Entrepreneurship often comes from a desire to make a difference in the world. Once we recognize a problem and realize we can be the one who solves it for someone, a fire is lit within us. Cristina Lynch is somebody who developed a passion like this and decided to do something about it. Out of her desire to respect artisan traditions and empower women in Mexico, she founded Mi Golondrina.
Entrepreneurship often comes from a desire to make a difference in the world. Once we recognize a problem and realize we can be the one who solves it for someone, a fire is lit within us. Crinstina Lynch is somebody who developed a passion like this and decided to do something about. Out of her desire to respect artisan traditions and empower women in Mexico, she founded Mi Golondrina.
For those that don’t speak Spanish, “golondrina” is the Spanish word for swallows. Mi Golondrina is a fashion brand that weaves the beauty and artistry of Mexican artisans throughout their entire line. Cristina believes that the work quality of these artisans rivals that of high-end fashion. The success of Mi Golondrina is truly remarkable. Tune in to hear all that Cristina has achieved and still desires to accomplish.
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The Startup Story - Cristina Lynch
Cristina Lynch: Hi, I'm Cristina Lynch, founder and CEO of Mi Golondrina, and this is MY startup story.
Every wildfire began with a spark. Every superhero has an origin story. And every single startup has a moment that they point to as their beginning. And every founder has a purpose that drove them in the midst of all obstacles. THAT is The Startup Story.
James McKinney: Welcome to episode 95 of The Startup Story. Before we jump into this episode, I want to help set you up for a great 2021 by giving you 30 days free access to The Startup Story Inner Circle. Just visit Grindology.com, sign up for launch notification, and we will email you a link for free access to our entire video interview catalog with amazing founders like Christina Stembel of Farm Girl Flowers, Ben Chestnut of Mailchimp, and so many more. This usually costs $99 a quarter, $400 for a year, but I want to give you 30 days of free access because I want to help set you up for an amazing 2021. Again, just visit Grindology.com and enter your email to be notified when it launches, and I will send you a link for your free 30 day access.
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Our guest this week is Cristina Lynch, founder of Mi Golondrina. For those that do not speak Spanish, golondrina is the Spanish word for swallows, as in the small bird. No, Mi Golondrina is not an aviary. It is a fashion brand that weaves the beauty and artistry of Mexican artisans throughout their entire line. Cristina's mother grew up in Mexico so she spent most of her childhood surrounded by Mexican art and garments, and was very familiar with the artistry and quality of Mexican hand embroidered clothing. She also realized there was a gap in the market for handmade beautiful garments that were made by indigenous artisans. In fact, she believes the work quality of these artisans rival that of high end fashion. Seven years later, Mi Golondrina now partners with hundreds of artisans from nearly a done different communities across different parts of Mexico. The growth of Mi Golondrina is remarkable, but while we sit here today to admire all that she has accomplished, and yet all that she still desires to accomplish, we have to remember that every success story has an origin story that is not that different than yours or mine.
Cristina Lynch: So my mom did have her own clothing business with her sister, but actually when I was born my mom was no longer a part of that business. She focused on raising me which I think is really beautiful in itself. But she was always working on something.
James McKinney: Even while raising you?
Cristina Lynch: Yeah.
James McKinney: Okay. So like what are some the things you remember about your mom?
Cristina Lynch: Well, she was always throwing a party. I think that she loves to enjoy life and she… and the clothing business she started with her sister was really pretty incredible. They sold to Bergdorf's, the sold to Neiman's, and so I was able to learn about that from her. And my father was in private equity and I think at the time, it's funny we… My brother Peter reminded me that when we were younger we were never supposed to talk about business at the table, which is really funny because later that's all we talk about. Especially now that we're all kind of doing our own things. So growing up though with my dad in private equity and my mom having had her clothing business, I think that those are… I think my family is very entrepreneurial. My mom always made me believe that I could do anything I wanted. I feel like linear is the opposite of what my family is.
My mom's dad was actually a cattle rancher. He was such a hard worker. Worked the summers with his father, started with a really small plot of land in northern Mexico and grew it to be a really sustainable, wonderful cattle business. My mom grew up at the ranch with him when she was younger. I think that kind of whole fielding mentality, work hard and things will happen kind of no matter what you want to do is a great way to be raised.
James McKinney: That's incredible. So I mean as a young girl growing up in a household, raised by your mom who you knew her entrepreneurial history, your dad in private equity and again depending upon where in private equity he operated you got to see a lot of different things take place. Then your grandfather and the cattle ranch. So you had lots of different pictures of what could be. What did you want to be growing up?
Cristina Lynch: I don't think I had specifics when I was really little, but I used to think about starting a company. Recently I've been thinking more about the power of journaling because I found this journal from when I was in high school where I said I wanted to start a business that was a Mexican lifestyle company, and it was obviously a very broad concept but I thought it was interesting that I wrote that, and then forgot about it. Because what I thought I wanted to be doing kind of by the time I was high school, getting into college was actually production. Television production.
James McKinney: Really?
Cristina Lynch: Mm-hmm. I had a mentor of mine, Jason Needleman who is now the CEO of Peacock Alley, but he at the time was working, he was the CEO of Real FX which did post production, and they have another business in LA called Radium so those were my first two internships were they were in post- production. I think that what I liked so much about that, it was just seeing, it was the first time I was able to see all these creatives and it was kind of one floor so you could see one side of the floor was all creative people drawing, creating things on the computer, and then the other side was a lot of production managers kind of making sure they were staying on time and as an intern you're kind of taking this like very basic level in. I think I really loved the marriage of creativity and organization, and that's something that I'll always love to now.
James McKinney: Would you say you're process oriented?
Cristina Lynch: No.
James McKinney: Okay.
Cristina Lynch: I think that I'm somewhere in between. I am a bit of a creative. I struggle with organization and timelines, so I've hired a team that really helps with that. I keep that in mind all the time. I'm very like open and vulnerable about it. I know that's kind of my fault, and I also know how to work with people who are… I'm a little creative but people who are very creative, the artisans we work with they are very, very creative people and we work with them to understand and create timelines.
