Angela Tsai is the founder and designer of the Mamachic, a beautiful all-in-one scarf for new moms (and really anyone who wants to look awesome). She has designed websites for David Bowie and Moby, interviewed hundreds of athletes, celebrities and funny everyday folks as a TV host and reporter, and currently tours the country full-time with her kids Max (4), Eva (1) and husband, actor Mike Hollick, who works with The Lion King. You can read about their road misadventures at 4 For The Road, and be the first to get a limited edition Mamachic by visiting the live Kickstarter here..
Your career has spanned a variety of disciplines from actor, sports reporter, TV host, and designer. Can you tell us a little about these experiences and how they’ve gotten to you where you are today?
Hooo boy! It’s a circuitous journey. All my life, I’ve craved creative work. As an ex-boyfriend once accused me of (just as we were breaking up), “Angela, you’re a thrill-seeker.” I actually think it’s not so much thrill-seeking as it is changing up my days so that I’m constantly challenged with new things, creatively. My first job out of Duke was at a small marketing company in New York City, where I did mostly web design. Even though the work itself was considered creative, being stagnant physically in front of a computer all day severely bummed me out — to the point where I took a job moonlighting a few nights a week as a bartender just to have something socially fun (and challenging!) to do. Then I moved on to a web design boutique where I created sites for musical artists like Moby and David Bowie, so that was fun, but again! Eight hours staring at a screen made me weep. So after the workday, a colleague and I dropped in on some improv classes — just for shits and giggles — and for the first time in my life I found out that I was funny.
I was bit by the performance bug, and decided to give it a good ol’ kid-in-the-big-city try. I joined a sketch comedy troupe and eventually did a year of stand-up in some of the biggest comedy clubs in New York. That was a terrifying bucket-list item I crossed off early in life! I went on auditions for commercials and TV shows, and booked my first real gig hosting a new network for Comcast called “Dating On Demand”. Now that was a blast. I got to travel the country interviewing hapless single people looking for love, and hosted a reality dating show where we would pair people up and just follow them on their pretty much doomed dates. There’s nothing like a good dose of schadenfreude now and again.
Weirdly enough, I somehow got in the sightline of the NBA as their entertainment division was looking for a non-journalist type to host a magazine-style behind-the-scenes show. I auditioned pretty much knowing only who Kobe Bryant, Lebron James and Yao Ming were but they hired me anyhow. That was a quick on-the-job education of all things NBA. Because I didn’t get star-struck interviewing these various athletes and legends of the league, there was a general relaxed playfulness to my interviews that I think they appreciated. I honestly didn’t take them too seriously, and I believe it allowed them to let their “media distrust” guard down. To this day, Patrick Ewing and I remain friends.
Then the NBA then hired me to anchor the news desk for NBA TV, and I would go on various feature assignments and conduct interviews. Once I finished covering the NBA Finals in 2007, the Sacramento Kings came knocking. They hired me as their in-house sideline reporter. We all know how that ended up, right?
Soon after my debacle in Sac, I hosted the premiere season of “The Cheering Life” on MSG Varsity in New York, then got knocked up. It was the right time for my husband Mike and I to start a family. He got offered a full-time job performing with The Lion King in Las Vegas, so when I was five months pregnant with my son Max, we moved to the Nevada desert. When Max was born prematurely at 32 weeks, Mike was in the middle of preforming and didn’t take his makeup off in order to make it in time for his son’s birth. Soon after, he was offered the chance to tour the country with The Lion King, and in 2012 we packed up our sub-compact car and hit the road with our baby and our cat. Now, we’ve added another baby to the mix, because who needs sleep? I’ve been full-time mommying, full-time traveling, full-time entrepreneuring, with an occasional hosting or trade show presenting gig thrown in for measure.
Where did you get the inspiration to start Mamachic?
Oh, out of necessity, like all “mompreneuring” projects! Max was a big-time spitter-upper as an infant, and my husband was sick of changing shirt after pukey shirt as the traditional burp cloths would slip off his shoulders. We were looking for a fool-proof solution that protected our clothes, one that was comfy and safe for Max to nuzzle against, and of course, one that looked nice. It was difficult to break into this, as we had no experience with apparel design. We just knew we had a problem that we needed to solve. A couple years later, with my voracious and demanding daughter Eva, we needed more of a quick-style nursing cover — so the challenge was on!
What were the steps you took to starting a business in an industry you knew little about?
Believe you me, we made so many mistakes early on since we were so green. The fashion industry is one of the toughest to learn about on your own. There’s little out there on the internet that elucidates the true steps to take. Many good sewers, cutters and samplemakers are old-school, relying on word of mouth and not a marketing website. So… I tried to unsuccessfully patent our early scarf/smock design, which costed us thousands in legal fees. I hired a consultant out in LA who was fairly opaque about the whole sourcing and samplemaking process, so after we got a few rounds of mediocre samples done, I still wasn’t entirely clear on steps to take on my own. Again, thousands of dollars, gone. It was hard to gain traction early on, in the midst of travel, child-rearing, and the early discouraging mistakes. I didn’t truly buckle down with the business until these past 12 months.
