By Stef Tschida
Not everyone in their 20s knows what they want to do with their life, but Amy Arias did—she wanted to start a business. Not because she dreamt of being her own boss, but because she loved to work. She joined the workforce when she was 16 and cut her teeth working at a retail boutique whose owner embraced Amy’s enthusiasm for all things fashion. Amy enjoyed everything about operating the business, from unpacking boxes and managing inventory to creating displays and helping customers. So the owner took her under her wing and invited Amy to join her on a buying trip where she learned the wholesale aspect of retail. Then, after five years at the boutique, Amy was ready to spread her wings.
She ended up working for a wholesale company that created branded products for Mall of America. This time, the work environment was chaotic, and she didn’t click with management. While the job didn’t work out, it helped Amy discover her path. It introduced her to the concept of one company designing products so another company could brand and sell them as its own. She had always been creative and had a passion for design, and she immediately began to imagine specific products she could develop for others. But she wasn’t just a dreamer with lots of ideas. Amy was raised by a mother who taught her grit, resiliency and the importance of embracing the joys of life. This, coupled with her business acumen gave her the confidence to start her own venture. She set up her office on a card table in her mom’s den. She worked from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. every day, making cold calls during business hours and preparing quotes and doing the books in the early morning and evening hours.
At 25 years old, Amy founded Mosquito, her product development studio. The company intersects brand, consumer insights, product development and design to create private-label branded products for its customers. In some cases, the products are not her client’s primary offering but an additional revenue stream intended to drive revenue. Those seasonal coffee mugs with quippy sayings that catch your eye while standing in line at the local outpost of the national coffee chain? They are created by Mosquito. The Mosquito brand name is nowhere to be found, and for Amy that’s the point—her goal is to make her clients the star. The coffee shop can focus on coffee while she provides her expertise to make the business look good and build consumer loyalty.
Amy spent nearly two decades working behind the scenes honing her skills on consumer insights and using her sharp eye for identifying trends in service of Mosquito clients. She never imagined it would lead her to start a second business. But Amy realized she could expand her offerings to create on-trend products sold under her own brand name. Seven years ago, she and a business partner created West Emory, which she describes as a house of brands. They launched with a line that included home office, gift items and outdoor games, which was quickly picked up by Crate and Barrel and Target. Over the past few years they’ve been nurturing and quietly creating exclusive lifestyle brands sold at boutiques as well. This year, they’ll introduce a direct-to-consumer line that represents the heart and soul of the people who work at the company. The sister businesses strengthen one another with West Emory as the forward-facing product company that demonstrates Mosquito’s proven track record of creating products consumers love.
Trends move faster than ever these days, driven by Instagram and other social platforms. This works in Mosquito and West Emory’s favor because Amy and her crew of 16 have always delivered products that are beautiful and functional. Her small but mighty team has no trouble keeping up with demand and continues to look to the future as it designs new goods.
In addition to being there for her team members, Amy strives to support other women business owners in the Twin Cities and beyond. She volunteers on the board of directors for Women’s Entrepreneurship Day Minnesota (WED MN), the Minnesota chapter of a global initiative dedicated to empowering women in business.
While Amy doesn’t know what her products will look like even a year from now, she knows she will best serve her clients by doing what she’s always done: listening closely to what they and consumers are telling her, following her curiosity, and working tirelessly to deliver.
About the author: Stef Tschida is a former corporate communicator and lifelong storyteller. Stef’s WHY became clear when she worked at her daily campus newspaper. She realized she didn’t want to ask tough questions as a reporter—she wanted to help organizations answer those tough questions. She’s been doing that work ever since.