James McKinney: Yeah. So I definitely want to get to the idea of working with incredibly creative people because there is a nuance to that. I've heard the phrase it's like herding cats sometimes so we'll definitely get to that chapter when we get there. But here you are thinking you want to be in we'll say a very high level category of video production, whatever that may be. How do we connect the dots from that pursuit to fashion? Was there something that occurred in college that began to shift what you thought you wanted to do? Because they are two very different industries.
Cristina Lynch: They're so different.
James McKinney: I could see if we were talking to you now because you were in media in some way, shape, or form, but we're not at all.
Cristina Lynch: Yeah, no.
James McKinney: So how did we get from this pursuit of video production media into fashion? What is that journey?
Cristina Lynch: For sure. So I double majored in theater and economics, so I think the theater kind of continued to help me with the media internships. So I interned at Bravo as well. I really was loving clothing while I was in New York. I think to go from Dallas… Sorry, I went to school in New York, went to NYU. Double majored in economics and theater and when you get to New York at that age, I was just so taken by everyone. Everyone looked so cool and I felt so much like an observer, just kind of taking everyone in, what they were wearing, and I just loved it. I was so inspired by all of it.
I think that I'd always loved clothing and I hadn't really run after it just because sometimes I think when your parents do something, like my mom having had her clothing business, I thought well I'm going to do something else, you know? And so you don't end up doing that when maybe that was what made the most sense. So my junior year of college I decided that I really was interested in fashion, and I really do think it was just seeing it. Just seeing clothing and being inspired by it, and wanting to be a part of it.
James McKinney: Yeah. It's amazing to me how certain locations personify certain things. Do you think if you would have stayed in Dallas or gone to a school in any other location, do you think that we would be talking today about Mi Golondrina and fashion? Because to me New York is fashion, and I'm the least fashionable person there is. But New York, it breathes that.
Cristina Lynch: It really does.
James McKinney: And so do you think that we'd be having the same conversation if you were in a different city?
Cristina Lynch: I think it'd be different. I think it would look very different. I think part of that is leaving and coming back wherever I had gone. But I knew that it was good for me to get out of Texas and see something different for a while. I was really fortunate to travel quite a bit when I was little. That was really important to my dad so we would take these really long summer trips. I think I knew what going somewhere else does to your perspective, so that was why I really probably wanted that. New York fashion is so cool, especially at that time. That was like 2008 and 2009. But what I think is really interesting is what has happened to other cities across the US in that short time with social media, with digital marketing. I mean you see fashionable people and people looking at clothing in the way that I don't think was necessarily happening 30 years ago.
James McKinney: Interesting.
Cristina Lynch: The sophistication that you see even of clothing in Dallas and I love seeing Dallas clothes, and just kind of allover it's changed a lot.
James McKinney: That brings up a great question. As someone who is not in that space, would you say that because of social media, because visibility and brands can pop up really anywhere and social media gives them that platform to put their great designs out there, do you think having a New York brand, as I'm using air quotes, a New York brand pulls as much weight as it used to, as you said 30 years ago?
Cristina Lynch: I don't think so. I think it's really need. I think that location used to do something really cool to clothing that people can achieve in other ways now. I do remember traveling. I was talking to a friend about this recently, and you would want to find a small boutique and find a dress that you couldn't find anywhere. That was so exciting, and that just doesn't really exist as much anymore. If you're a brand that wants to do well, you want people to know about it and then you have to work on that cool factor in other ways. I think a lot of that is story and making sure people know what your concept is, and where you're coming from. That is I think what gets people more now than potentially location. Although, yeah I think location still has… it definitely still has a cool factor.
James McKinney: So an apparel company out of Big Fork, Montana probably wouldn't have the draw of something out of Austin, Dallas, New York, LA?
Cristina Lynch: It might just have a different vibe, and I think it depends on if they really pull from their city. I think about, I think there's a brand called Pipette out of Saint Bart's and to me I'm like well it makes so much sense that they talk about that it's kind of a beach brand, and associating it with Saint Bart's makes it luxury. But you know if you're in Montana and you want to start a brand, and if you don't want it to feel Montana-esque, you can do the shoot wherever you want and it's your brand and you can create the perception that you want online.
James McKinney: I love it. And the reason I ask that, I know for a fact there's a decent population of apparel startups within my listener base because of people that have reached out to me to want to be on the show or ask for introductions. So I know that this conversation, because I've heard many times, "Well I'm not based in LA or New York so therefore I can't-"
Cristina Lynch: See I think that's silly now.
James McKinney: I agree. I think in our global economy, I think you can really startup anywhere but again I'm not in fashion so I ask the questions.
Cristina Lynch: It's also so expensive to be in LA and New York, you know? And if you really want to be scrappy and see if something is going to work then you can use those funds for your marketing budget.
James McKinney: Yes, amen. I love it. So you're in New York. That's when the idea of fashion starts to percolate. Your time in college comes to an end. What are you thinking you want to do as college completes itself?
Cristina Lynch: So I wanted a good job in the fashion industry. I remember I talked to my dad going into my senior year and I had had some fashion internships. He asked if I had been having coffees or networking yet.
James McKinney: I love it.
Cristina Lynch: And I was so far from it, but I think it was great because if you work in finance you are doing that, right, and your internship the two summers before you graduate are really setting you up for your first job. Whereas in the creative industry it's not so much like that. And at least in the fashion world, what I was seeing was that if you were interviewing, a lot of times a great company would want you to start working next week, because you know they're smaller companies that need help now.
But I took his advice and I started having coffee with just friends and friends of friends. I reached out to anybody I could think of that was somewhat connected to the fashion industry. Sent also those when you look on people's websites and you can find the info@, and just sent my resume. So that's what I did for Oscar de la Renta. They had a job available and I remember it was like a career@, and so I just thought it was such a longshot. So I sent my resume and that was my first job.
James McKinney: In that search, obviously I'm tasking you with trying to go back to that moment, did you think you were going to end up at a brand like Oscar de la Renta?
Cristina Lynch: No way.
James McKinney: I can't imagine you would have.
Cristina Lynch: No way, no way. I pinched myself. I was so excited. And I actually I remember I had a job offer also from a brand that is such a wonderful, beautiful brand. It's called Akris but I didn't know as much about it at the time, but actually they have a store in Highland Park Village. They're a gorgeous, incredible brand but I had grown up with Oscar de la Renta. I mean my mom's wedding dress was Oscar de la Renta. She has a story of wearing one of her dresses, and him talking to her. And so he's always been this name that I just, there's no way. And I remember I spoke to Lela Rose who is an incredible fashion designer, and I was able to… she's nice to actually meet with me, so she was somebody that I networked with. And she said, "I don't care if that company asks you to wash the floors, go work for Oscar de la Renta."
