An Unbreakable Bond: Meet the Mother-Daughter Team Behind Mindy Lam Jewelry
May 1, 2023 @ 2:30pm
Mindy Lam and Kai Sia on what it takes to run a successful family business, why D.C. is their safe haven and the importance of originality.
We are spotlighting the myriad voices redefining what it means to be stylish in the nation’s capital — from designers and stylists to entrepreneurs and athletes whose unique stories and perspectives shape bold visions. Check out our full Curators of Style roundup in the May issue here.
Mindy Lam is a builder. The Chinese-American jewelry artist never sketches her designs in advance. She starts with a feeling — whether it’s avant-garde or romantic or rock ‘n’ roll — and creates a completely original work of art that only one person will ever own and wear.
The D.C.-based designer runs Mindy Lam Jewelry with daughter Kai Sia, who has always been by her mom’s side as her biggest cheerleader and now as a business-savvy entrepreneur. From wearing Lam’s skirts as full-length dresses at age four while helping sell her jewelry to donating her kidney to her mom and helping save her life through a transplant 10 years ago this month, Sia’s lifelong commitment to her mom and their business is remarkable.
The pair made a distinct name for themselves without aggressive marketing or taking a more commercial path. The quality of Lam’s creations is what keeps her in high demand, without pressure to deprioritize her artistry. You know a Mindy Lam lapel pin or brooch when you see one, and her loyal following is growing nationally. While Lam offers affordable price points in her Homme Collection, it’s the one-of-a-kind pieces featured in her Ethereal Collection and even museum exhibits that have become the linchpin of her success.
Lam and Sia are local style icons in their own right, refusing to adhere to prescribed notions around fashion — whether it’s playing with androgynous looks, embracing asymmetry or bringing glam to every look with a Mindy Lam piece. But what truly makes this mother-daughter duo punk rock is their unbreakable bond. We spoke about what it takes to run a healthy family business, why D.C. is their safe haven and the importance of originality.
District Fray: How would you each describe your individual style?
Kai Sia: If my hair is not done correctly, I cannot step out of the house. I have these curls that bring my confidence up. If my hair is not tight, I wear a hat and I’m not Kai that day. Another part of my identity is my accessories. On the days I wear a suit, I have to have a Mindy Lam lapel pin. I feel naked when I’m wearing a suit without her jewelry. I find it to be armor, a confidence boost. People will naturally be drawn to come up and comment. It’s a great way to check people’s vibes because if they appreciate what I’m wearing, then I know I’m linking with the right people.
Mindy Lam: I grew up on a farm daydreaming a lot. My designing and creating world is really magical and whimsical. Sometimes I feel like being romantic, but other days I want to be funky. I’m very shy, but when it comes to design, I’m not shy at all. I just tell myself, “This is my uniform. This is not me. This is just that character I play for that event.” My style is whatever is in my brain. And I like vintage.
What are your sources of inspiration for shopping vintage or looking for statement pieces?
Sia: [Lam’s] influence is her environment. She likes to go back to ’80s and ’90s Hong Kong — pop stars, rock stars — when clothes were still couture and people cared about texture. That’s the reason she taught me to shop vintage. We shop vintage mostly in New York and Houston.
Lam: I like to build things. Even the corner of a building can give me inspiration. I love D.C. The flowers, trees, cherry blossoms — I take advantage of the city’s nature and history.
Do you have a favorite vintage piece?
Sia: My favorite designer is Yohji Yamamoto. He made a bunch of blazers for women that were very, very different — more androgynous and less dull, everyday, boring suits. If Mom comes across a Yohji that fits me, it’s very likely that she will see if we can collect it. D.C. is so cut-and-dry sometimes that if you throw a really fun piece in, it brightens my day.
Why has D.C. remained home base for the business?
Lam: I love the environment in D.C. I love the space. I love that I can be in a suburb and also in a city. They don’t call D.C. a fashion city, but if we’re great it doesn’t matter if it’s D.C. or Hong Kong or London. We can be who we are, and people will discover us. I never wanted to call myself a New York designer. I am really proud to say I’m a D.C. designer.
Sia: [Lam] did the New York thing when she was young, and now, she doesn’t consider herself a fashion or jewelry designer. She considers herself an artist. There’s no reason to live in a busy city that will cloud your mind. She needs the tranquility that D.C. can provide. There’s not a lot of cities that can provide that. When she was a kid on a farm, she pretended she was a princess to get through rough times. She would feed chickens and see little rats, little snakes, little pigs. She never saw a snake as bad or a caterpillar as gross. She saw them as her little friends, and now you see them in her jewelry. They’re all beautified because they’re part of nature.
How have you maintained a close working relationship with healthy boundaries?
Sia: I have to compliment my mother. She’s always had an open mind and told me to be myself. She never saw something wrong with me being gay. She loves me how a mother loves, which is unconditionally. Is she a tough mom? Yes. But I’m stronger for it. One thing I praise my mom for, especially being Asian American, is her willingness to grow and change and try things out. I went to therapy to focus on becoming a better communicator and asked Mom to participate. We learned how to communicate and set boundaries. There are times I need her to be my mother and there are times I need her to be my boss. If you’re going into a family business, go to therapy first because it will change your whole family dynamic.
What does the future hold for you as a mother-daughter team? Will you continue to run the business together?
Sia: Everyone who has a conventional job, they’re working for someone else’s goal. When I go to work, my goal is to make my family name and legacy bigger and prouder. I’m working for my family’s reputation. When I see people who have collected her pieces, I can recognize them from 20 years ago. If you go to Texas or Seattle and you see her work on someone, you know it’s Mindy Lam because there’s only one of her. It’s so distinctive, and that’s why I’m proud to work with her.
Lam: Would you like a raise?
Sia: I would love a raise [laughs].
Lam: To see her at 16 when she first started helping me until now — she’s been really interested in building the company. I see a bright future for her. Family businesses usually turn sour if someone feels forced. But every day she calls and says, “This is what I’m going to do.” I feel really proud.
Sia: If I’m a dapper, stylish person, when I visit D.C., I need to get a custom-made Mindy Lam lapel pin for myself. I want that to be a tradition. You know how you go to Texas and eat barbecue? You go to D.C. and get a custom Mindy Lam piece.
I love that you just compared eating Texas barbecue to buying one of your mom’s custom pieces [group laughs].
Sia: I love food. Our hobby is eating.
Learn more about Mindy Lam Jewelry at mindylamcouture.com. Follow Lam and Sia on Instagram @mindylamjewelry and @pyro.kai.
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