Handmade Holiday Gift Guide • Chocolate Milke

Instagram: @chocolate_milke,
Facebook: @ChocolateMilkeApparel
Twitter: @chocolatemilke1
Pinterest: @chocolatemilke

Regular: 12/16
Priority: 12/20
International: 12/5

Angela in her own words...

Do you have any fun nicknames? How did you get them?
Punky Brewster - I got this name from my parents.  As a kid, I loved dressing up in crazy outfits and loading on accessories like bangles and bandanas.
Charlie Hustle - I was on my husband’s theater’s softball team and people would laugh at practice when I’d run full tilt, and then dive into the dirt to get a fly ball.  I always give 110% to whatever I do.

Tell us about you!
My family is from Pittsburgh, PA.  I grew up in Simi Valley, California and now live in Redondo Beach.  It’s pretty quiet, but full of lovely people and fun things to do.  We love going to the Redondo Beach Pier.  

I’m married to an amazing actor and father - Mike Lanahan (you may have seen him for about 2 seconds when he slams a door in Frankie Valli’s face on Jersey Boy's) - and together, we have a precocious 3-year-old daughter named Finley Rose.  She’s a little pistol…just like her mama.

I love to exercise, but rarely have time since starting my business.  Yoga has played a major role in my life over the course of many years.  I love doing flowly, level 2/3 classes and really sweating out my problems.  lol.

My other big joy is cooking. I used to have a cooking blog called $h*t I Bake: http://stuffibake.blogspot.com.  We’ve been featured on Slate.com, among other places.  It’s completely dropped off since my daughter was born.  I still cook often, but haven’t had time to document with photos and posts.

What is the name of your business and what is it you make? 
My company is called Chocolate Milke.  We make crazy soft leggings from eco-bamboo fabrics.  Our products are sewn with flat-lock machinery, so they are awesome for being active in.  Because of the gorgeous hand-dyed effects and super duper soft hand-feel, they also work well for chasing your child at the playground or upgrading the leggings you wear out for errands.  They can be styled up or down, so our stuff is totally versatile.  My girlfriends call them #nakedyoga pants.
How did you start your business? How has it evolved?
I’ve been a Designer and Design Director in the fashion industry for about 15 years.  When my daughter was 1 1/2 years old she started getting really high fevers every few days, and just stopped sleeping.   She was sick all the time, and my husband and I took turns sitting on the couch all night and holding her upright, so she could breath and sleep.  Finally we took her in for surgery - removing her adenoid and putting tubes in here ears.  
While we were in the thick of her health problems, I was launching a new active line at a multi-million dollar company.  Even though they had financial resources, our team was incredibly small, so I was working 12-14 hour days and full weekends.  The management there had unrealistic expectations of what could be done, so I was pushing myself daily to do impossible amounts of work.  I started having panic attacks and lost over 15 pounds from anxiety.  I knew, for my child, that I needed to make a change so I took a huge leap of faith and quit.

I’ve always wanted to have my own business, but it took me fully burning out to finally have the courage to take the leap.  We had saved a down payment for a house but decided instead to sink it into Chocolate Milke.  I started 1 year ago with 1 kids legging.  It came in 4 sizes and 4 colors.  Since then, we’ve introduced adult leggings and mommy & me dresses as well.  We’ve grown to include over 100 SKUs.  I found an investor to help us keep growing.  We are planning big numbers for 2017!

What is the meaning of your business name? How did you come up with it? 
When I was a kid, my mom would give me chocolate milk as a special treat.  If I got hurt, it was always chocolate milk to comfort me.  I now have Sunday Starbucks dates with my daughter, where she always orders chocolate milk and a scone or muffin.  It’s something special and different but not too far of a leap from the everyday.  It’s comforting.  

What is your biggest dream for you and your business?
The business was always intended to have a give-back angle.  Similar to a Toms, but instead of the 1-for-1 model, we’d give a percentage of sales to charities that teach leadership skills to girls and young women (such as SheJumps.org, Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls (amysmartgirls.com) and GirlsLeadership.org)  My dream is that we will get big enough in our units to really drop our price of goods, allowing us the margin to partner with these charities and using Chocolate Milke to make a difference in the issues that are closest to my heart.