James McKinney: That's awesome.
Cristina Lynch: And I loved that piece of advice, and she was right. It was a really great experience.
James McKinney: What was that experience for you? And let me ask, again up until this point just to kind of reestablish the purpose of our meeting is that you're an entrepreneur who has a brand. But to this point entrepreneurship is not on your radar. Yes, your childhood has some flavorings and you would think that it would be a no brainer, but we're not there yet. And you have siblings who are older than you so you're seeing what they're doing. I don't know if, I mean they're entrepreneurs now, but I don't know if they were at that time, but it's not on your radar.
Cristina Lynch: Right.
James McKinney: And now you're with Oscar de la Renta which I would have to believe for someone who wants to be in fashion that's a career opportunity.
Cristina Lynch: Yes.
James McKinney: And yet we know that you're not there right now, so at that time did you think I've made it, this is where I want to be the rest of my life?
Cristina Lynch: Oh yeah, oh yeah. I was so excited. I was just, I couldn't believe it. I remember picking out what I was going to wear for the interview and I was so nervous. My boss, Karl Monge, was wonderful. He's from France but was also when I met him so intimidating. He has this beautiful French accent and the office just looked gorgeous, and I was just so nervous.
James McKinney: How old were you?
Cristina Lynch: So 22.
James McKinney: Okay, okay.
Cristina Lynch: Is that how old you are when you graduate? Yeah, I think so. And it was just yeah, it was great. I remember when I interviewed at Akris I actually got to talk to the CEO Melissa Beste. I'm not sure if she's still the CEO but she was so impressive. And I remember she said that what was so important to her was that everybody at the company felt what the brand was feeling. I feel like that's really common now, right, you hear companies all the time talk about having like shared values or maybe there's a piece of paper on everyone's desk that reminds them the thought process they should have before they answer the phone. Whatever. But that was my first introduction to it, and I remember thinking wow if I get to be any form of a leader within this kind of luxury retail space that would be just amazing. And she was kind of the example of that.
And then I was so excited to get this entry level job at Oscar. I worked in sales, so my boss was the head of international sales and accessories at the time. It really, it's a huge, at the time, I don't know how large their team is now but at the time I was so impressed by how large their name is and really it was a pretty small team. And so I worked a lot.
James McKinney: I bet, I bet.
Cristina Lynch: You know I worked until like 2 a.m. sometimes.
James McKinney: Does that have to do with the nature of the job or due to your desire to prove something?
Cristina Lynch: I think it's a little bit of both. I mean you know I was learning so I needed probably to take more time to make sure I got things right. And then also the luxury fashion world, there are a lot of strict timelines and there are fashion shows, and we would show the collection to all the stores whenever they would launch. So we did that in Paris and also in New York. There was a lot of setup required there. There were line sheets you had to produce. All of that organization just takes time. And there's such a, to me that's so beautiful. I don't know, I love that whole process. I remember steaming all the clothes and just thinking how cool it was.
James McKinney: In sales, that was part of it?
Cristina Lynch: In sales, yeah, yeah because you set up the showroom. I really focused more for a while… and I switched around a lot, but for a while I was focusing on their fashion jewelry line and I was helping a lot with shoes. And then I would help a lot with the ready to wear when we would go to Paris. I would set up all the jewelry displays and I remember, and that's so important is just kind of Net a Porter was buying at the time. I remember before they would come everything just had to be absolutely perfect. I'm so glad I had that training just because I learned just about how little details make things so special.
James McKinney: This is why I love conversations with a diverse collection of founders. Because we all see things through different lenses based on our experiences, and as you're talking and you're talking about Net a Porter, and I'm thinking to myself this is the same thing as the user experience. Because I come from a technology background, so I'm thinking of the user experience. That is the user experience inside of fashion.
Cristina Lynch: Right, yes.
James McKinney: And it matters-
Cristina Lynch: Definitely.
James McKinney: … to your user, your buyer.
Cristina Lynch: Yes, yes. 100%.
James McKinney: Now as I'm thinking just about clothing and fashion in general, I'm like I bet the designers maybe are looking at things from a user experience.
Cristina Lynch: Definitely.
James McKinney: So you're at Oscar de la Renta. You were there for how long?
Cristina Lynch: I was there almost two years.
James McKinney: Two years.
Cristina Lynch: Really a year and a half.
James McKinney: But for a lot of people, kind of a dream job career opportunity. What was the catalyst for leaving at that point?
Cristina Lynch: I loved it. I think at the time I wanted to go somewhere where there was newer, younger technology.
James McKinney: Technology?
Cristina Lynch: Yeah. Maybe that's not the best way of saying it, but I had a friend who was working at the Gilt Group.
James McKinney: Okay, yeah.
Cristina Lynch: And he kept talking about-
James McKinney: And can you remind myself and the listeners, that is an online platform?
Cristina Lynch: Yeah it's an online platform.
James McKinney: Not a fashion-
Cristina Lynch: No. they were so smart and they would sell at I think at noon every day and it was a certain discount. I just remember talking to her about kind of everything that went behind them. I was so excited by that thought process when she was talking about it. And Oscar, it was more about what I think was so exciting was the fashion lens and the luxury. But I was craving a little bit of kind of this more techie side, which has a little bit of that like startup feel. And so she was working for Gilt Group and she told me about Jetsetter, which was under that I guess umbrella. And Jetsetter is a travel site. I don't know I was kind of just looking at different opportunities and I like how Jetsetter was really into selling a luxury experience online, but in the travel space.
So I interviewed there. I also looked at other kind of fashion businesses. But I really liked Jetsetter. I met with them, it felt really young. They had that startup feel. I met with their head of sales and I became the market manager for hotels in Latin America, which basically meant I would onboard them onto the platform. It was a fun experience too. I definitely missed fashion while I was there, but I think I learned a lot about, really a lot about creating a beautiful website and what that could do, and what pull that has. And the other thing-
James McKinney: What year was this? Because now we're talking technology and I think years matter for that.
