Tag Archives #Diversity

Q&A with Malia Mills: On Inclusivity, Innovation, and Empowerment in Women’s Swimwear

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Designer and Founder of Eponymous Label, Malia Mills. Photo credits: http://www.oprah.com/spirit/malia-mills-swimwear-inspiration-guide/all

Born in Honolulu, Hawaii, a mecca for swim and beachwear, Malia Mills graduated from Cornell University where she was initially enrolled in Design & Environmental Awareness. After spending a semester at La Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne in Paris, she discovered that her passion was fashion, and more specifically, swimwear design. She finished her undergraduate degree with a major in the Department of Textiles & Apparel, known today as the Department of Fiber Science & Apparel Design (FSAD). In 1991, after working in San Francisco as an assistant designer for Jessica McClintock, Mills moved to New York City, where she soon founded her eponymous swimwear label. A waitress at the Odeon — a trendy downtown hotspot — by day, and a designer by night, Mills turned her apartment into a studio and production center, where she cut and sewed swimwear samples with the fit of lingerie. Malia Mills swimwear, which celebrates body inclusivity and empowerment with its attention to fit, comfort and high-fashion aesthetic, pioneered an untapped market and galvanized industry attention, and has since expanded to cover-ups, draped dresses and rompers, blouses and trousers, in addition to swimwear. Within just a few years, Malia Mill swimwear was available through wholesale distribution at over 125 specialty stores across the globe, from Barneys New York and Neiman Marcus to Aman Resorts. From Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar to The New York Times and Women’s Wear Daily, Malia Mills has been featured in numerous publications and is now sold exclusively at three Malia Mills in New and four in California. Renowned for its edgy, luxurious styles, local, women-focused production and “Love Thy Differences” as the brand motto, Malia Mills has opened an inspiring dialogue on inclusivity and fit innovation in swimwear. 

I was so thrilled to chat with Malia, an alumna of my program at Cornell, about her cutting-edge label and lasting impact on the swimwear industry. 

How did you first get into swimwear? 

When I was at Cornell, I did a project on swim during spring break. I grew up in Hawaii so swimwear had always been a huge part of my life. A bikini was a huge right of passage. It’s something I wore when I wanted to feel like a grown up. Upon graduating, my friend and roommate from college was working at Sports Illustrated — she remembered the project I did in school and said I should design some swimsuits for the magazine. That was really the impetus for my first collection. 

 

Malia Mills “Charlize Top.” Available at: https://www.maliamills.com/collections/all-swimwear/products/charlize-top

Where did the idea for bra-sized swimwear come to fruition?

I was in San Francisco at the time when my friend called — I left my job that day, and on my way home, I went to every store that sold swimwear. 8000 light bulbs went off. The same top and bottom on one hanger seemed so bizarre to me. It seemed odd that lingerie was so fit-specific, but in the swim department everything was one size. When I told people I was making swimwear, the first thing everyone would say is “Ugh, I hate swimwear, I’m too fat, I need to lose weight,” but really swimwear is about getting out there with your friends, celebrating a day off, having fun. Swimwear is transformative, it’s sunshine, it’s water, it’s freedom — but that’s not what I was hearing when I heard people talking about swimwear. That was really the inspiration for me to make swimwear that made women feel liberated out there without many clothes.

 

Please tell us a little bit about the process behind starting your own company. How did you build your initial collection into a whole business?

I was working out of my apartment, making patterns and sewing samples, and was working as a waitress at night. I found factories in New Jersey, where I still produce today. It was a source of inspiration for me to really go out into the marketplace, talk to factories, build connections with the families behind the production. We work with domestic family-run factories: these family run factories are truly incredible places, as well as a tremendous source of pride.

Malia Mills Body Revolution. Photo Credits: maliamills.com

We are so lucky to have this amazing team and to go on this extraordinary journey together.

it’s been very special to grow up with them. Parents pass their factories down to their kids, or sometimes the parents are still running the factories after their kids grow up. It’s really incredible to grow up with this amazing family dynamic — there’s such a commitment to expertise and artistry and so much love goes into their work. There are negative connotations associated with the word factory in the media today, but factories come in all shapes and sizes, and these family run factories are truly incredible places. What we’re making is what we call 99 hands. There are so many people involved, from the screenprinter, to the grater, to the cutter, to the UPS guys. You really rely on an orchestra of people to meet deadlines and get garments to consumers. We are so lucky to have this amazing team we went on a journey together

Have you seen change over the course of your career when it comes to women in the workplace? 

I do, change is always happening. Sometimes it’s three steps forward and eighteen steps back, but it’s change nonetheless. And sometimes the steps backwards encourage us to double down on what we’re driving towards. It’s the fuel that makes us work even harder to initiate change. 

Malia Mills “Summer of Love” bottom. Available at https://www.maliamills.com/products/pant-size-swimwear-bottom-summer-of-love

Can you tell us a little bit about your creative process as a designer? 

My design process is very chaotic. When you’re running a small business, you’re wearing many hats, constantly jumping between your left brain and your right brain, between critical and creative thinking. My professor, taught me that design is fundamentally about all the senses we have. I feel very lucky to have been introduced to her. I try to use all five of my senses all day so that I can get in tune with how I feel. Design is much more than how the object will look — it’s so multidimensional, and when you hone your senses, you have this ability to find these free moments where all these different ideas you’ve had over time come together. 

