If you’re not overly familiar with the name ‘Miansai’, you’ve probably seen one of their most famous designs without knowing it. A coloured nautical cord bracelet with a metallic fish hook or anchor detailing was, a few years ago, as ubiquitous as Stan Smiths and skinny jeans.
It was one of the few jewellery designs and brands that managed to cut through to the mainstream while still being desirable for guys to wear on their wrists. It was a sweet spot of pricing and branding that made it something that wasn’t throwaway, yet was affordable enough to be worn carefree.
Left - Michael Saiger Founder & Creative Director of Miansai, TheChicGeek wears Harrington Jacket - Grenfell, Cardigan - Pretty Green X John Smedley, T-Shirt - Vintage Helmut Lang, Tracksuit Trousers - adidas from ASOS, Trainers - Diadora Made in Italy
I caught up with the founder, Michael Saiger, in London, to find out how he achieved something that is so difficult, today, and see what’s next for Miansai:
Originally from New York, Michael Andrew Saiger - it’s the MI-AN-SAI of his name that gives the brand its name, “All the domains were taken until I circled these parts of my name. Everybody thought it was asian, but it’s not”, he says, is dressed in a simple sweater and chinos and surrounded by the salon style hanging of the Berners Tavern restaurant.
Michael’s attention to detail can be seen by his perfectly manicured beard and not a hair out of place on his head. “I put my handprint on everything I do. I’m OCD, I’m obsessive”, he says.
How did he get started and where did his eye come from? “My mum has an antique store, she’s an interior decorator and I grew up around estate sales my whole life. So, then when I went to the University of Miami and I started making some bracelets. This was 2007,” says Michael.
“I was looking for a bracelet and there was nothing out there. So, I started making bracelets for myself and then I would take these World War II pendants and medallions that I would find at estate sales and make them into necklaces. All my friends really loved it and wanted them.
“I took them to the concept store, Base, in Miami. They were like, ‘oh yeah, we love this stuff’. This was right before I went on holiday for the summer, and when I went back after, they said they’d sold out in like a week or two,”
Right - This bracelet design has done the difficult thing of being common while still looking fresh and has become something of a men's classic - Miansai - Anchor Cord Silver-Plated Wrap Bracelet - £55 from MRPORTER
The company started officially in 2008 and, then, the product that catapulted Miansai onto the wrists of men worldwide was born. “I took all that money and bought various machines, equipment, everything, so, then me and one of my best friends had a 300 sq ft work studio and we started making everything and selling to some of the best boutiques around the US.
“After that and I graduated - the degree was in marketing - we were bursting out, so we found a 10,000 sq ft warehouse, and built it out and set up our whole manufacturing operation. Then, I started taking our nautical rope and, at the time, nobody used nautical rope for anything unless you went to a summer camp and had a little tie-on bracelet.
“We launched in 2009, in Barney’s & Bergdorf’s ,and then GQ featured one of our rope bracelets. I started using the rope in 2008, but the hook and anchor came in 2009. I didn't want to launch it until I knew I had manufacturing, as I knew it would be very popular. I didn't want to come out with a product and not be able to deliver it.
“We were the first to do anything like this with price points between $55 to $500. It had to be for a 15 year old, it had to be for a 70 year old, it had to be for a 20 year old: anyone and everyone.
Asked how many he thinks he’s sold of his signature product, we quickly discredit the hundreds of thousands and move into the millions. Next came his own retail outlets. “In 2012, we started a mobile retail unit, an old vintage airstream. In 2013, we opened a store in New York, Soho, and we've just opened another store in Venice Beach in LA".
Michael understands the future of retail and that traditional bricks and mortar US retail is suffering. “Retailers are hurting, especially in the US, with everybody shopping online. We have our food delivered, we, literally, don't got to the store, at all. The industry is changing”.
How do you see your stores then? “It’s more about experiential retail. I built our two stores to be galleries. I didn’t want jewellery fixtures, I designed furniture to house jewellery. It feels like a furniture store inside. That’s the future of retail,”.
Left - Miansai - Harbour Rucksack Tobacco Leather - £506.35 This was the bag Michael was carrying in London. He says the bags are made in the same factories as Prada, using the same leather as Louis Vuitton
He cites Aesop as a brand he admires. He’s coy about naming anybody that touches on his accessorises world, but he’s clearly an admire of good design.
He knows that he needs to go to where the consumers are, so he’s launching 5 more mobile units of classically restored Airstreams, Piaggio's and a Fiat at various locations such as JFK, LAX, Soho House Malibu and Newport, Rhode Island. He says it’s all about, “High traffic in an authentic way without selling out,”.
The brand has just expanded into leather bags and fine jewellery. “We launched leather bags: Italian leather, all cut and sewn in Turkey. We use some of the same factories as Prada and the some of the same leather as Louis Vuitton. I always collected bags from my estate sale days and knew what I wanted in a bag”.
As for the fine jewellery. It’s not currently available in the UK, but how does that fit in? “It’s marketed to women, but anyone can wear it,” he says, “For first 5 year’s of the brand, I never said whether it was men’s or women’s,". Is it made by your? "We do make some of the solid gold jewellery ourselves and some of the fine jewellery with the Pavé diamonds, we also work with a very high end factory in Thailand”.
Right - Arduin Cuff Bracelet, 14K Gold/Pave - £2978.54
What advice can he give to men with regards to wearing jewellery? “Keep it simple. Keep it to two pieces, unless you have a thin bracelet. For me, personally, I never wear more that two bracelets and a watch”.
So, what’s next for Miansai? “I definitely want to stay in the accessories realm, I don't want to go into ready-to-wear. We have a very good niche and I’d like to stay there”.
Michael currently has 55 employees, he doesn’t disclose his turnover, but if he’s shifting £60 bracelets by the million, then it’s going to be pretty high. He obviously knows his market and exactly how to expose his brand without it feeling like it is everywear, devaluing it and worst of all, millennials I'm looking at you here, boredom kicks in.
To sell millions of the same bracelet yet retain its desirability is a skill many retailers or brands would love to know. I don’t think it’ll be long before we see a converted vintage van - how about a Morris Traveller? That’s very British - at Wilderness or one of those more monied festivals emblazoned with ‘Miansai’ on the side.