Michelle Aquino’s M. Dot Design pops up at W Hotels

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Young designers are rarely able to live on the sales of their designs alone. They emerge from fashion and design schools unknown, ready to present their digital portfolios to buyers or store owners. Most often, they are turned away.

But Michelle Aquino defied the odds. She got her first sewing machine from her grandmother, and after a few lessons in simple hemming and patching she fast-tracked her limited knowledge to another level — even without professional training — when in 2009, at age 20, she launched M. Dot Design in San Diego.

Aquino quickly discovered there’s strength in numbers — that a united front of artists working together can be stronger than one lone designer whose name no one knows.

Today, besides selling her collection online at mdotdesignstudio.com, she’s built a business curating Shop It events at W Hotels across the country. The events are usually one-evening pop-up shopping parties that feature fashion from her own M. Dot line and other local apparel, accessories and jewelry designers that she handpicks. She has also included architects, artists, local bakeries and Bliss Spas. Average turnout is 150 people for the events, which have taken place in W Hotels in San Francisco, Chicago, Seattle, Atlanta, Dallas, Miami and more.

Aquino pioneered the concept at the W in San Diego in 2010 before bringing it to Los Angeles in December 2012, and it spread from there. That’s not so surprising since the W hotel brand is no stranger to fashion; W is an official partner of the Council of Fashion Designers of America’s Fashion Incubator program, which fosters promising designers.

I think a woman’s clothes should fit her, not have her working to fit in her clothes.
– Designer Michelle Aquino
“I met Michelle and absolutely loved her designs and the partners she works with,” recalls Lauren Travis, director of marketing at the W Hollywood, where Aquino is scheduled to debut a new collection June 11. “The lines really embrace the L.A. look. We wanted to give guests and locals a taste of L.A., so Michelle and I decided to create an event that brought some of the incredible local emerging designers all under one roof … for the ultimate shopping experience.”

The W Hollywood took the concept a step further and had Aquino tailor her collections to incorporate inspiration from the hotel’s interior designers and from the vibe of the city.

M. Dot pieces are comfortable, but sleek and versatile, tailor-made for the modern power woman. The 12-piece collection includes a wrap-dress designed with a special pleat and tie to cover any tummy imperfections, a modern take on a traditional suit that has a vest top and a sexy shift that’s wearable in more than three different ways.

Leah Vaplon, owner and jewelry designer of frequent collaborator 9luxe, says M. Dot is a brand to watch.

“I have accompanied Michelle on many W events now and have seen firsthand the passion, energy and work she puts into not only building M. Dot, but also into making wonderful events for the W Hotels and supporting other designers in their endeavors,” Vaplon says.
Aquino is always on hand at the events to offer what she calls couture ready-to-wear. “I think a woman’s clothes should fit her, not have her working to fit in her clothes. Customers choose the fabric they’d like from available swatches of cloth I bring to the events, and they can choose the piece they’d like made for them. I guarantee a two-week delivery time and prices range from $250 to $600,” Aquino says.

“I make from $2,000 to $4,000 at every four-hour-long event and offer what I call ‘achievable couture in a ready-to-wear style,'” Aquino says.

Aquino recently took her pop-up collab concept to the real-estate company Keller-Williams to help it sell a $4.5-million mansion in Brentwood. She and her group of local artisans gave the house a “lifestyle.” Her team tricked out the kitchen with locally crafted dishware, filled the master-bedroom closet with her clothing collection and brought local artists in to decorate the walls.

Thanks to the W events, M. Dot is fast becoming a name in Hollywood and the alternative music scene. The singer and actress Leighton Meester, best known from the TV show “Gossip Girl,” recently contacted Aquino to outfit her for a performance at the Troubadour in West Hollywood.

“My next move is to take our Shop It concept to W Hotels worldwide. I’d collaborate with local accessory and handbag designers, and spas in some of the W Hotels from Thailand to India, and Hong Kong. That and buying a condo here in L.A.,” Aquino says.

Published Tuesday March 3, 2015

Los Angeles Times

One Mafia family gets itself a brand new bag

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Marcos Mafia is a 23-year-old professional kitesurfing champion. His sister, Paz, is a former corporate banker. Together they launched the Mafia accessories line in 2012 in their hometown of Buenos Aires, Argentina.

The brand has managed to ride the tide from South America to Japan, Portugal, and now the United States, specifically to a storefront in the hip neighborhood of Richmond in San Francisco.

The wellspring of Mafia bags came when Marcos would ride his bike to the beach, and he needed a bag to hold his wetsuit.

“We ride on the Rio de la Plata, the river that separates Argentina from Uruguay, it’s some of the wildest waves in the world. The riding community is huge in Buenos Aires,” Marcos told Fox News Latino.

He collected a bunch of kitesurfing sails and thought they’d make great totes.

One kite can make 10 to 15 totes. “My sister’s the engineer,” he said. “She designed the pattern, and all the aspects of the bag, and now all the business side of the business.”

The bags are made in vibrant colors and come with a lifetime warrantee. They’re handmade in San Francisco, and every bag is unique.

Marcos says the first bags sold out quickly in the local surf shops. The brother and sister duo went from designing totes to backpacks, duffel bags and then a whole line.

In July 2013, Marcos visited Portland and stopped off in San Francisco.

“The first day [in San Francisco], I decided to stay,” he told FNL. “The city has all the culture, surfing and kiting I needed. I felt it was vibrating.”

To launch in the U.S., Marcos started a Kickstarter project last year, and he realized that the campaign itself could help get the name of the brand out to people. “People could buy the merchandise [when they pledged], and we knew it would spread the word of Mafia.”

The company raised more than $26,000 on Kickstarter, which allowed them to open a workshop and storefront in San Francisco.

“We’ve always kept our production in-house,” Marcos said. “Our goal is to keep things small. With the help of Kickstarter people got to know us, and we spread the word on kite surfing.”

Working with SFMade, a Bay Area non-governmental organization that connects potential employees and service providers with businesses who need help producing and showcasing their work, the Mafia group found a father-and-son team of tailors from Malaysia, and now all of the company’s bags are made by them.

“Our business is about re-using an excess of materials we already have on hand. We get used kites from around the world donated to us—from people and companies,” Marcos told FNL.

“In our business and in our lives, Paz and I are about working to empower people to start their own businesses. Our dad is an architect and our mom works with an interfaith NGO. We believe that in the end it’s about being in touch with people—our customers and our employees. We hope to change the way people think and create something unique and new with our products.”