We sat down with founder Michael Saiger to learn about the story and passion behind Miansai, the industry-renowned brand that took “man-jewelry” from pejorative slang to preternatural success.
Having lived in Miami for a year, I’m familiar with the city’s obtuse yet unique draw. So when Michael Saiger speaks of its charms, I understand what he means.
“I’m going to stay down here,” says the New York native. “I love it. When you grow up in the cold weather and you come down here, it’s a paradise. I was like ‘screw that, I’m never going back to the cold!’”
Michael’s Miami is probably a bit different than the one in your mind. Sure, it’s home to the most transient populous in the nation, atrocious customer service, and a strange absence of curbs. But it’s also home to a transcendentally beautiful coastline, the best Vaca Frita in the world, and up and coming arts districts like the fantastic Wynwood neighborhood. And, perhaps most importantly for Mr. Saiger, it’s the home of his brainchild, the well-known yet brilliantly unique accessories brand, Miansai.
“My mom has an antique store, so I grew up on estate sales and all that kind of stuff,” Michael explains. “I grew up collecting things. So it was just second nature to me. And my mom has incredible taste. She’s an interior designer as well. I was just brought up around that kind of stuff.”
From a young age, Michael knew he wanted to be in a creative field. He just didn’t know how, exactly. Until he moved from New York to attend the University of Miami, where his college girlfriend challenged him to build a piece of jewelry (after he was unimpressed with a necklace she had made). Michael accepted the challenge with gusto.
Without much in the way of men’s jewelry to inspire him (puka shells and gold chains the embellishments du jour in Miami at the time), Michael took to his own creativity. The result was an empty bullet casing strung on a piece of leather cord into a bracelet. Whether or not his girlfriend was impressed, others were. And after he received inquiries from multiple friends on where he got the bracelet — he had made it himself, thank you very much — Michael realized he was onto something. Seeing other men’s interest in his jewelry affirmed there was a place in the market to capitalize on the category, a rare but real gap in an increasingly crowded industry.
“I had been looking for jewelry for myself for a while,” Michael tells us. “I wanted a simple bracelet and there was really nothing for a normal dude at an acceptable price point. I thought, ‘How is no one doing this?’ So I started making more items, just doing it based off my passion to make things. My main thing was that if a guy will wear a watch, he would wear this. Stuff he’d wear every single day. Wear it in the shower. Really use it.’”
Drawing from nostalgia — particularly that of childhood summer camp bracelets — Michael designed what would go on to become one of Miansai’s signature pieces: the “Hook on Rope Bracelet”. If you’re familiar with Miansai already, this is probably the product you’ve seen. It’s an iconic, nautically-inspired design — a simple cord with a hook on the end — that has evolved over the years into a line of bracelets made from everything from classic maritime rope to shark leather, the hooks ranging from silver to gold to matte black.
As interest in his creations grew, Michael knew his business needed a brand, something the marketing major was equally eager to build. First things first? A name.
“I needed to come up with the name of it,” says Michael. “I went through 250 names. I knew I wanted to do an international brand, and you have to earn the marks and everything like that. Make sure they are all available in all the countries and even the domains. I went through literally the whole list of 250 names and there were only five that weren’t taken. And I didn’t like any of them,” he says with a laugh.
At some point in the process, he looked down at his full name, written out on a piece of paper — Michael Andrew Saiger — and started circling letters. Michael Andrew Saiger: M-I-A-N-S-A-I. “I was like, ‘Fuck it. It’s done. That’s it.’”
His junior year of college, Michael was making and selling his goods to a local Miami store called Base on Lincoln Road. “That was my first store,” says Michael. “I was just making this stuff and just bringing it in and it was selling. I was like, ‘Great, this is awesome. Extra spending money in college.’” But instead of spending money on the typical collegiate entrapments, the young founder was, wisely, investing everything he made right back into the business. Buying equipment, higher quality materials, and bettering his production process.
It’s an investment that has more than paid off. Since it’s launch in 2008, Miansai has become a household name in menswear. Covered extensively by men’s magazines as the accessories trend blossomed in the early 2010’s — and picked up by major retailers like J.Crew and Neiman Marcus — Miansai has witnessed a massive amount of success. With stores in LA and New York, a rapidly growing women’s line, and expansion into new categories (bags being one of which we’re especially fond), Michael has his hands quite full. And yet, he exhibits a dedication to keeping things close. To keeping them tight. His brand’s integrity is of highest value.
“It’s all the little things that you care about that build longevity for a brand: where we sell, who we associate ourselves with, the materials that go into the product. There are so many little aspects that go into it, but it’s just doing something right. You can make a table that that’s been veneered or you can make one with solid walnut. It’s just about doing it right. For me, it’s always about making the best decision for the business. It’s evolved, but I’m really particular about the integrity of the brand. Because I hate when brands sell out. It’s my baby, so I’m never going to do that. The integrity of the brand is my main focus.”
Part of that integrity means keeping things close to home. From his sketchbook to in-house molds, melting metals, and final assembly, every piece of Miansai jewelry is conceptualized and designed by Michael and made locally in Miami. And he seeks inspiration from his immediate surroundings as well.
“It’s a consistent, ongoing thing for me. I’m constantly getting inspired by different things. And I basically archive them into my photo library. I can’t be creative and do stuff with the business at the same time…they’re two different worlds for me. So doing a new collection, I have to detach myself from everything at work that doesn’t have to do with design. I kind of hibernate from everyone. I just bought a house next to the Standard. A little two-bedroom house that’s right on the water. In the morning sometimes I’ll work out and go running. Or I’ll take my paddleboard out and go out for an hour and a half and get a good workout.”
Wherever inspiration strikes, be it on the ocean, from within his photo library, or born of his love of mid-century modern furniture and antiques, Michael has found within himself an alignment of talent and history and dedication and passion. The result of that alignment is Miansai: beautiful yet masculine, industrial yet whimsical, fresh yet relatable.
“I always knew I wanted to create something,” says Michael. “And I guess I found my way. I was meant to do this.”