Hannah started selling vintage items on Depop when she was 13 to keep her occupied while battling a chronic illness. 4 years later, she’s started making some of the cutest masks that are taking over Pinterest. Here Hannah spoke to us about what the last 4 years has been like, her inspiration.
Hi Hannah! How did you start Shop Mei?
On my first day of freshman year of high school, I got really sick and I thought it was just the flu but it was actually a chronic illness. I started my shop as a way to make money from home without having to get a job or anything like that. I started with vintage clothing and ever since I was little my mom and I would go thrifting together. I would always find stuff that I thought was cool but it didn’t fit me or fit with my style and I thought other people would like it.
I started making masks in March for friends and family, they told me to turn it into a business and I didn’t think it would actually be successful. I sew everything myself, I’ve known how to sew since I was 8 or 9. I stopped sewing for a while but I picked it back up during quarantine.
What have the last 4 years been like for you?
I think it’s instilled a lot of independence in me because I’m not relying on anyone else for my income. As well, I’ve had my own schedule and when I was really sick I would work for an hour a day but as I’ve been getting better I’ve been focusing on Shop Mei everyday.
I actually was putting little effort into my Depop and doing a few drops when I could but a few girls that were Instagram famous started messaging me. They asked me if I was going to start an Instagram and a website. That’s when I kind of realized that I could actually turn this into a business.
And what has been quite challenging over the last 4 years?
I think definitely time management. Right now I’m working on my college applications and have a lot of homework. It also takes time to get materials, iron everything and sewing is quite time intensive. It’s a difficult process to balance all the parts of the process because it’s just me and I feel like sometimes people don’t understand that. Sometimes it can get really overwhelming as well.
Sydney wearing the Leopard Lace mask
You make some of the most original mask designs I’ve seen, where did you get your ideas for your mask designs from?
The main thing I wanted to do was to create something that was unique but that was also helping people. I saw all these tops on Depop that were from the Y2K era and they had a lace and ribbon threaded through it. I didn’t know how to make tops like that but I thought, what else can I make and I already knew how to make masks. So I just joined the two together. They’re cute and fun but they also protect them.
How did you decide on the name Shop Mei?
It’s actually my dog’s name. I got her when I started to get sick and she was my comfort animal throughout that, she was really cute and I thought I would name my shop after her.
What’s a highlight since starting Shop Mei?
Recently when I’ve done a drop, I just get a lot of notifications on my phone and I feel so happy. I sell out like in 30 seconds and then I get people messaging me and I can’t believe that many people are interested in my business!
How have you managed your chronic illness, schoolwork, a business and a social life?
I was actually talking about that with my college counsellor recently and I have absolutely no idea how I got here. I think at the beginning, I wasn’t prioritising my health but now I’m trying a lot harder to balance everything and not overwork myself. The problem with my illness is that if I overwork myself then it gets worse and so I try not to push myself. It basically feels like I didn’t have the same adolescence and feels like I’ve had to grow up a lot faster than everyone else.
How has missing out on the typical high school experience impacted you?
I’m definitely more grateful that it happened. If I could undo it I wouldn’t because it’s given me a wealth of experience that I think I wouldn’t have gone through otherwise. I have a different perspective on life, I’m able to be more empathetic to others because of what I’ve gone through.
What do you want to do after school?
When I was younger I really wanted to be a fashion designer and that was more of a fantasy but now that I’ve thought about it, I think to be successful in fashion you sometimes have to start with a smaller job. It’s all about making connections which can be really hard to do, you have to market yourself. That industry is a bit hard to break into as a newbie.
Are you quite a big vintage shopper yourself?
Yeah, definitely. The funny thing is it’s mainly my mom, she goes to the thrift store everyday and if I tell her I want something she magically finds something in the next few days. She’s like my fashion fairy godmother. I get a lot of inspiration from social media and old TV shows that I watch. It’s hard to pinpoint an exact style icon and I have so many style influences like Devon Aoki.
What’s a movie that you can always watch without fail?
Oh, 10 Things I Hate About You. I’m obsessed with it and Kat Stratford is everything I want to be.
When do you feel the most empowered?
I think it’s cool to see all these teen girls starting their own business and seeing other girls supporting each other. We’re all connected in a way through Instagram and it’s a really supportive community.
Have you experienced any racism growing up?
The town I live in is just filled with rich white people, the demographic is just 99% white people. I’ve witnessed a lot of casual racism from other Asians at my school and I feel like they make a lot of jokes to make themselves fit in.
I think because of the racism that I’ve encountered and the town that I live in is such a bubble, I think that it definitely shaped me to not be like that. I want to surround myself with people who are different and don’t follow the status quo.
Yeah, I get that. If you weren’t living in the US, where would you like to live?
Tokyo! I went there when I was really sick and it was just so cool, it’s everything I want in life. The fashion, the food, the culture, it’s all out of a dream.
Interviewed by Anna Lowe