Cristina Lynch: It's like 2012.
James McKinney: 2012 okay so we had come out of the worst recession in US history. So you weren't in a technology startup at that point in time, because that would have been a miserable experience.
Cristina Lynch: Right, yeah.
James McKinney: So 2012, okay so we're on that backside of that. So things were on the uptick for sure.
Cristina Lynch: I did deal with a round of layoffs there. I wasn't a part of them. Yeah, I remembered that earlier recession. I was in school when that was happening and had some friends, older friends that were let go. It is so scary to… when we were at Jetsetter I think they were re-shifting or something, but they had to let go… it was a thing where they tell the whole business, "We're going to have to make a hard decision," and by the end of the day a good percentage of people are gone, including the guy next to me. So sad, such a hard feeling.
James McKinney: It is hard but it's part of the challenges of fast growth.
Cristina Lynch: Yes.
James McKinney: Especially in technology space. If you're not profitable, and this is what I love about Ben Chestnut. We had him, the cofounder of Mailchimp, on the show. You know a $5 billion valued company, zero investment capital. One of the things he said from the beginning, even at the end was just you don't need investment capital. You just need to build a profitable business model. It's so true but we still, in technology we still get landlocked that we have to have this up and to the right growth that is just a pure spike, and therefore we need venture capital. It's like no, the media tells you that. Venture capital will tell you that because they say, "Hey, I'm going to give you $100 million because we can get that for you," and you get enamored with what it could be. But again, Ben Chestnut, slow and steady wins the race.
Cristina Lynch: I think a lot of people will tell you that. Unfortunately there's always that pressure. Well if you had a little bit more you could do this. But if you, exactly what you're saying, if you can be smart you can get there. It might take a little bit longer but you'll be smarter.
James McKinney: You just have to be patient and again back to one of the things that Mailchimp did so well and Ben specifically was just listen to the users.
Cristina Lynch: Yeah, 100%.
James McKinney: They will tell you, they will tell you. It's like oh, it's beautiful. So you're at Jetsetter. Obviously that gave you a taste of what startup life was like because again Oscar de la Renta, a historic brand, huge brand equity, big name in the industry. When you have a big name like that, there's a lot of challenges you don't have to go through because you don't have to prove yourself.
Cristina Lynch: Right, exactly.
James McKinney: Startup completely different. So you're at Jetsetter. Where are you living at this point in time?
Cristina Lynch: I was living in the East Village.
James McKinney: Okay, so you're still in New York.
Cristina Lynch: I'm still in New York.
James McKinney: Okay, and this was 2012 you said.
Cristina Lynch: Yeah.
James McKinney: All right. So you're at Jetsetter. How do we connect the dots from Jetsetter to Mi Golondrina?
Cristina Lynch: So I kept thinking about fashion. It's funny, I used to, that was probably one of the most fun times in my life. I just young in New York, financial freedom, just was having so much fun. I actually got into boxing at the time. That was the way I would stay in shape.
James McKinney: Really? Okay.
Cristina Lynch: Yeah.
James McKinney: I'm not going to lie, I would have never guessed those words to come out of your mouth.
Cristina Lynch: I know, I know. I have a speedbag in my garage.
James McKinney: That's awesome.
Cristina Lynch: I love it. But anyway near the boxing gym I went to was a store called ABC Home, that's still there. It's a really beautiful store. So after I'd box, I'd go there and just kind of look around. What I loved about the store was it was kind of just a taste of the world. It was bed linens from France and bed linens from Italy, and gorgeous things from Morocco. It made me think a lot about what I had grown up with. So my mom has been collecting Mexican art since she was 18. The home I grew up in was just covered in embroideries, but in a very just kind of well thought out way. And so when I'd go to ABC home, it was just kind of this small idea kept coming to mind of a Mexican lifestyle business in kind of linens and bedding.
So I, oh I called my brother Peter and said like, "I have this idea. It's kind of like bed linens and I want them to be hand embroidered from Mexico, and I really don't see anything in a lot of these kind of world stores that represent Mexico and really Latin America at the time." Now you can find it everywhere, I know you can, but that was like 2012 and it wasn't as common. So he told me that I should probably start it now and move home.
James McKinney: That's awesome.
Cristina Lynch: And I think that was really, you know it wasn't a clear concept at all. I think he just knew I really wanted to start something and I wasn't totally motivated at work. It was getting to the point where it was a lot of college calling, a lot of relationship management, but not a lot of creativity. So yeah I decided that maybe it was a good time to leave New York, be closer to family in Dallas, and start a business.
James McKinney: So what year is this?
Cristina Lynch: That is I guess early 2013.
James McKinney: So 2013, you come back to Dallas. You have this idea for a furnishings, a linens company if you will. But connecting back to that Mexican lifestyle business you had in that journal that you discovered recently, it's interesting how those things never leave you once you kind of put it out there or put in on paper, or speak to it to other people. So you get back to Dallas. I'm assuming you're having this conversation with family at this point, just kind of flesh some things out. Your mom who has a history in apparel, your dad who has experience in private equity, your brothers who are creatives and entrepreneurs as well. What were some of the thoughts that were being spun around among the family table as you're having this discussion? Because we're not talking to you because of linens and things like that.
Cristina Lynch: Right. You know one thing that I was also inspired by that I didn't mention was when I was working at Oscar de la Renta, this really neat woman came who was a consultant and she wanted everyone to see how the embroidery on a collection of gowns were done, and they were being hand embroidered in India. I remember looking at the embroideries and thinking I've seen a version of that but it's done in Mexico. So that was kind of, my mind is like okay I've seen this embroidery my whole life but nobody is selling it on this luxury level, and I really wanted to do that.
I think that was a part of it was I want to show people how luxurious this embroidery really is. So I moved home and I move in with my parents. I actually lived with my parents for three years. I'm so thankful that I did kind of more as an adult. I got to know them better. I think the biggest feedback and challenge was wait, do you really want to sell things that are made by hand? Because I think now words like artisan and collaboration and whatever, they're so buzzy and everybody is saying them, but a few years ago that was kind of crazy to scale a business that was fully handmade. But I know I really wanted to. I did end up creating a few things by machine and I was able to compare them and I was able to understand it. I'm just so glad we're working with handmade clothing. You can feel, I can personally feel the difference.
