Kelly Mi Li Opens Up About Building A Bling Empire After Divorce - Exclusive

As the executive producer of Bling Empire, Kelly Mi Li appears to have a full plate  — $30,000 shark fins, excluded. The star is currently working on eight different projects with her production company, including a TV series called Cipher and the highly-anticipated thriller Afterward starring Aaron Eckhart, Terrence Howards, and George Lopez (per IMDb). Beyond that, she's managing investments in both real estate and tech as well as her merchandising company Greyscale Lab.

In other words: Mi Li is clearly earning her keep, but unlike her friends on the series – which include the offspring of billionaires and a literal descendant of the Song Dynasty — her life wasn't always private planes and lavish dinner parties. The Chinese-born entrepreneur is completely self made (*ahem* Kylie Jenner) and had to rebuild her life following divorce and a painful public scandal.

Recently, Mi Li sat down with The List to talk about her ex-husband's arrest and how she managed to build her own empire after losing it all.

Kelly Mi Li's ex-husband inspired her drive – even though he built his wealth illegally

Mi Li's former husband, Lin Miao, is famous for all the wrong reasons. In the very first episode of Bling Empire, the producer revealed that her ex is responsible for "one of the largest cyber scams in American history." The Sun reports that he pleaded guilty to a widespread text message subscription scam that reportedly stole "$50 million from mobile phone customers."

This was a massive shock to Mi Li, who met Miao when she was 21 years old and working in the food and beverage industry. She had no idea about his illicit income stream until the news broke of his arrest. From her perspective, he was a self-made entrepreneur, which is actually what inspired her to pursue her own business endeavors. 

"I've always been an entrepreneur, I've always kind of made my own money, but he was a different level of wealth that I think opened my eyes up in like, 'okay, I can do this,'" she tells The List. "I should do this, I can reach out myself in a sense, even though he didn't do it legally."

The pair got married about three years after meeting. Around the same time, Mi Li bought her first restaurant and private night club.

How Kelly Mi Li went from flying in private planes to having pennies

According to The Sun, Mi Li filed for divorce in 2014. By the time she discovered her ex-husband's legal problems, they were already separated and living in different households. Nonetheless, she was forced to make dramatic life changes as the pair's assets were frozen, and she was left with virtually nothing.

"It was difficult due to the reason that all of a sudden your life's upside down," she tells The List. "Where you're used to spending half a million on a black Amex every month, where you're going to get gas, and you're like, 'Oh my God, my credit card doesn't work. They shut it down.'"

If you're wondering how someone could possibly spend half a million dollars in a single month, it turns out to be shockingly easy. Mi Li says that for a couple of years, the pair only flew private. They traveled a lot and splurged on things like $30,000-a-night Presidential Suites at the Park Hyatt in Tokyo, Japan. Not too shabby, right?

"There are definitely ways to spend," she says. "Art, we loved collecting art at the time. And that's kind of outside the budget. We had a different art budget. We were one of the top buyers at Tiffany's, so Tiffany's treated us really well, but we did spend a lot of money there, and we bought a lot of jewelry at the time."

How Kelly Mi Li started over after divorce

Following her divorce, which was finalized in 2015, Mi Li was able to pull herself up by her designer bootstraps. After all, she was no stranger to starting over, which she did once when she moved to the United States as a child and again when she shipped off to Los Angeles to start her career. "[Lin's conviction] was definitely [an] adjustment but [I] got through it and then came back up," she says.

Since then, the entrepreneur has managed to forge a path in industries where her peers are wildly underrepresented, either because it's overwhelmingly male (like in the world of tech, where she has invested in 20 different startups) or overwhelmingly white and male (like in Hollywood, where Bling Empire broke down boundaries as the first reality TV show with an all-Asian cast), per The Guardian. As it turns out, Mi Li is at home being one of the few prominent female voices in spaces that historically push women away.

"I'm very used to a male dominated industry," she notes. "As soon as I turned 18, I got my life insurance and my health insurance license. I worked for New York Life. And that was a male dominant industry in finance. And then, food and beverage was a male dominated industry. Tech startup was a male dominant industry."

Kelly Mi Li says hard work got her to where she is today

Mi Li credits her success to the fact that she works hard and sticks to her convictions. "I think for me, just like, hey, do not step down, know your value, and stand your ground and just be very confident," she says. "You have to work twice as hard to get to where they are. But end of the day, all we can do is just, step by step, day by day, and hopefully [it] changes in the future."

All in all, Mi Li hopes Bling Empire will "give the underrepresented Asian community a voice" as she works to support female and minority filmmakers in her work. "Last thing I just really want to add," she says, "is that I just really hope that our show can bring so much joy and laughter to people's homes, especially during this difficult time."

You can catch Kelly Mi Li and the rest of the cast on the premiere season of Bling Empire on Netflix now.