Real Talk With Michelle Huie, Founder of VIM & VIGR
After hunting fruitlessly for a cute pair of compression socks, Michelle Huie decided to take matters into her own hands. VIM & VIGR (her company of super cute compression socks) has solved the problem, and is now a successful brand that appeals to anyone in need of compression socks they aren’t embarrassed to wear. Did I mention she did this while also holding her full-time job in pharmaceutical sales? For an insightful look into her journey and lessons, read on.
Name: Michelle Huie
Location: Missoula, MT
Title: Founder and President
Company: VIM & VIGR
What it is: A line of high-quality compression legwear that combines advanced technology and fashionable designs
Educational Background: B.A. from the University of Chicago in economics and an MBA from Kellogg Northwestern School of Management in marketing, management, and entrepreneurship.
Why did you start VIM & VIGR?
VIM & VIGR started from personal necessity. I was motivated to create VIM & VIGR because I needed an extra health boost to help counteract a job that kept me sitting for most of the day. I quickly discovered compression socks and noticed the amazing health benefits right away, like how increasing circulation kept me energized and reduced leg swelling or achiness.
But my options were extremely limited; everything on the market was geared toward the ultra-athlete or were very medical looking compression socks. I wanted to create a high-quality brand that complemented my style and allowed me to wear compression socks throughout the day without trying to hide them.
What was the inspiration behind the brand name?
VIM & VIGR was derived from the old idiom “vim & vigor,” meaning full of vitality and energy. I wanted to put some energy and excitement into the old notion of what compression socks had fallen into. Our compression socks aid in re-energizing tired, achy legs so the name felt very fitting.
What is your typical day like?
The first thing I do to make sure I start my day off right is I get a good night of sleep. I sleep eight to nine hours a night and it’s extremely important to me because when I don’t – I’m not as productive throughout the day. Biologically, when you get one night of bad sleep, you can’t “make it up” in the future. I know an unusual amount about healthy sleeping habits because I’ve worked in the healthcare industry primarily in Neurology and Sleep Medicine for more than 14 years. I’m also currently reading Arianna Huffington’s book, “The Sleep Revolution,” and the book completely touches upon the same ethos of rest and balance.
Most recently, I’ve been either hiking or running in the morning. I’m not a morning person, but I fell into a bad habit of getting up and going right to work – before I knew it, it would be 7 p.m. and I would be too hungry and tired to work out. This helps wake me up and breathe in some fresh Montana air. The rest of the day varies depending on my schedule. You may not know, but I actually still have a full-time job in pharmaceutical sales while also managing the VIM & VIGR team so I need to prioritize my time very tightly. I spend the day in my sales job and spend evening and weekends working on VIM & VIGR. I generally stop working at around 7 p.m. and have dinner with my family and friends and I usually work for a few more hours before I go to bed – around midnight.
How do you promote engagement with your customers on social media?
We have a great social media team that has our brand personality and creativity locked in. The best way that our team engages with our followers is posting valuable content and being authentic. Sometimes new customers have questions about what compression is, or how to pick out the right sock or size for their needs. We make sure that our posts and social platforms are very welcoming so they feel comfortable asking questions. I think our followers appreciate this personal approach.
How did your family and upbringing influence you as an entrepreneur?
I would have to say that my mom was the most influential person in laying the foundation for me to become an entrepreneur. My parents immigrated to NYC from Hong Kong in the ‘60s. When they moved here my dad was a server and my mom worked as a seamstress in the garment district of NYC.
My mom was always a dreamer and had all of these plans to start businesses. Her first business was a hair salon in NYC Chinatown where women would spend all day chain smoking, playing mahjong, and having their hair coiffed. The salon was a special haven for women within the community. She also pushed my dad to buy a small ice cream franchise in Long Island, which my dad owned until he retired about 10 years ago. My mother unfortunately passed away from breast cancer when I was 15, but I think that her adventurous and entrepreneurial spirit is still with me.
Walk me through your creative process when creating the designs.
I’m constantly looking for inspiration everywhere I go. I may see a great rug pattern or painting and it inspires different designs and color combinations. I generally like to take classic or timeless designs and modernize the design and incorporate great color combinations. Because socks are inherently an accessory item, I do look at what patterns and colors various designers are using to make sure that our socks can pair well with what the consumer is wearing.
Luckily, we have great textile designers and some have had experience working with major fashion houses such as Ralph Lauren and Tommy Hilfiger. Because our socks must meet the requirements of a graduated compression sock, the designs have to be great but not overly complicated where it has any impact on the health benefits. In addition to all of the internal testing, we also send our socks to third-party testing facilities just to make sure everything meets our standards.
As founder, what are the guiding principles you want the company to follow?
I want VIM & VIGR to be authentic. We are a brand that appeals to a lot of different kinds of people; to nurses, expecting mothers, those with chronic conditions like Diabetes, athletes, desk workers…I could keep going. At the end of the day, VIM & VIGR is a brand that helps people from all walks of life feel and look like the best version of themselves. I think that is pretty powerful and we don’t need to try to be anything other than that.
What was the biggest challenge of starting VIM & VIGR?
I would say that it’s hard to not second-guess yourself. It’s important to be cautious, but if you put the time into understanding your market and doing your due diligence, there comes a point where you just have to go for it. I remember when I was ready to pay for the inventory for my first production run after finalizing the prototypes. It was kind of a “point of no return” for me because I knew that once I had the product, I would have to be very focused to build the VIM & VIGR brand and get my product and message out there.
How do you define success?
I define success by how well I sleep at night. One of my principles is to always take the high road and make sure that I operate with integrity. It doesn’t mean everyone has to always like you or the decisions that you make, but actions do have to be thoughtful and fueled by good intentions.
For me, success is less about money – I have turned down business opportunities when I’ve felt that it wasn’t a good fit for the company or if I feel like taking on a retailer would really affect the relationship that I have with current retailers. In a given day, there are hundreds of decisions that I have to make and if you operate with this ethos, you can’t really go wrong.
What’s been the most surprising thing you’ve learned from starting your own company?
How little control you actually have on your brand and company. The only thing you can do is set a good example for your team, create the building blocks for success, and let your team and your customers take it from there. It really takes a village and I’m grateful for my amazing and dedicated team that truly believes in the product and what we do everyday.
How do you balance work with your personal life?
It can get stressful at times being an entrepreneur. I find running or hiking is the best way for me to de-stress. VIM & VIGR is based in Missoula, Montana so we have the most breathtaking places to run or hike. Your only concern is encountering wild animals, which can happen!
I also love to cook and I find the entire process to be extremely therapeutic. We have the best farmers markets in Missoula, so picking local produce that’s grown and sold by the local farmer and converting that to a delicious meal for family and friends is the best way to unwind.
What’s your favorite way to wear VIM & VIGR socks?
Much of this depends on my plans for the day! When I head to the gym, I often wear my nylon or moisture-wick nylon socks because I like a thinner sock for workouts. However, during the winter, I love wearing the wool collection because of the added warmth.
We created different patterns and four different fabrics so that people have styling and color options to fit their needs and preferences throughout the year. A priority of mine in creating VIM & VIGR was that there was a stylish compression option for many uses all year round—I think we made it impossible to have a favorite way to wear them because they are so versatile.
Last modified on November 7th, 2016