James McKinney: So let's talk about Mi Golondrina. For my audience that doesn't know the brand, doesn't know anything about it, please unpack for us what Mi Golondrina is.
Cristina Lynch: For sure. So Mi Golondrina works with close to 600 artisan women in Mexico. And with them we collaborate on clothing and for all ages. I mean we do little girls dress, we do adults, and we still do decorative pillows. We also do a bit of table top so like table linens and it is more of a contemporary line, and it is very customer focused. So kind of what we were talking about earlier in unpacking the user experience. We're always looking for customer feedback. And that's kind of how the brand has slowly grown over these last seven years is working directly with artisan women, learning from them, and learning from the customers we work with as well.
James McKinney: A couple months ago, I had Ali Hynek on the show of Nena & Co and they have artisan bags where the embroidery or the tapestry applied to the leather goods comes from artisans in Guatemala, and that again tied to her family heritage which is why she was passionate about it. But also too she was passionate about providing a lifestyle for the ladies in Guatemala that couldn't have otherwise. I don't know how many artisans she had producing for her. You mention you have-
Cristina Lynch: close to 600.
James McKinney: Close to 600. But at this time, were you aware of those artisans in Mexico that are now in your employment, that are servicing you? Were you aware of what life was like in Mexico at this time?
Cristina Lynch: Mm-hmm, mm-hmm. I think that when I first started, I was not as aware as I became later. So the first trip to Mexico was really looking around, looking at different stores, looking at the markets and then meeting with artisan women. And at the time actually the women I was meeting with had a buildup of inventory.
James McKinney: Of the embroidery?
Cristina Lynch: Mm-hmm. It was really sad just because tourism had gone down and so you had women selling pieces at a price that really doesn't make sense. As we worked with artisan partners in Mexico, I would say a year in I went on one of kind of the visits, and one woman who she was just one woman of many who was embroidering for us said in her dialect, because we had to have… and that's something that I don't think everyone knows about Mexico is a lot of the artisans we work with don't speak Spanish. They'll speak Zapotek or their indigenous language. We had a translator with us and she said, "Thank you. My son can now go to school." And that was so moving for me.
I just didn't know, I mean we were so small. I was really small then, just receiving a few boxes a month so to know that at that level we could make that difference I think shifted the entire business for me, and made me realize oh wait, this is what I want to do. And what I want to do is not just show off the beauty of Mexico, but really respect the artisan tradition and empower these women. One thing that I've always really loved is the way we work with the artisans is it's a lot about making sure they feel like business owners as well. Because they are. They're coming up with their costs. We're talking to them about their time and that's just really important to me.
James McKinney: I love it. Absolutely love it. So as you discover this though, if you could think back to what your branding and messaging was like before that discovery to what it did after that. Did the story of Mi Golondrina change in the way in which you speak to the beautiful embroidery of the artisans? Because now you knew more about the story of the individual. Did it change for you?
Cristina Lynch: It really hasn't changed that much. I think from day one, I always wanted to show the artisans making it because that's what I had to have our customer understand, is that okay maybe you can buy a Mexican top in the market for less, but they didn't spend as much time on it and we haven't put these nice fabrics with it, so really to kind of understand… I needed our customers to understand the production part of it. And so in order to do that, you need to know that there is a specific woman behind the piece. But that was really a big hurtle in the beginning was having somebody understand that a piece from Mexico could be close to $200, which made all the sense in the world to me coming from luxury fashion, like are you kidding me, like I'm looking at embroidered things all the time that are $500. Why just because this is made in Mexico do you think that it needs to be $30?
James McKinney: Oh, that's interesting. I didn't even think about just, when you mentioned a luxury piece from Mexico not being, or having a challenge being $200 I didn't even connect jus the brand of Mexico if you will and say oh that's the hurtle people were having.
Cristina Lynch: Yes, yes. And it makes sense. You know you have, especially the embroidery that we started working with was really popular in the sixties, so women were wearing it at universities and it was really, really popular. But then it kind of became less popular for a while and then I brought it back. What is it forty or fifty years later, so prices are going to go up one just because of time. But also it's a craft that is so beautiful and you hope never goes away, but it's not as common as it was then.
James McKinney: How do you take a traditional artisan piece, craftsmanship if you will, of the way they make it, the fact that they're making it, it is decades if not centuries old, and bring it and make it relevant into today's culture? That is, we are a culture of vanity and your pieces are beautiful-
Cristina Lynch: Thank you.
James McKinney: And so you've done it but how do you take old world and new world, and bring it to a place where people can look at it and be willing to I guess spend their dollars on it?
Cristina Lynch: Right. A lot of it is understanding your customer, and part of that is understanding style. I think I'm lucky to enjoy fashion and style, and I'm always thinking about how we can style things in a way so that our customer understands it, because that'll be a forever challenge. There are embroideries, new embroideries that I look at all the time like okay well how can we make that look fresh even for placement? So I think that's a big part of what we're always doing. What I found fascinating is I really didn't need to do that much in the beginning, right, because it's a centuries old embroidery and the main thing we started with is taking a traditional dress and selling it without sleeves. It was a sleeveless dress. I couldn't get over how just that really changed people's perspective of that top and dress.
James McKinney: Interesting.
Cristina Lynch: I had friends and customers who had seen this dress forever. I know they have. I know that their mom has it. And they looked at it like it was totally new. I'm like wait no, you've seen this, don't you remember this? This is like, oh no, but this. And I think it was all about like going back to the Oscar de la Renta experience like hanging pieces far enough apart, making sure that you're giving it the pedestal it deserves. It's a lot about presentation. And then a lot of what we do now too is we have a team of seamstresses who are their level of quality is so incredible and I think that it's necessary to match the level of quality of embroidery.
So obviously seamstress quality was something that I learned a lot about kind of these last seven years. Obviously you can go to a cut and sew factory and drop off a bunch of baby bibs you want made. But finishing one of our dresses is really not easy. You can't do it quickly and you need to take your time, and so we have a really incredible team of women who pay attention to those details. And I think because of those little details, somebody who may not know about sewing I think they still appreciate it without knowing they're appreciating it.
