Intro to Business
Part one of a three-part series about Michelle's journey to build VIM & VIGR Compression Legwear. Today, we get a glimpse into the people and places that shaped a young entrepreneur.
For some, an introduction to business comes theoretically, in the form of a 100-level business class in college. For others, like Michelle Huie, it comes from firsthand experience.
Growing up, Michelle’s family owned and operated a Carvel’s Ice Cream Shop in Valley Stream, Long Island. Many hours of her childhood were spent at the shop — scooping ice cream, greeting customers, and helping to open and close the store each day.
“Sometimes we even spent the night, so we wouldn’t waste any hours commuting,” she recalls, remembering there was a sofa specifically for that purpose.
Michelle's dad scoops up ice cream at the family's Carvel franchise in Long Island.
From an early age, Michelle understood that owning a business requires serious grit. Her parents, who emigrated from Hong Kong, both owned businesses. Her father owned the Carvel’s franchise and her mother owned a hair salon in Chinatown, NYC.
Michelle's family after immigrating to the US in the 1960's.
She tells the story of her mom convincing her dad to buy the ice cream shop.
"She saw the potential in it," Michelle explains. "She was a strong entrepreneur."
In addition to running her hair salon and helping with the Carvel's franchise, Michelle's mother worked in the Garment District in NYC.
Watching her parents manage their own small businesses really taught Michelle about the resilience and grit required to make it work.
"You're going to have a lot of highs, and you're going to have a lot of lows. And it's about just putting one foot in front of the other, and continuing to move forward because you feel so passionate about what you're doing."
Michelle's mom carries containers of ice cream at the shop
Even with this firsthand knowledge, Michelle says she’s always wanted to start her own business.
Maybe it’s because her childhood was shaped by small business or maybe it’s because entrepreneurship runs in her veins: when she came across a problem without a solution, she jumped at the chance to solve it.
Technology that Helps People
In college, Michelle continued to pursue business, receiving her bachelor’s degree in Economics and an MBA from Kellogg School of Management. She launched a career in the healthcare industry and spent years introducing innovative new technology and products that help people in their daily lives.
And that has become the theme of her professional pursuits.
Michelle working her first job out of college
In 2013, after moving to Missoula with her partner and spending countless hours driving around Montana, Idaho and Wyoming on sales calls, Michelle found herself in need of a solution for her own health. Her legs were tired and achy from hours sitting in the car. As an active person who rarely slows down, Michelle wanted to find relief. She asked a friend who is a physical therapist, and he suggested compression socks.
Compression socks weren’t on Michelle’s radar. Like many people, she had associated the medical accessory with people her grandparents’ age — not something a 30-year-old, healthy adult would wear.
The more she looked into the technology, however, the more she discovered that compression products have benefits that could help most people. The problem was — none of the products available were something that she would want to wear.
"I remember driving back from meeting with a friend and thinking about this idea to start a stylish compression sock company," Michelle retells. "I went home and wrote a complete business plan that weekend."
Inspiration had sparked. An entrepreneur’s interest was piqued.
And the journey to VIM & VIGR began.
Stay tuned for part 2 next week!
Watch Michelle tell the story:
Point(s) of No Return
Part two of a three-part series about Michelle's journey to build VIM & VIGR Compression Legwear.
When you ask Michelle about the early days of VIM & VIGR, she often refers to “points of no return.” These moments stand out as important markers in the whirlwind year of researching and launching a new brand.
After discovering her need for compression legwear and the lack of stylish options on the market, Michelle couldn’t shake the opportunity to create a product that could help everyday people.
“I became kind of obsessed with bringing the product to the market,” she reflects.
Being slightly obsessed meant devoting much of her free time to learning about manufacturing and apparel, all while maintaining her full-time job.
She started by looking for a manufacturer in the USA, but quickly found that the best technology wasn’t stateside. Taiwan began to emerge in her research as the leading manufacturer of graduated compression products. Michelle reached out to manufacturers she found on online marketplaces. She eventually narrowed it down to a manufacturer whose family had been in the business of knitting medical compression socks for over fifty years.
