you grow up sailing and fishing?

I grew up on the water, and I went to Florida a lot as a kid. With the rope, people find it very reminiscent of sailing. A lot of guys related to it, they'd say "I don't normally wear jewelry, but I'd wear that."

Your bracelets seem like things you put on and don't take off. Even your cuffs screw into place.

Exactly. It's more utilitarian. Whatever I wear, I shower in. Our wrap bracelets are $55 to $200, so they're something you can use, enjoy, wear out. You can go into the ocean with them, they're meant to withstand wear.

Who is the Miansai guy?

I am the Miansai guy. My customers are very similar to myself. They want unique products, they want something that's well-crafted, not Zara – who knocked us off.

Do a lot of people knock you off?

Yeah, they do. But their versions are shit. They fall apart in a week.

Do you have a best-seller?

I launched the brand on our hook bracelet. Our screw cuffs are really good sellers too, those are really iconic for the brand.

What are your price points?

95 percent of our collection is between $55 and $500. Then we have our gold stuff, which starts at like $800 to $14,000.

What's $14,000?

We did these cuffs for the World Gold Council. They're a few ounces of gold each. They're all hand-made. But on average, our gold cuffs are $5,000 to $6,000.

How did you decide to do a women's line?

Barney's had a lot of women who would go up to the men's department to buy our bracelets for themselves. So six months ago, I launched a collection. The designs are scaled a bit smaller, and they have a bit more of a feminine touch to them. There's a lot more rose gold. Going forward, we're going to be expanding our women's collection full-on. I have a bunch of specific women's cuffs and rings coming out. I'm really excited about that.

And how did your leather goods collection happen?

That was a natural progression. I've always wanted that to happen, but I wanted to lock down our jewelry business—that's our core. When the store launched, I decided there was no better time. What I want Miansai to be is a place where any guy or girl can go if they need any kind of accessory. I never want to go into clothing, I want to stay in accessories—things that people can really count on and trust. We're developing more leather goods right now.

I heard you made a solid gold iPhone case!

Someone bought it online.

Who was it?

It was someone random! It wasn't a famous person, we Googled him. It was just a super-rich guy. That was right before a trade show, and we did it as a joke. I had an iPhone sleeve, and I was like, "let's inject this with gold." We melted our leftover gold and made it. I mean, I would never use it, ever! But a couple people saw it, and they were like, "can you sell it?" And I was like, "I guess?" I put it online and people went crazy over it.

How did you decide on this neighborhood for your store?

The brand is kind of raw, and I like that it's slightly removed from the main part of Soho. We've been selling with our neighbors Saturdays Surf forever, and we have a really good partnership with them.

I was looking for spaces for a year and a half, and this one just felt right. This place was a restaurant before, and we gutted it. The bar had been here for 30 years, and the floorboards were rotted out. We had to demolish everything. I designed the whole store. To see it finished was the best feeling, I can't tell you how many months I was conceptualizing and laying it out.

What would you say to a guy who's afraid of man-jewelry? What's a good introductory piece?

A hook bracelet, definitely. I was that kind of guy. I make jewelry for those kinds of guys. I would just say, you have to try it. I just wanted something cool to wear on my wrist. Simple as that.

Time for the lightning round! 8am or 8pm?

8pm.

Beer or wine?

Beer.

Whiskey or tequila?

Tequila.

Cats or dogs?

Dogs.

Beach or mountains?

Beach.

Favorite vacation destination?

Patagonia.

Favorite neighborhood lunch spot?

The Smile.

Rap or country?

Rap.

Mad Men or Games of Thrones?

Game of Thrones.

Coffee or tea, and how do you take it?

Tea. I take it all different ways. I love kombucha, I love green tea. I don't put sugar in them, I drink them straight up.

Sweet or savory?

Sweet.

Introvert or extrovert?

Introvert.
· Miansai [Official Site]
· All Better Know a Store Owner Posts [Racked NY]

Miansai

33 Crosby St, New York, NY 10013 212-858-9710

Miansai

33 Crosby St New York, NY 10013