By far, the biggest challenge has been sourcing the perfect fabric. I knew as a mama that my product had to adhere to certain “safe for kids” standards. I wanted it to be as sustainable and eco-friendly as possible. With copious amounts of research, I’ve discovered there is no one perfectly sustainable fabric that fits my function and style parameters. A material that is safer for kids like organic cotton just doesn’t drape well as a scarf, especially in the size I’ve designed it. Something like modal does drape beautifully, but isn’t as absorbent for spit-ups. And not as machine-washable. The Mamachic isn’t a small little scarf design — it’s quite substantial (you can swaddle your baby with it, or wear it as a shrug or cape) so I had to keep an eye towards weight. I finally found a soft bamboo jersey that we’re using in our first run. The bamboo plant is one of the most organically renewable resources that grows on this Earth. It needs no replanting or fertilizers, little water, and produces more oxygen than timber trees. There’s some chatter about it being hypo-allergenic and anti-microbial, and it definitely is light, soft, and wicks away moisture.
I feel like I’m so close. I have the perfect type of fabric. My goal after we gain some traction and money is to offer prints to go along with our solid colors, since I love scarves with prints and texture!
You worked with your husband on developing the Mamachic scarves. How was working with your spouse? Was it easier or harder than you expected? How has both of your creativity complemented each other?
My husband Mike isn’t part of Mamachic’s day-to-day operations, but he’s always on hand for creative brainstorming sessions. They are usually fun, productive, involve some yelling, thrown objects, and teeny bit of eye rolling.
Mike is the “ideas” guy. His strong suit is conceptualizing. It’s remarkable what he’s been able to come up with, as far as the Mamachic designs through the years. Even though he’s like this angular, masculine deep-voiced guy (he’s constantly cast as a villain), he’s a theatre artist who appreciates fashion, beauty and creativity. I mean, he used to do my makeup when I was broadcasting!
We balance each other out, with his big ideas and my attention to detail and execution. I’m definitely the practical partner, and it’s sometimes hard to reign him in, or even tell him flat-out “no” to an idea that I know has little chance of success. It’s no fun to tell someone you love “no.” In that way, it’s tricky to work with your spouse. For instance, our company name is “Too Cool For Drool”. Mike came up with it early on, when the Mamachic was more for burp cloth functionality. Many people told us that although cute, the name was confusing and even gross, but he was pretty psyched about how fun and clever it was. So we kept it. It’s still funny when I pull out my company credit card and someone asks me about the business name embossed in it. They usually guess, “Is it a pet company?”
I never want to stymie creativity and he’s so passionate about all the projects he does. He created the music for our Kickstarter video, and was instrumental in the scripting of it. Mamachic wouldn’t be where it is without him. He’s the original “Daddychic.”
Has becoming a mom changed your career perspective? If so, how?
For sure! When Max was 7 months old and we lived in Vegas, I decided to go back to an office job FOR THE FIRST TIME IN 15 YEARS. I got a graphic design job at a small marketing company in Henderson and was wholly uninspired by the projects I was assigned. I would count down the hours until I could go home to see my baby. I suppose I thought it was my duty to pull in income, but I found myself weeping in front of the computer screen, yet again. I lasted 5 weeks and was outta there.
I now know after having my kids that I need to work, and to do something not just creative, but my own creative projects. I need to feel ownership over the work. I want that flexibility in location and schedule so that I can still be a mama. I thrive on other people’s energy, which is why I loved TV hosting and interviewing so much.
If you had to give the single most important piece of advice to mom entrepreneurs (for business success and work life balance), what would it be?
Make sure you take time for yourself at some point during each day. I mean, this is time for yourself only. Not “let me catch up on my family blog” or “let’s get some laundry done” time. Take a quick walk around the block! Call your best friend just to say hi! I literally will crawl into bed, pull the covers over my head, and watch one episode of “New Girl” on my phone. At 2 in the afternoon.
Do you have any resources (people, services, books) for someone interested creating a product in fashion?
I was lucky to be part of the inaugural class of Factory45. It’s an accelerator program founded by Shannon Whitehead that helps designers take sustainable products to market. I really recommend joining an online “course” like this or even Marie Forleo’s B-School, which on top of the actual course materials, gives you a network of like-minded entrepreneurs. That is probably the most valuable take-away from my experience — suddenly having colleagues who are very familiar with my business (and in some cases have helped me build it), want me to succeed, and make the time to help with advice and feedback! It makes solopreneuring less lonely, which is a huge deal for me. And of course, I learned how to source my materials, do product costing, and set up a marketing plan. I’ve got this beautiful product now that’s ready for manufacturing. I can’t describe just how amazing that feels.
Do you have an activity for kids that can help them jog their creativity?
We are a nutty showbiz family. My 4-year-old son Max is obsessed with doing shows like The Lion King, so we literally will give him a bag of random items like paper cups, scarves, string, even the edges of his colorful rubber floor mats, and he creates his own costumes. Then he sings. Like at the top of his lungs, with gusto. It brings us to our knees.
Fill in the blank:
My current pet peeve is how I can’t post to Instagram from my laptop! Argh! And social media marketing generally is kicking my a$$ right now.
One article of clothing I can’t live without is My black No Sweat Pants from Seamly.co. They are an amazing hybrid legging / sweatpant, but they can even be dressed up and still feel ridiculously comfortable. And they are made in the USA, by COsewn, the sew shop that is manufacturing the Mamachic this summer.
If I could have a 1 hour conversation with anyone in the history of time, it would be My grandmother. She died when I was 22. I barely knew her. When I did see her, there was a language barrier, so we barely spoke. I was terrified of her. With her beehive hair and thick wooden platform shoes, she was barely 5 feet tall and the matriarch of the family, a total spitfire. I would love to get to know her, because I think I’d discover reasons why my parents and consequently my sisters and I are the way we are. Of course, in this conversation we’d need a translator. I’d also like to chat with Helen Keller. Talk about an inspiration!
Cats make the best friends. Well really, my cat Turkey, who is our amazing friend and traveler. He is our first baby.