A Weekend Trip
One of the first “points of no return” was flying to Taiwan for the weekend to meet the manufacturer in person.
After identifying who she wanted to work with, Michelle’s mentor encouraged her to visit face-to-face. It was a huge commitment —of both time and money — but an important step to solidify the relationship.
Michelle with the thread that will be woven into compression socks
Ever since, Michelle has prioritized a strong relationship, communicating frequently and diligently and planning a trip to visit once a year.
“I have a lot of respect for our manufacturing partner. From the beginning, they shared my relentlessness for getting the product right and bringing something brand new to the market. We’ve worked together for a long time now, and a lot of that has been trial and error, going back and forth to refine our designs and fabric blends. They bring a lot of expertise to the table.”
A Telling Trade Show
The second “point of no return” was introducing the product to the public — or at least, a broader audience.
By this time, Michelle had been going back and forth with the manufacturer about samples for months. It took many iterations to get to a batch that captured what she wanted: appealing designs, a comfortable fit and a durable product.
Finally, she received samples she felt really good about. Just in time to attend the first trade show she’d booked months earlier.
The first trade show set-up
Even though she didn’t have product to sell yet, Michelle wanted to test the waters and see how retailers reacted to stylish compression socks.
“I had no idea how the industry worked, so I booked a trade show, dropped a couple thousand dollars, packed my car, and went in and exhibited at this show.”
And the feedback was resounding: people loved the socks.
The First Order
The third “point of no return” was the first order. Or rather, the first deposit.
“My first order was 10,000 pairs of socks,” she laughs. “People thought I was crazy.”
The first order (part of it, at least)
It was crazy — entrepreneurship often looks that way. She had to find somewhere to put all those socks. (10,000 socks = about 50 boxes!)
And yet, after four months, the first order sold out. The socks were a hit.
Stay tuned for Part 3 in a few days!
Watch Michelle tell the story
Part three of a three-part series about Michelle's journey to build VIM & VIGR Compression Legwear.
Ask any entrepreneur: the early days of a new business are both exciting and nerve-wracking.
With VIM & VIGR, Michelle dove in with both feet. The first order of 10,000 socks sat in a rented basement warehouse, and it was time to get to selling.
Early VIM & VIGR styles
Michelle made cold calls to potential retailers during long car drives for her job at the time. She remembers one call in particular, to a compression specialty store in Austin, TX.
“I called & asked if they were interested in bringing in a new line of compression socks,” Michelle recalls. “They were immediately dismissive, because they already carried several brands.”
Then she asked if any of the compression garments they carried were stylish — socks that people would actually want to wear.
She quickly had their attention, and not long after, her first official retailer.
“Every person who wanted to purchase, every new follower on social media, every new retailer made me want to shout from the rooftops,” Michelle says.
Hairstylists were early VIM & VIGR customers
Her proof of concept was working, and business quickly expanded beyond her circle of family and friends.
A lot of work needed to be done. The general perception of compression socks was ugly, nude socks that were neither comfortable nor classy. Michelle had a product that people were loving, but she was working to re-educate people about what compression legwear could be.
At the end of the first year, the New York Times helped spread the word. VIM & VIGR was featured in the fashion section: “Compression Socks and Hose are No Longer for Grandma.”
Word of mouth began to spread, and Michelle brought on more retail partners. In 2014, she expanded the collection to include style for men as well as women.
There were plenty of ups and downs — like receiving product that didn’t meet specs in the second production run. Moments like these shaped the brand, as Michelle navigated the apparel industry and upholding a commitment to deliver high-quality, effective products without exception.
But, Michelle never gave up. The relentless optimism that brought her idea to life has continued to fight for VIM & VIGR ever since.
“I think entrepreneurs are wired in a certain way,” Michelle told Pailor, an online community for entrepreneurs,in a recent interview.
“If it’s not VIM & VIGR, it’ll be something else that is going to keep [me] up at night because we [entrepreneurs] love to create things, we love to be challenged. I think this is a commonality that we see, and I think that that’s the reason why a community is essential to thriving. What we’re doing is very hard. And once you start down the entrepreneurial path, it’s very difficult to do anything else.”