Mimi the Sardine is a children’s eating accessories company and the brainchild of the jovial, red-haired woman living in the San Francisco Bay Area, Pia Andersson. Who is Pia Andersson? She will tell you she is just an average gal from western Sweden who moved to the land of opportunity because of love—like so many who came before her.
She will also tell you that she is a mompreneur—an expression only for people in the know, it seems—but this epithet actually describes Andersson quite well.
Her journey started in 1988 when she arrived in California, living as a stay at home mom. Andersson quickly recognized the business opportunity before her as she crafted a bib for her toddler out of the waxed fabric of her tablecloth. Realizing that she might be on to something, Andersson sent her bib invention to a mail-order company, only for it to be instantly approved and leaving the mail-order company asking for more, much more.
The garage-startup soon found itself accepting industrial scale orders as the fax machine spit out requests for 30, 40 and 50 thousand items. All the while Andersson was still in the phase of accepting her newfound role as business owner. “What did I know about production, about big orders? I had to learn everything from scratch,” she says about those first hectic months, adding that her only real investment at the time was an $800 sewing machine.
Fast forward to the early 2000s, and the company was up and running with a whole team of creative workers undergirding the success of the company. Meanwhile, the news reports from China told stories about lead-infused products being sold to the U.S. and families all over the world. The resulting backlash from parents concerned with the medical repercussions and the resulting “green wave” of newfound interest in all things ecological made Whole Foods, a chain of supermarket stores and the world leader in organic foods, turn to Mimi the Sardine as its supplier of children’s eating accessories.
The Mimi the Sardine enterprise, whose name derives from a French children’s tale, is considered a U.S. market leader in its particular juvenile products market sector, and it recently became the first recipient of the 2010 Swedish Bay Area Achievement Award (SBAAA) in the Business category, further strengthening the company brand.
“It works out perfectly for us. The SBAAA is a true honor and just the type of positive attention we are in need of and looking for,” Andersson said of the award, broaching the subject of the company’s future. “We have a tremendous company based on Swedish cutting-edge green textile technology, producing honest and functional products according to our motto: Eat, spill, be happy! It’s a bold, happy Swedish design that speaks to everybody.”
All Mimi the Sardine merchandise is produced locally in the Bay Area using ecologically sound, high-end acrylic coated organic cotton imported from Sweden, which meets the Oeko-Tex 100 Standard European textile safety standard. Retail market leaders who cater to the health conscious consumers like Giggle, Land of Nod and Whole Foods, are some of their biggest customers. In 2010 they started distributing their products to retailers in Japan, Australia, New Zealand and Canada.
“We are currently looking for a partnership to help us expand into previously untapped markets here in the U.S. and overseas. We have the infrastructure and the Swedish do-it-right mentality but lack the reach and financial clout of a bigger partner-company,” Andersson said.
By Michael Strom