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#BoldBossTribe :: Phuong Mai of P.MAI

Bold & Pop #BoldBossTribe Feature with Founder Phuong Mai of P.MAI
Bold & Pop #BoldBossTribe Feature with Founder Phuong Mai of P.MAI

Tell us your bold boss story!: 

Handbags are a pain—literally. But they don’t have to be. Here’s my story on how I decided to change that.

I started my career in management consulting. While it was an incredible learning experience, the job took a toll on me physically. Client visits meant I was living out of suitcase and racking up points like nobody’s business. I still remember the routine. On Mondays, I would head to the airport at an ungodly hour with several bags carrying everything I needed for the week. I’d lug my laptop and purse everywhere on one shoulder, working from the client site to my hotel room. Wash, rinse, and repeat. By Thursday night, I’d returned home with enough energy to lie comatose in my bed.

Needless to say, the physical stress on my body eventually caught up to me. The slight discomfort in my right shoulder I noticed early on grew into an excruciating pain. Exasperated, I visited my doctor who detected the uneven weight from my bags had misaligned my collarbone. She ordered me to switch to a backpack immediately for better weight distribution and to reduce the risk of pinch nerves on my one shoulder.

That doctor’s visit served as a wake-up call. No woman should ever have to sacrifice her health for fashion. I went straight to a department store to trade in my clunky laptop bag and purse for an accessory I thought I had resigned to my school days: a backpack. I was less than pleased with the options available. All the backpacks large enough to fit my laptop and personal items were extremely utilitarian and masculine, and all the fashionable backpacks were too small to fit my laptop. In the end, I could not find a single backpack that combined fashion with function, and had to settle for a sporty black unisex backpack.

Bold & Pop #BoldBossTribe Feature with Founder Phuong Mai of P.MAI

While I had to compromise (temporarily at least) my choice of accessory, I decided I could no longer compromise my health for my profession. I left my management consulting job and began working at a boutique strategy and design consulting firm. This experience taught me the power of design thinking and encouraged me to take the first steps towards designing the bag I wanted to buy: a fashionable, functional laptop bag for women. As I talked to more and more women about what they wanted in a bag, I realized that most shared my frustration. They realized their overweight handbags were causing strain on their bodies, but didn’t feel as though they had any other choice. This was when I knew there was a significant market need for the bag I wanted to design.

I eventually left my job and decided to take the leap to create my own brand with a simple philosophy: combine luxury and utility into products that inspire women to look and feel their best. I believe women should not have to sacrifice comfort for style. With the launch of P.MAI, we’re now giving women around the world the new option to carry a backpack worthy of the boardroom and runway. Nothing gives me more pleasure than hearing from customers, who have told me that they can’t imagine going back to a handbag now. To think that none of this would’ve been possible without my misaligned collarbone and the courage to lean in to create a bag that allows women to prioritize their own health is truly humbling.

We're all about bold boss moments, tell us about one of yours!: 

In terms of a bold boss moment, I do have a funny story. Being an entrepreneur means constantly putting yourself out there—even in the face of naysayers. Once, I saw Tyra Banks walking down the streets of San Francisco, down the block from where I used to lived. She was popping in and out of some shops and so I nervously followed her, waiting for the right moment to talk to her. As she was coming out of the store, I said, "Excuse me, Tyra?" and she immediately waved me off, not in a mean way, more like in a "half-sorry, I don't want to be bothered-way". While I felt shut down at first, I decided to persevere and confidently said "I designed this backpack and just want to know what you think!". She turned around, smiles, checked out the bag, and gave me two thumbs ups. It was a small moment that took a total of a few minutes—but it was a reminder to me that you have nothing to lose when you ask.

Starting my own business and getting recognized by media like TechCrunch has been one of my proudest achievements. 

What advice or words of encouragement do you have for the Bold Boss Tribe?: 

The hardest part won’t be quitting your day job to make the entrepreneurial leap, but actually working hard to see your idea through—every day, hour by hour, through the doubts and setbacks. Learn to be ok with ambiguity. Lean into your strengths and ask for help in areas where you have gaps. Yes, it will probably take 3x as long and 3x as much as you expected. But if you’re solving a problem that you truly believe in, it will be worth it!

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P.S. Exciting news! We launched a free #BoldBossTribe Facebook Group and would love for you to join us! Come on over!

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