We had the good fortune of connecting with Mitra Khayyam and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Mitra, what was your thought process behind starting your own business?
People who feel different from others be it for a multitude of reasons always echo the same words “I always knew” – I have said the same about being an entrepreneur. Since I was young I always came up with different concepts for shops and businesses I wanted to start – the first being a magazine around the age of 8 or 9. I had a strong sense of self, goals, and ideas and the universe provided me with the opportunities to actually move forward with some of them. My first brand Blood is the New Black which I founded in 2004 (sold in 2013) was based on my thesis statement at Parsons School of Design; The idea that artists could use tee-shirts to democratize art and reach wider audiences (at the same time patrons could access art at more accessible price points when art was removed from the blue-chip strata of galleries) was rarely seen in the early aughts and the basis of my thesis. An opportunity to sell designs to Urban Outfitters presented itself through an artist I knew at the time and the artist-centered brand was launched right then and there.
Midnight Rider which launched in 2012 arose out of a similar coincidence as well. I had spoken with friends about the need for a licensed premium country music inspired tee line in the market, soon after Shooter Jennings (Waylon Jennings’ son, a musician in his own right and Grammy Award-winning producer) messaged me out of the blue asking if I would be interested in representing Waylon in the merch space. I pitched Shooter on the idea of Midnight Rider – a brand that focuses on vintage looking and feeling tees representing classic and outlaw country music – and the business started right then and there.
In other words, there isn’t a thought process as much as a dedication to an idea with opportunities to manifest them landing in my lap.
What should our readers know about your business?
Midnight Rider was launched in 2012 with the intention of creating the best country music merchandise. I create licensed merchandise for some of the greatest folks in the music industry including but not limited to Waylon Jennings, Chris Stapleton, The Band, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Margo Price and ZZ Top. The brand’s production facilities are located in Los Angeles and I believe in producing our merchandise in US as a tribute to the legacy of the artists whose work I feature on our site. The tees are created using unique processes to give them a vintage look and feel – referencing my favorite vintage band tees stuff in my drawers and are available at stores like Free People and Anthropologie among other stores throughout the US and our website, sometimes you may even be able to find my tees on tour with musicians when they’re on the road. In the last eight years, the legacy of my work, the intentionality of design and care in production has put the brand’s name in the mouths of those in the know in the music industry in and out of Nashville. This speaks as to the integrity of the product and the need for a brand like Midnight Rider in the music industry. It has not always been a smooth road. I try to not focus my thinking on how difficult it’s been, but this career is not for the faint of heart. Every day I solve problems as creatively and tactfully as possible. Few suggestions for those new to launching a business – take good care of yourself; get rest, eat well, have work-life balance, and treat others well.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
I’d start the morning in Chinatown, grabbing breakfast at Today Starts Here and checking out all the street vendors with their selections of plants, fruits and veggies, and other things you didn’t need but have to have. If the galleries around Chung King Road are open by then I’d check out a few, some of my favorites are South Willard, Charlie James, and newly-opened Stanleys Gallery had a great inaugural show. A good part of the day could be spent in Boyle Heights. Checking out all the graves from the 1800s in Evergreen Cemetary is a great example of LA’s early days. From Evergreen you head around the corner to the best Chicharron tacos at Cinco Puntos in Boyle Heights, head down Cesar Chavez to dig for records at Sonido Del Valle, and book shopping at Other Books. I love to take people to Lincoln Heights and hike up Flat Top (I live right at the foot of it) for some of the best 360 views of DTLA, Catalina Island, the Hollywood Sign, Griffith Observatory, and the San Gabriel Mountains – maybe they’d see a coyote, some hawks, a bobcat or even the fabled boa constrictor that got lost out there 4 years ago. The hike on Flat Top spits you out at Ave 33 and Griffith, but not before you have views of Ave 33 Farm (a local farm and CSA – I love their homegrown floral arrangements too). I take Griffith to Broadway, hang a right, and walk to Gamboge, a Cambodian restaurant that opened in Lincoln Heights last year. Their patio is a great little hideaway and I love their Khmer Chicken Salad, it’s so refreshing after a long hike on a warm day. I just moved my business to Eagle Rock after 12 years in Echo Park and still getting a feel for all the spots here, but have so much love for Walt’s Bar, they have pinball machines, lots of drinks, vegan hot dogs from Burgerlords, and pop ups like Cafe Wednesday on the weekends. My next door neighbors are Leanna Lin’s Wonderland which is filled with gifts and art for young and old and The Rug Shop which sells beautiful Moroccan and Middle-Eastern rugs by appointment. If anyone has some Eagle Rock tips, let me know!!Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
The shoutout goes to all the great women in my corner who have been great sounding boards and support. Lizz Wasserman (Creative Director, Fred Segal), Chrystina Woody-Train (Founder, Buckshot), Heather Duchowny (Marketing Consultant), Jocelyn Romo (Musical Muse), my Iranian family for not understanding what I was doing but letting me do it anyway, Waylon Jennings, David Bowie, and Little Richard.