And we also have a quality control team of seven women, and they hand press each piece. So traditionally one of the pieces we sell has the pleats on the front. They will iron each of those pleats instead of like I mean I go to stores today where you can tell that nothing has even been steamed, right? So we know how important it is to go all the way and make sure that if this piece took a month to three months to make, we're going to make sure it's finished right, pressed correctly, and on the hanger or shot in the most beautiful way so that we're really giving the artisan the credit she deserves.
James McKinney: Oh my goodness, I love that. I assume your first sales channel was online. I can't imagine you opened a brick and mortar, did you?
Cristina Lynch: I accidentally opened a brick and mortar.
James McKinney: You did?
Cristina Lynch: Yeah. So I presented the concept to Jason Needleman, CEO of Peacock Alley and he said that he would help me launch the first collection of pillows and comforters and then I did some tops and dresses on the side.
James McKinney: Okay.
Cristina Lynch: We had a launch party at Peacock Alley in the design district, and people went crazy for the dresses and tops, and they sold out that night. The idea was okay, let's see how much we sell, we meaning like me and like two other people.
James McKinney: Yeah, yeah.
Cristina Lynch: But anyway, let's see how much we sell and I had photographed all of the pieces before putting them on the rack, before that party thinking that oh I'll just upload them onto this site that nobody knows about and I can tell them it's available there. And that didn't happen. We sold all of them so I did a little bit of a pre-order. But by the time we had the launch party I had gotten an office, because I had been working out of my parents' home. And it was right next to Love Field Airport, had two desks and some rolling racks. And every time I got a shipment I would text some women about it or put it on my Instagram. And before I would put it online some women and their friends would come.
So it was kind of this by appointment secret store, and I really loved sales. I didn't realize how much I actually really enjoyed giving this like top notch level of customer service. I knew that I really needed to make up for the space I was in. I mean, they're rolling racks, so it was a lot of we will do anything, what length do you want, how would you like it. There was such a thrill in that. So yes, we had a little bit of a store.
James McKinney: Okay. When did you, because again part of your story is technology, a lot of your story is user experience both in the apparel and the fashion and the way it feels for the user, the buying experience for the user. When you take this history of user experience and bring it into your own brand, knowing how much you love this concierge level luxury experience, how do you bring that to an online experience that is less concierge?
Cristina Lynch: Mm-hmm.
James McKinney: And I asked a similar question of Julie Bornstein of The YES who came from Nordstrom's-
Cristina Lynch: I was listening to that.
James McKinney: … and Sephora and so it's like even she had a similar perspective. Nordstrom didn't want ecommerce because you couldn't have concierge level service. There's a nuance to that dance. So for you, what did that look like as you wanted to bring the story of Mi Golondrina and all the artisans behind it, because it's a big story to tell, into the buying experience? And then also too into the actual making of the apparel.
Cristina Lynch: Yes. You can do customer service much better in person, or I can personally. I understand it more easily. But for example we're only online but we do pickup and we actually do a lot of custom orders. And Eugenia and Emily handle all of our customer support. They really are in touch with a lot of our customers. Whether that be you sold out of this can I have it when it comes back in. and they do. The second it comes in, they'll grab it and say, "Oh wait, I really need this for Corolla, she's been looking for this." And so we have been able to do that.
James McKinney: Okay, personal shopper experience almost, okay.
Cristina Lynch: Yeah, yeah, we have a little bit of that. Then the other thing that was really big for me was handwritten notes so all of our shipments would get a handwritten note. Right at this moment, I think we're printing something that I hand wrote. It's hard to scale but we were, even through the beginning of COVID the team was taking turns writing notes because it was just important.
James McKinney: Yeah. What are the layers you think through when you think through user experience?
Cristina Lynch: So much. I mean I'm obsessed with quality. That's honestly been why it's been so wonderful too. My mom pops in on occasion and gives feedback, and she knows about kind of all those little details sometimes. Like sometimes we'll have a regular seam and she's like, "You know what, you need a top stitch to really make sure…" So when we're producing, back to like product development early stages, the whole team tries it on and I really always want to make sure this is something that our customer will be excited about. Even when we're picking out fabrics, I want to make sure it's super soft and just going to be that wonderful for our customer.
I think one thing we hear from our customers a lot is when you see it online it's really beautiful, but you may be shopping quickly. It's hard to get that much of someone's time so we try to say it, we try to say it's handmade and you're going to love it in every way possible. But we get so many messages that are like, "Wow, customer for life, thank you." And that's when I feel like we've really won because we have a branded box that says, "Women supporting women," really big.
I remember we were doing a new box and we'd been using kind of your standard cardboard box forever, and I was like okay so excited to update this winter, real excited. So we were thinking about writing "Women supporting women" but kind of small. I was like no, that needs to be big, that is what we're all about. So we have that box. We have tissue because I always want it to feel like a gift, that was a big thing that I wanted people to feel like it's a present. Now, we do go back and forth a lot on not having too much in the box because we want to be ecofriendly. Our new branded box, what website so great about it was that it is recyclable, but the way it's folded and everything… Miriam is the one who folds all the clothing before it goes into the box. She just does an impeccable job and I'm pretty crazy about all those details. So each one of those details is just so important. And then our customers receive the box and hopefully get a feeling for our brand.
James McKinney: You've been working on Mi Golondrina for now seven years we'll say.
Cristina Lynch: Yeah it was June, we launched in June 2013 but I really started working on it a year before that.
James McKinney: A year before. What has been the greatest challenge for you in bringing the brand to market, and then getting to the growth that you're at now?
Cristina Lynch: The biggest challenge? I have so many challenges.
James McKinney: Or top three that come to mind.
Cristina Lynch: Oh, so many. One challenge that I face is being a good leader. I think that's so important. I work with such incredible women here in Dallas and I always want to make sure that I'm being the best I can for them, and building that team and making sure that everyone is still happy is so important to me. And then there's so many challenges with running an artisan business model. I think that's one that I am always optimistic and a lot of times when people mention a problem or something that went wrong, that's every other day. I just don't mind it. That just kind of comes with it.
But a lot of that comes with running an artisan business model just because I'm sure there are all sorts of different challenges, but our challenges will be six of the dresses were embroidered… they're all embroidered in women's homes, but six of them had a small ember from a fireplace fall on them so you won't be able to sell them. What are we going to do with the neck of the dress so that we can use it and so there's all these little things that are constantly happening. We're also not on a regular fashion calendar because we couldn't be. The timelines just don't work that way.
