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Conversation With Mica Cortez: FSU Student With Self-Owned Clothing Company

Mica Cortez is a 19-year-old sophomore from St. Petersburg, Florida at FSU who owns her own clothing business: MatchaMango. She’s currently double majoring in Advertising and Business Marketing. She’s involved with Filipino Student Association (FSA) and CapitILL State, FSA’s hip-hop dance team. She runs her own YouTube channel where she posts lifestyle videos. Additionally, she is in a band called Trash Cat and a volunteer graphic designer at the Student Life Cinema where she creates graphics for their Instagram page and other materials for their features. This week, I got to talk with Mica about everything regarding MatchaMango and the impact running it has had on her. 

Her Campus (HC): When did you first get the idea of starting your own clothing company? Did anyone in particular help you pursue that idea or motivate you?

Mica Cortez (MC): MatchaMango didn’t actually start out as a clothing or apparel company, but it all began with a keychain design. Around 2020, I saw many small business accounts on Instagram that created their own merch designs inspired by anime or K-Pop artists, which inspired me to create my own! I grew up attending my parents’ business conventions and listened to keynote speakers, such as Robert Kiyosaki, and knew from a young age that creating my own brand was what I wanted to do growing up. My family (mom, dad, brother and my dog Tickles, of course) helped foster an environment that motivated me to be a self-starter.

Another major factor in the creation of my own company was actually YouTubers like Michelle Phan, Joey Graceffa, LaurDIY and other creators from that era! Seeing them invest themselves into what they loved and turning it into their career heavily contributed to the drive and motivation I have today. At a young age, hearing inspirational and motivational advice from those I admired molded my mindset that I can do whatever I set my mind to. 

HC: What’s the meaning behind the name MatchaMango?

MC: Some people approach me and are in awe with how catchy “MatchaMango” is and are amazed by how I came up with the name, but sometimes I get shocked at how fast it came to me when I created it! I remember telling myself that I should not overthink the name too hard because I knew it would stress me out when I thought I would change it eventually. Evidently, it didn’t because I grew to love the name and attached my own meaning to it! I honestly took two things that I love and thought represented me well and put them together. On a deeper level, matcha was always a relaxing drink for me that helped me pause and think about the small things in life.

I wanted my small business to be a small joy in people’s lives like how matcha is for me! Whether or not my small business was a large influence in people’s lives, I am grateful that they took the time to let MatchaMango be part of it. The ‘Mango’ in “MatchaMango” represents me being a Filipina! I grew up with Filipino culture and wanted to incorporate it because I take a lot of pride in my roots. There was a point, with being Asian American, where I felt a major weight of guilt and invalidation because I thought “I was not Filipino enough”: I didn’t speak Tagalog, I wasn’t familiar with all the traditions and I wasn’t born in the Philippines. I wanted MatchaMango to help people take pride in who they are and not let others define them. Everyone has their own story to tell. I wish for everyone to feel confident in who they are and not compare themselves because they deserve to be loved for who they are.

HC: Why do you love MatchaMango? What inspires you every day to continue pursuing it?

MC: I love MatchaMango because it is serving a positive role in others’ lives. As I previously mentioned, I wish for everyone to feel confident in who they are. Growing up, it was difficult at times for me to say my favorite show because it was an anime my class would be unfamiliar with. Or my favorite song would be in a different language because it was K-Pop and I’d feel isolated from those who would enjoy more mainstream music. I don’t want anyone to feel like they need to hide who they are or erase their interests because it is an outlier to those around them. MatchaMango became a space for people to find subtle merch with interests that represent them.

It comforts me to know that MatchaMango helps foster a safe environment and contributes to individual growth toward confidence with each and every order. I receive little notes with orders at times for birthday or anniversary gifts and comments that they love my designs which warms my heart. One note I will never forget is that one customer found my Mikrokosmos Bucket Hat, which features lyrics from BTS’s song, “Mikrokosmos,” during a tough time as it reminded them of their mother after she passed. It was a shared song for them and it made me realize that I am leaving a bigger impact on people’s lives than I realize. Big or small, MatchaMango is helping people in a positive way which motivates me to keep pursuing it.

HC: What leads you to make specific decisions regarding the designs of your collections, like their color palette or style? Do your collections express a part of your identity or personality?

MC: My first collection, Emotion, was inspired by the memories I created during my first year at FSU! I started releasing my designs by collection to represent a chapter in my life where I learned a lesson or want to commemorate a time in my life that will hopefully inspire others. They are all pieces of me that I hope others get to learn something from. For the Emotion Collection, I learned that I needed to face all my feelings and accept them entirely. It is hard for me to acknowledge them from time to time and it was easier for me to brush off the moments I was sad or angry in order to move on.

