M.M.’s Co-Founders on What Makes Their Relationship Work
The secret to Sarah and Miyako’s success? They like each other's friends.
M.M.LaFleur’s co-founders, Sarah LaFleur and Miyako Nakamura, started their careers in very different places. When they met, Sarah had just left a job in private equity to work on her idea for a women’s workwear startup, and Miyako was the Head Designer at Zac Posen. Nine years later, they’re (literally) finishing each other’s sentences. We sat down for a chat about their working relationship, advice for aspiring co-founders, and hidden superpowers.
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What three words would you use to describe your working relationship?
Miyako: Humorous. Trusting.
Sarah: Those are great ones.
What’s your co-founder’s hidden superpower?
Sarah: Besides the obvious design stuff? The Japanese word is rikitsu-ppoi, and the literal translation may have a slightly negative connotation, but I mean it in the most positive way. It means she’s hyper logical. Everything needs to have a reason and a purpose, which is very, very rare for creatives.
Miyako: I think her superpower is on the other end of the spectrum from mine. Everybody expects her to be really, really put together. And people at M.M. know this, but she’s actually really clumsy and, in many ways, not put together at all, which helps bring out her charm. She’s super convincing when she sets her mind to it, and that’s definitely accompanied by the fact that she’s very charming and likable.
Have you ever had a professional disagreement? How did you overcome it?
Sarah: I can remember one, but that was, like, five years ago. She had an opportunity to go do some big project, and I was like, “No, you can’t. We’re stretched way too thin.” It wasn’t even a disagreement, really. I think it’s rare for us to walk into a conversation not hoping that we walk out with some sort of agreement or conclusion.
Miyako: We constantly have different opinions, but our territories are very clear. So even if I disagree with her on something, when it’s her territory, I go with what she decides, and vice versa. Sometimes, I’m designing something, and she’s like, “What the hell are you making?” Those things happen. But in the end, we know which one of us should make the decision.
Sarah: Fundamentally, neither of us is looking to pick a fight.
How has your working relationship evolved with the business?
Sarah: She’s way more involved on the business side. She does performance reviews like a good executive.
Miyako: I definitely have a greater sense of responsibility now. It comes with having a team—you can’t not show up anymore. In terms of our working relationship, I think we have just learned about each other more and more. That makes things easier and easier, because I know when I need to get her opinion about something and when she won’t care.
Sarah: 99% of the time, I can read her mind. For example, someone will come up to me and say, “Miyako said no red,” and I know that what she meant was, “No red in these situations.” So that’s nice—knowing what the other will say without having to have a conversation about it.
How do you celebrate wins together?
Sarah: We traveled to India together last summer, but that wasn’t to celebrate a win. The business had gone through such a difficult transition, and I think both of us felt like…
Miyako: …we needed to do something different.
Sarah: Exactly. So many of the conversations we were having were about restructuring or making hard decisions, and they were just so heavy. Both of us felt like we needed to exercise a different part of our brains or, frankly, not exercise them at all. In some ways, the best part isn’t being able to celebrate the wins together, but being able to laugh together even when things are really bad.
Miyako: It’s funny, because we don’t really celebrate the moment. I don’t even think to text her when great things happen—I already know she’s happy. Our communication is just amazing that way.
Sarah: I think we’re much more keen to share the wins with our teams. We’re more in touch with each other when things are hard or don’t go the way we want them to.
What advice would you share with someone who is co-founding their own company?
Miyako: It’s all about values and what you think is important in life. If you don’t share that with the other person, it’s going to be really, really difficult. It also helps to have similar opinions about the thing your company does—so in our case, clothes. Even though we have very different styles, I think we have a similar sensibility about clothes.
Sarah: I think that’s the greatest compliment she’s ever given me.
Miyako: What we appreciate in art and visuals is similar. I’ve never had to fight with her about, say, a hideous print.
What’s your favorite thing about your co-founder’s personal style?
Sarah: I like that she doesn’t have rules—her style is a continuous surprise. I appreciate style, but I’m not a fashion expert, so I tend to follow the rules. Miyako has shown me that fashion actually has no rules. She puts together clothes in a completely unexpected way, and it’s always fresh. I guess she’s like any good artist—you need to learn the rules before you can break them.
Miyako: What I love about her style is that there’s a hidden art in it. Her style, as she said, is almost prescriptive; I can look at something and know, “Oh, she would wear that.” But she brings a piece of art into her dressing that makes her outfit not boring, which I think comes from her upbringing. When I went to her childhood home, a lot made sense to me. I entered the house and said, “Oh, that’s what she is.” Her upbringing is kind of sprinkled around her style.
Sarah: That makes me think of your last question about how to find your co-founder. Of course you have to like that person, but I think you have to love the people around them, too. I love her mom, I love her husband, and I love her friends, who are so different from my friends. And as different as my family and friends are from hers, I know she enjoys spending time with them—particularly my parents, whom she’s gotten to know really well. You have to ask yourself: Do you like the people in their life? If you do, chances are you’ll probably like them, too.