Phuong Mai
Founder of p.mai

Phuong, how would you introduce yourself in one sentence?

Hi I’m Phuong, an ENFJ, Vietnamese-American from California, who loves to problem solve and tell bad puns. (I’d never actually say that to someone in person, but you said one sentence so voilà.) 

What is your business about?

P.MAI is an online fashion brand that offers functional and fashionable backpacks for women. We believe women should be comfortable and confident—without sacrificing style. 

Handbags are a pain—literally. Studies show half of women experience pain from carrying a handbag. That’s why we’ve designed the perfect backpack that’s tailored for women, with an aesthetic that’s ready for the runway. We combine luxury and utility into one carryall that inspires women to look and feel their best.

What are your plans for the future?

We’ll continue to focus primarily on the U.S. market, but we have also started to dabble in the European market. I’d like to introduce new complementary accessories in the future. Some folks have even asked us to design a men’s line, but that will be further down the road.

What do you wish you knew before you started your own business?

Things will take 3x longer and 3x more resources than you initially anticipated. However, I’d also add that we’re more resilient than we believe. The world will continue, regardless of whether we met a deadline or target, and good ideas require iteration. I would say take every bump with stride and enjoy the ride.

Do you believe you were born with an entrepreneurial spirit, or have you developed this?

I think I’ve always been a bit entrepreneurial. When I was 10 years old, I started selling collectible items online (plushes, trading cards, etc.). I created arbitrage between local boutiques and online forums that paid more for rarer items. This was before major ecommerce platforms existed, and people literally mailed me personal checks! I loved the thrill of connecting people to the products, and knew from a young age that I wanted to start my own business.    

Do you have a role model?

My mother has been my role model. When I’m feeling overwhelmed with work, I think about the sacrifices she has made and courage she had to flee her country as a refugee in the hopes of building a brighter future. She instilled in me values like patience, tenacity, and resourcefulness. She also carries herself with a distinct style and grace that I hope to have one day. 

What is the craziest thing you have done as an entrepreneur?

Two years ago, I was strolling in San Francisco and spotted Tyra Banks darting in and out of some boutiques. I was incredibly nervous and stalked her for a few blocks, not knowing what I’d say. As she was leaving the store, I shyly waved at her and started to say, “Excuse me, Tyra?”—but she cut me off, apologetically, and continued walking. She probably thought I wanted a selfie.

I happened to be wearing a prototype of my backpack that day.  As she was walking away, I shouted, “I designed this backpack, and I just want to know what you think!” I could see her pause for half a second. Her turned around. She looked at the bag, gave me a thumbs up, and said, “It’s beautiful.” I learned it’s important to put yourself out there as an entrepreneur, no matter who you’re talking to.