Molly Leis, MINIMAL
Finally, a gorgeous children’s clothing brand based on quality, design and ethics. Meet MINIMAL. Our latest kids fashion must have.
There are so many new designers emerging at Fashion Week every week, in fact, we discover at least one. One we recently got to know is MINIMAL.
MINIMAL is the brain child of New Yorker Molly Leis-Cornelius, an ex-marketing communications professional in the fashion industry who has worked for Bloomingdale’s, Saks Fifth Avenue, Estee Lauder, LVMH, GQ, InStyle and much more. Moreover, she is also the mother of a gorgeous little boy.
It’s no surprise she has fallen into the other side of fashion – design. Fall 2016 MINIMAL will introduce its first collection. Organic basics for kids in an ethical manner, and putting gender behind. We sat down with Molly to find out more about the journey, the brand and her goals.
When did you first know you had an interest in fashion?
My mother would say that fashion is in my genes. Born into a family of retail pioneers, my great-grandparents founded a Philadelphia department store. In the 1950s their son, and my great uncle had a men’s haberdashery and speciality store catering to American celebrities!
Decades later, my mum went into labour and almost delivered me while shopping in an esteemed Philadelphia department store. She’s convinced that this start to my life fuelled my love of beautiful things, people and quality customer service.
I started to work in fashion retail as soon as I could get my work permit, in the U.S., that’s 16 years old. I’ve always loved interacting with fabrics, trying clothes on and helping people pick out clothes that enhance their sense of individuality.
During university, I had an internship with a Belgian based children’s brand, but I had no idea that one day I would be creating a children’s brand of my own. I pursued a graduate degree in Fashion Marketing and Merchandising from Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in San Francisco then quickly move to New York City to be in the center of American fashion. It was as fabulous and crazy as one can imagine.
How has working with global brands, like Estee Lauder, LVMH and Saks Fifth Avenue helped sculpt the way you went about creating your own label?
I have spent much of the past 15 years working for global brands, like Estee Lauder, LVMH and Saks Fifth Avenue. These big brands helped sculpt the way I went about creating my own label. My corporate experience has shaped who I’ve become in many ways.
The fashion industry in NYC is not easy to navigate, in order to succeed I became very structured, hyper-focused and resilient. I have an incredible work ethic, drive and love of work. I’m embarrassed to say it, but I’d rather work than do anything else (almost anything else).
All this cumulative experience has helped in how I approach my business. Through this experience with global brands, I learned the importance of creating a brand with a personal and memorable customer experience and to set and respect brand standards and communication.
When we see a beautiful item hanging in a store, it makes the process look easy, but the journey from concept to production is anything, but that. There is a tremendous amount of variables out of our control on a daily basis.
Having lived in Miami, Paris, San Francisco, New York and now Singapore, do you feel these destinations have influenced your concept?
Every place I’ve lived has been an influence to some degree. The consistent diversity of cultures and ideas that one is exposed to in any of those cities has created a continued curiosity and desire to continue exploring new cultures and people. As I’ve lived in NYC most of my adult life, I’d say that has influenced the design aesthetic of MINIMAL the most.
I’ve noticed that universally in each place I’ve lived, there is a gap in the marketplace for kids’ clothes that are simple both in design and principle with ethics at the core.
How has the process of going from the business side of fashion to venturing out on your own been? What has surprised you the most?
I was warned that manufacturing is a challenge and best be avoided. I didn’t heed the warning even being advised my numerous people in the industry. I’m still surprised by how hard it is to go from concept to finished product. When we see a beautiful item hanging in a store, it makes the process look easy, but the journey from concept to production is anything, but that. There are a tremendous amount of variables out of our control on a daily basis.
On a positive note, I have been pleasantly surprised by my new network in Singapore. There have been many contacts who have been unbelievably generous. I’m grateful for everyone who has helped with their time, talent and advice. It takes more than a village to move a mountain, and twice that again to pick you up when you feel defeated.
What inspires you?
My son is my obvious inspiration and motivator. He has a vibrant and rebellious personality and challenges us constantly. I don’t put him in printed patterns that compete with his personality. I think he’s most beautiful in simple, basic clothes that allow his own true beauty to shine.
My husband is my other inspiration. He has amazing style. Jason is a surfer and skater. He’s always true to what he feels most comfortable in. He loves soft t-shirts in faded washes and muted colours – so that has influenced my concept for sure.
I’m also inspired by nature, architecture and design. I love the play of white and black, light and dark shadows, tone on tone –and grey is my favourite colour. I believe people look best in colours that are soft and neutral so our focus is on the person themselves, not their clothes.
Describe the first collection, MINIMAL in three words.
Amazing, super soft, versatile.
The cotton and bamboo fabrics you use are organic and ethically handmade in Bali, so are super soft, comfortable and feel amazing. Why is sustainability an important part of your process?
We are consciously seeking sustainability. From the materials we use to the people we work with, MINIMAL is committed to ethical and sustainable practices.
Our clothes are made from sustainably sourced, organic cotton and brushed bamboo – a blend which is luxuriously soft but also durable. I spent time sourcing across Asia and landed in Bali, where I met with 8 different factories taking time to find the right partners who could make the best clothes and commit to fair pay.
Since we’ve started, quality, comfort and sustainability have been my biggest goals for our brand. I can confidently say that we are tracking well on all three fronts. The quality of our fabrics and manufacturing techniques outlasts fast fashion brands. When you buy higher quality, highly versatile items, that wear well and wash well your family will enjoy them more.
I feel proud to be sharing my beautifully simple and stylish clothing line that I know is having minimal impact on the environment my son and other children live in, and also ensures that those in the manufacturing process benefit fairly from what my customers will ultimately enjoy.
Comfort was one of my main priorities designing for children! Sure our clothes are stylish, but if the child doesn't fell comfortable they won't wear them.