Vulnerability was a weakness for me, but I met the most amazing community through FSA who helped and continue to help me be a better version of myself by accepting all parts of myself. My fear of others’ judgments declined after I met my friends who encouraged me to be who I am today. Ever since then, I was able to make new connections and accept new opportunities because I erased all self-doubt. Through these collections, I hope that others get to hear what they need in times of trouble because not everyone shares the same experiences. I take these lessons and associate them with specific colors in order to help express the chapter in my life. 

HC: How do you balance school work and having your own business? Does it ever get too much?

MC: The school work and business schedule definitely conflict at times and I would be lying if I ever said it didn’t. Many business owners will say that as the CEO of your own company you can set your own work schedule. While this is a major advantage compared to other jobs out there, it can be a setback if you do not manage your time properly. I constantly use my planner on Notion and make sure that the intended time for me to complete a task is within that time. It does get overwhelming every so often because sometimes I can get caught up in my schedule that I lose myself, which is completely normal to experience for students, that you don’t even realize that you are actually exhausted. The work-life balance can be difficult at times but the “hustle” lifestyle is what I enjoy! All the highs and lows are worth figuring out and experiencing because it always circles back to the multiple reasons why I do what I love. If you truly have a passion for something, it is always worth putting the 100% effort and going through all the rough patches to create the end project.

HC: What have been some of your challenges in producing your first designs and how did you overcome them?

MC: The first series of keychains I designed included a shaker keychain, where there were pieces that rattled inside the keychain. It was my Soot Sprite Boba Keychain that made me realize I needed to consider the physical product as opposed to just a digital design. The communication between my manufacturer was something new to me because it was easier for me to just show an idea rather than explain it. I had to think of whether or not something needed to be mirrored on the other side of the keychain, what size I wanted the keychain, the type of material, how big the shaker pieces needed to be, how many to include inside and other factors I overlooked. My grades ended up dropping down to B’s because my design was very demanding and I didn’t think of the logistics beforehand.

There are many behind the scenes that I had no clue existed (recording finances, analyzing how a product sold, what social media platforms work best) and I had to learn it all at 17 years old. Since then, I learned to really imagine the tangible product in my hand and think of the whole process leading up to the customer receiving it because the small details matter. Especially with MatchaMango being a small business, I cannot afford to make as many mistakes as larger corporations. Everything needs to take its own time and I cannot rush the process if I want it to match my vision.

HC: What is your favorite design/item you’ve produced so far?

MC: My favorite item has to be the Tote-toro Bag. This was an idea that I had for a long time and it was not until this year that it became real. Many of my most popular designs sit in my archives for a while before I actually put them into production because I would doubt it was good enough. I usually think some products need to have intricate designs and more effort or time dedicated to them but some ideas come instantly and are well-loved by my consumers! 

HC: Has there been a fan favorite in terms of sales/comments you’ve received?

MC: The products with the most comments and are well-loved are my BTS bucket hats including Mikrokosmos, Spring Day, We Are Bulletproof Pt. 2 and Butterfly. These hats are very special to me because they feature lyrics of songs I love from BTS and I know their music provides a lot of comfort to others. I often hear that these hats act as a reminder for themselves of the respective meaning of the songs which makes me beyond happy that something I made could impact their lives like that.

HC: Do you have any advice for anyone afraid or hesitant to start their own small business? Would you say it’s worth it? 

MC: Go for it! Easier said than done, but in reality, what’s stopping you? You don’t need to be Apple or Google from the start, but you just need an idea that YOU believe is worth sharing. As long as your intentions and passion show through in your work, there is no doubt that there will be a community to embrace it. I definitely had my hesitations and hiccups in committing to a business and still get frantic before each launch, however, it’s all exciting! Dive straight into it whether or not people believe you or not. All it takes is for you to believe in yourself and have the confidence that you can do it. It will all be worth it because, at the end of the day, you get to do something that you love!

HC: Lastly, do you have any future plans for MatchaMango?

MC: Another collection called “Youth” will be released before the end of November with a few new products and restocks! The meaning behind it is to focus on the present and embrace the “now.” I want to encourage people to take the leap of faith. Time slips very easily and people can get caught up in what they plan to do tomorrow, the next five years or ten years. Many will become blinded by this that they forget about the present. I want people to remember to be present and to have no fear of doing what may be impossible. This collection aligns with a lot of the advice I mentioned previously. 

More details of Mica’s new collection will be released on her Instagram, @matchamango.co, so stick around for that! Mica’s shop, Etsy, Facebook, personal YouTube account and personal Instagram can all be found in this linktree. Gaining insight into Mica’s life and her journey with MatchaMango was super cool and admirable! If you found Mica’s dedication to her business and her story to be inspirational like I did, make sure to follow her on her social media platforms and check out her designs on MatchaMango.

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Hi! I'm Deniz. I'm an international student from Turkey, and a sophomore at FSU, majoring in communications and media studies! I love creating and sharing things and enjoy music, art, and writing :)