James McKinney: Can you explain the fashion calendar for the listeners that don't know?
Cristina Lynch: Yeah, so you have resort, pre-fall, fall, and we are working with different artisan communities to launch something all the time. We kind of by month know what we'll be doing, but that's really honestly newer for us. Probably within the last two years. And before then it was really like okay what did we receive, how do we market it, what do we do.
James McKinney: Yeah, right.
Cristina Lynch: Yeah.
James McKinney: Just the turn and burn on product. We got it in, how do we market it and get it out.
Cristina Lynch: Yes, yes.
James McKinney: So when you think of the brand Mi Golondrina, let's say if we were to have a where are they now episode in five years, where is the brand?
Cristina Lynch: I think a huge silver lining with COVID has been going online, just going full into it. I am excited these next five years to really go into that more and really understand social media better. I personally feel like these last seven years have been building a base, a really healthy great company that is ready for the next step if that makes sense. You hear about so many businesses that are like this huge business in two years but like we were saying it takes a while. And I think that these last seven years have been a lot of work to get here, and now I'm excited to grow online. I'm excited to continue to tell the story of this rich brand and the artisans behind it. And I know those are things we were doing today, but I think we can just do it better.
I obviously also like to think about increasing our product line, but more so than that it's always just how do we do women's clothing better.
James McKinney: When you think of your inspirations, from a business and brand building perspective, who are the brands that you look to and say okay that's what I'm aiming for? Who is it and what is it about that brand?
Cristina Lynch: So I think I used to really obsess over that and it's been interesting because recently we're becoming more of our own brand, so I think that I'm looking at all sorts of different small inspiration from a lot of different ones. Whereas in the beginning when I graduated from college I was obsessed with Tory Burch. She's just incredible. She's just like what she's built is-
James McKinney: Pretty remarkable.
Cristina Lynch: … remarkable.
James McKinney: Her and Kendra Scott, those two stories are unbelievable.
Cristina Lynch: Oh yes, yes. And I didn't know the Kendra Scott story as well until recently. I'm a huge fan. It was great to be able to look to Tory Burch and say okay, she has some artisan inspired clothing, she's making it look luxe, how is she doing it, what can I learn from her. And now I think there's so many brands that are a smaller, direct to customer business. From children's lines to women's clothing lines, I'm looking at different brands all the time. But Tory Burch was really the one that I was hyper focused on, and continue to be inspired by her.
James McKinney: And you know what's great about that question is that there are going to be listeners that maybe are being introduced to you for the first time. They're going to be saying okay, that's now my model. There are those that know you already that aren't listeners of The Startup Story that are looking to you saying that's my model. The entrepreneurial community is so incredible, and the fact that we have visibility to how other brands are doing certain things, and we can to a degree follow the footprints and the map of someone else to understand what are things you're doing and doing really well. I love within the apparel and brand space, I love the collaboration things that are taking place across brands.
Cristina Lynch: Oh, me too.
James McKinney: It's so creative.
Cristina Lynch: It's so neat. It really is.
James McKinney: I think just recently you did one with a children's clothing line if I'm not mistaken.
Cristina Lynch: Mm-hmm.
James McKinney: Was that recent or am I dating things wrong?
Cristina Lynch: No, we did a collaboration with Maisonette a little while ago, and they grew very quickly. They had some great investors and they're out of New York, so it was so great for us to partner with them when they had this great following in the northeast. No, I love, love, love collaborations. We try… I would want to do them all the time, but now we have to be really smart about what we're doing and the way we think about them. but one of the things I love too is just from a production standpoint, I think there are a lot of things that you'll think about doing sometimes but you won't because you're just so busy creating upcoming pieces and styles. But when you work with another brand, they may say oh you know what, I love it but… Like we're working on something right now and she was like, "Well can we try adding beading to it?" And I remember thinking like that's something I've always wanted to do but we haven't done it. Let's do it. Let's try it. And this is the opportunity to do it.
The other thing I was thinking about when looking at other brands is looking at who's giving off a feeling, who's giving off a story and a feeling. And I was thinking about this brand I keep looking at, it's called Love Shack Fancy. They have done such a good job with creating this kind of dreamy vibe that just makes you want to be there. I hope that's something that I… It's funny because it's such a different feeling than what we're creating, but knowing that they're creating a feeling so it's like okay wow, what feeling are we creating.
James McKinney: Yeah, I think there's something to be said about the… and I think it's changed over the decades, the idea of brand affinity. Growing up, it was get the Nike's for the sake of having the Nike's right? But then Michael Jordan coms on the scene-
Cristina Lynch: I was just going to say, "Be like Mike."
James McKinney: … and it's like "Be like Mike." And now all of the sudden there's like a different element to your connection with the brand. Like these shoes make me jump higher. No they don't, but you believe it, right?
Cristina Lynch: Right, right, right.
James McKinney: This blouse makes me feel pretty or more glamorous. And now you're connected to the brands and now, and maybe I'm wrong and correct me if I'm wrong, listeners hit me up on Instagram if I'm wrong, blast me for it, but I feel like now more than ever brands that do a better job telling a story to connect you emotionally with them will do better in the long run, and the big brands have a hard time doing that.
Cristina Lynch: Yes. I think big brands are trying to do that, and you'll see them even reaching out to smaller brands and kind of going back to that collaborative space so that they can connect more. So if you can create that emotional response I think you're doing something right.
James McKinney: Yeah, absolutely. So unfortunately I feel like we could just keep going for hours, and as much as I would love to I want to honor your time and there are three questions that I ask every founder that comes onto the show. That first one is just about entrepreneurship. There are lots of headlines about what an entrepreneur is. There are lots of ideas about what an entrepreneur is. Personas that are developed, whether some are correct and some are incorrect. But for you and your own personal experience and your understanding of entrepreneurship, do you believe anybody can be an entrepreneur? Not want, not everyone wants to be an entrepreneur, but do you believe anybody can be an entrepreneur?
Cristina Lynch: Yes.
James McKinney: Why so?