I’d also eventually like to buy a home and convert the garage into our office and photo studio.  I love working from home and as we grow, I want to keep the connection to home and family an important angle to what we do.

What is your favorite part? The part you don’t care for as much? 
My favorite part is how freaking much I am learning.  I’m a great designer, but that piece is so little.  I have met people who are helping me with marketing, with my website, with collaborations and social media growth.  I feel like I’m on a crash course to being a real entrepreneur and finally at a place where I am advising mom bosses like myself who are just getting started.  I love meeting our fans and followers at these markets and events, as well.  The makers community is lovely and I’ve really enjoyed becoming a part of it.

I don’t care much for book-keeping, planning and running our numbers.  But I have to do it if we are going to have the growth I want.

What is something we wouldn’t know about you or your business?
At one point we made woven rompers and crocheted scarves.  When I was trying to get traction for us, I was testing a lot of different items.  Ultimately, it’s important to focus on one thing and to be the very best at it.  That’s the model we are following with our leggings.  

What has been your biggest accomplishment so far?
Alyssa Milano posted about our leggings on her Instagram.   I’ve been such a huge fan of hers since the days of “Whose the Boss”.  She is an outspoken proponent of breastfeeding and she seems like an incredible mom.  I totally freaked when I saw her post.  

What are your plans for the holidays? What is your favorite way to spend the holidays? Favorite traditions?
We typically go to Virginia, and then Pennsylvania, to visit with our families, but this year we are doing something completely different.  My husband is performing in a musical Off-Broadway, for the month of December (NY peeps, here is the shameless plug - go see His Royal Hipness Lord Buckley - http://www.59e59.org/moreinfo.php?showid=267).  Finley and I are flying to New York and we’ll be celebrating Christmas there with Mike, his co-star Jake and Jake’s family. My daughter can’t stop talking about the trip.  She is so excited and so am I.  I can’t wait to show her this city that I love so much.  We will be ice-skating, drinking hot chocolate and checking out the amazing store-front displays.

What does shopping small mean to you? 
Several things…  
For the customer it means a personal relationship to the maker you are buying from.  If you have a question and send an email, you will hear from the person responsible for every aspect of your order.  

It also means limited edition.  These aren’t mass-produced items so, similar to thrifting or inheriting  a special piece of jewelry, you own something that is rare and special.  Not everyone can go and buy it from Target.  Our leggings are hand-dyed in Downtown Los Angeles at a small, family-owned dye house.  Every one is a little different making it 100% unique.

Lastly, your purchases go directly to paying someone’s mortgage, or getting their child ballet lessons…not part of a CEO’s giant bonus at the end of a year.  That part really sunk in for me when I got started.  I’m hyper aware now of small businesses and boutiques in our area.  I do my best to give them my business first, before going to a chain for purchases.  This holiday I’ve pledged to only shop small for my gifts.

Why is handmade so important?
I truly believe handmade is the future.  Without getting (too) political, most Americans are frustrated with jobs being sent overseas, yet so many people shop at Walmart - the largest perpetuator of incredibly low prices that can only occur with outsourcing to 3rd world countries.  I’ve been to factories in China, Sri Lanka, India and Vietnam and I’ve watched as companies I worked for had to jump to different countries as prices went up.  Chinese workers have left factories now that there are better options, such as working at the mall (because it has air conditioning and most factories do not.)  Fewer people are producing in China now.  Many companies are even going to Bangladesh and parts of South Africa to make clothing as cheaply as possible.

I think customers are having doubt in these big corporations who turn incredible profits by doubling and tripling the mark-ups on goods made for pennies overseas.  As a community, we love the uniqueness of a hand-made, small-batch items.  We also know there is true love put into a handmade product and, even thought it may cost a bit more, in exchange for our purchases we get quality and the knowledge that we are doing something better for ourselves and our community.  

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