Cristina Lynch: I just think if you like something and you want to go for it, go for it. Unfortunately social media is creating sometimes too much of a box for entrepreneurs, and there's so many different levels. You can create something small, you can create a small side business say that… I feel like there are a lot of kind of stay at home moms that I know that will start this small thing and keep it small. Or grow it to be something big, and I think anyone can. I don't think everyone should. I think that you can also work for a really neat company and be very, very happy.
James McKinney: Absolutely.
Cristina Lynch: Hopefully that company empowers you to maybe have a little bit more of that owner mindset, but you also don't have to take all the risk that the entrepreneur does.
James McKinney: Yes, that is very true. So we talked about your journey. We've been unpacking and you've dropped lots of names along the journey that kind of have poured into you. And this next question is about gratitude. And the reason I ask this question of all my founders it that I believe that if we forget the people that have helped to get us to where we are today we will isolate ourselves, we'll think we did it all on our own, and ultimately that leads to our failure because it's not… this is not a solo journey.
Cristina Lynch: No.
James McKinney: So when you think of all the people that have contributed to where you are today who are the people that you look back to with such immense gratitude for their contribution to your story?
Cristina Lynch: Oh, so many. Biggest one is my mom because I mean she helped me when we were unstitching dresses basically and ironing at their house basically, and delivering everything in my family's suburban. So my mom jut believing that it could be great means so much. It continues to mean so much. My mom and my dad and my whole family.
And then we have women on our quality control team that have been with us since the beginning. Now, they're pressing but gosh they were helping me stamp bags with the Mi Golondrina logo on it so that we looked professional. I had a really wonderful sales person, Lauren, in the beginning who was wonderful. I had somebody who helped in operations named Dianna that did an incredible job. I think one of the hardest things about Mi Golondrina is you're not with everyone forever. You'll have that community and you can reach out to those people, but some people who were with me have been with me the whole time, and some have been in Mi Golondrina for seasons of its time.
James McKinney: Yeah. Oh I love that. I say it often because it's so powerful, but if I had to trim The Startup Story to 20 minutes I would never get rid of that question.
Cristina Lynch: You should absolutely not.
James McKinney: I would never get rid of it. I love it.
Cristina Lynch: No. because it's healthy for me.
James McKinney: And it's an honest view in entrepreneurship. People look at these, again even Elon Musk if I were to have the chance to have Elon Musk on here, he would have a list of people.
Cristina Lynch: For sure.
James McKinney: But people don't, they think he's just born differently and did it all himself, like no that is not the truth.
Cristina Lynch: Well and the main, and the many artisan partners that I've learned so much from right? Gosh, it's pretty wild. I think that not only have I learned from them on how to run a better business but just how to be a better person.
James McKinney: Oh, I love it. Absolutely love it. Our last question to wrap up your Startup Story. We've been talking to tens of thousands of listeners at a very high level, just of your journey. And one of the things that I love to afford my listeners is just a chance for some one on one digital mentorship from you if you will. So I'd like to bring the conversation from the tens of thousands to the one. Maybe you want to speak to the audience member that is kind of the frustrated entrepreneur, kind of the one who has been doing this for some length of time and they constantly have cash flow issues. Maybe COVID has just destroyed their business and they're not sure if they can make it out.
Maybe it's the wantrepreneur, maybe it's the one that's got a 9 to 5 and a book full of dreams and ideas, or let me rephrase that a journal full of dreams and ideas like you did. But for some reason they think they can't move on those dreams and ideas because of what the culture says entrepreneurship is and you're not an entrepreneur if you don't fit in that mold. For some of my listeners it's because they're 60 and they think they're too old to move on their entrepreneurial dreams. Whatever the case may be. And whoever it is you would like to talk to, what do you have to say to that listener?
Cristina Lynch: I think if you are frustrated, I think the best advice I got was from my brother and would like to give you, and that is good things take time. We're in this culture right now that makes you think that you should have this great success tomorrow. You might have small successes, and when you have those celebrate them. But what I would say is keep going. You should keep going and you'll get there. But just be patient and you'll get there. And if you're older I don't think that should ever keep you from starting something. Gosh, I hope I start another business when I'm 60 so I think if everyone took that advice we would be missing out on a lot of really cool businesses.
James McKinney: Once you've had a few moments to process all the value Cristina Lynch brought us in this week's episode, please hit me up on LinkedIn, Facebook, or Instagram and share with me your thoughts on this episode. Lastly, if you've been around The Startup Story for any length of time, then you know how much emphasis I put on the idea that entrepreneurs support other entrepreneurs. For that reason, I want to ask you to help elevate the awareness of Mi Golondrina by following them on Instagram @Mi_Golondrina. In fact, if you just type in "MIG" within Instagram, they're big enough that they're one of the first ones that populate.
But also visit migolondrina.com. And again, we're going to include a link in the show notes for easy access. But even better than just visiting migolondrina.com, let's really show up for Cristina in a huge way and share migolondrina.com with your community and Facebook friends. I say it in every episode because I believe it with my very being, entrepreneurs support other entrepreneurs. So many founders talk about the challenge of awareness so let's show up for Cristina as a way of saying thank you for all the value she delivered to us today. And now for my personal ask.
The Startup Story community has been so incredible about sharing our podcast with others, but we have more stories to tell and more people to reach. We too are a startup and word of mouth is everything, so please follow us on Facebook and Instagram @TheStartupStory or on Twitter @StartupStory_. If you're on LinkedIn, please search for The Startup Story and follow our company page. LinkedIn is a really powerful way to raise awareness of the show. But the most impactful way you can help us grow our audience is to leave a review on Apple Podcast. Or if you listen to the show via Spotify, then please simply share the podcast directly from your Spotify app or wherever you listen to the show.
These simple actions can make a huge impact in getting these amazing founder stories out to the masses. And please make sure to tag or mention The Startup Story when you do share so that we can connect with you and say thank you directly. I'm so incredibly appreciative of the fact that you listen to the show each and every week, and I look forward to sharing these amazing stories with you every Tuesday with hopes of encouraging and inspiring you to start your story.
If you like this podcast and are thinking of creating your own, consider talking to my producer Danny Ozment. He helps thought leaders, influencers, executives, and authors create, launch, and produce podcasts that grow their business and make a real impact in this world. You can contact him today at emeraldcitypro.com/startupstory.