How do you hone your senses? 

When I want to design a new swimsuit top, I don’t necessarily sketch or drape it every time. My process is a combination of so many little things and experiences. Design is a process: you’ll go down some roads and come to a dead end very quickly. For me, design involves reading a lot and writing a lot and trying to listen and see things. For example, I met one designer who always turns her garments backwards, and that informs a new understanding of its comfort, design idea, concept, how it could be better. Using all your senses means you turn things inside out, upside down. Design is not just a linear process. It’s messy and complicated, and you need to be unafraid to be wrong in order to get it right. 

What are your defining values when it comes to craftsmanship and production? Could you tell us about your

Course of Trade trains newcomers at Malia Mills. Photo credits: https://wwd.com/business-news/markets/course-of-trade-trains-newcomers-in-industrial-apparel-sewing-1202778480/

Course of Trade nonprofit initiatives? 

We’ve been incredibly fortunate throughout our journey, so we feel that it’s important to give back as much as we can. It’s not just money — it’s also time and expertise and all these different factors, so over the years we’ve been focused on various mostly women-focused initiatives, from Girls Inc. to supporting local chapters of school events. It’s been very joyous to participate in small but powerful ways. About five years ago, our Production Director Libby, who is also a Cornellian, came to us and said she wanted to start a factory — we had just moved to BK and had an incredible new space. She founded Course of Trade, which is dedicated to teaching women in New York how to sew. We produced and sold bags, which paid for the scholarships of the next students down the line. It’s been an amazing experience to empower our students economically, and we are grateful to have a teammate like Libby who tells us what she wanted to do and how we could make it happen. 

What other prominent gaps in the swimwear industry do you hope to tackle?

Guiding brand mantra: “Love thy Differences.” Photo credits: maliamills.com

I believe it is important to use your senses to get a feel for everything out there and address them as you experience them — to listen to and understand other people’s experiences. The swimwear industry has tremendous opportunities to think about how we define sustainability — it goes far beyond the types of textiles you use. The industry is an incredible tapestry of people with an incredibly diverse skill set and there needs to be the utmost respect for every person along the way. The industry is often presented as the designer or the brand and then the business as a separate entity, which is a disrespectful way of looking at it. With all the transparency available nowadays, it is important to see that you can’t create a garment without the contributions of everyone. You can’t have a designer without a salesperson in a retail location who creates a warm and inviting place for the garments, or all the hands creating each piece. It’s time for people to see the humanity in fashion — it’s a force that is really coming to light these days. By virtue of that, we have a lot of great creative minds coming to the surface with opportunities to express themselves. This will continue to yield more movements in how a swimsuit should feel, how it should look, why we should invest in it. The notion of sustainability is actually a catch-all because it’s a little bit shoehorned into a circular idea, but it’s deeper and broader: understanding the complexity and depth of that alone will yield not just new businesses but also some very interesting roads to travel down in the future. 

Read more fashion articles at Clichemag.com

Photo Credit: All New American, Oprah, Malia Mills, WWD

What do the Academy’s new Standards for Inclusion Mean?

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Our lives are an accumulation of fleeting moments of varied experiences, spun together to create stories; mundane and extraordinary alike. Films are a way of capturing a rich tapestry of these experiences. They also become a medium to highlight and reflect upon humanity. But what happens when there is a significant gap between the viewer and what they view? And, in an ever-tumultuous world of unrest over ignorance, what do the Academy’s new standards for inclusion mean?

April Reign’s #OscarsSoWhite and a history devoid of inclusion

In 2015, April Reign, a writer, and a former lawyer created the twitter hashtag- OscarsSoWhite. Her tweet was short and not-so-sweet. “#OscarsSoWhite they asked to touch my hair”. This single statement was the match that lit the wildfire of conversations around the lack of representation in Oscar nominations. Her tweet highlighted the state of under-representation of people of color in the American film industry. Many also linked this discussion to the abysmal female and queer presence in the history of the Academy.  While conversations around this topic had existed for a while, April Reign’s statement catapulted us to where we stand today.

The Oscars have long been accused of not being inclusive. In 1940, over ten years after the first Oscars were held, Hattie McDaniel became the first African-American to win one. At the ceremony, however, she had to sit at a segregated table, away from the rest of the Gone with the wind’s cast. Even though that was 75 years ago, some things are yet to change. In as recent as 2015, the Oscar nominations were still overwhelmingly white. 

The Academy’s new standards for inclusion

The Academy released a statement on the 8th of September 2020 regarding new standards for inclusion and representation. The new guidelines are a part of the Academy Aperture 2025, an effort towards more inclusive film industry. These guidelines will have to be met as a mandatory requirement from 2024 onwards for the Best Picture considerations. According to the Academy, “The standards are designed to encourage equitable representation on and off-screen in order to better reflect the diversity of the movie-going audience.” So, what are these new standards?

The guidelines come in four parts- A, B, C, and D, two of which need to be met to be eligible for the Best Picture category. Standard A is regarding on-screen representation and themes. This standard is aimed at ensuring the inclusion of individuals and narratives from under-represented groups. Standard B requires the involvement of under-represented groups in the making of the entire project. Standard C targets the need for wider inclusion in internships and other opportunities in the industry. Lastly, standard D is meant to push for diversity in publicity and audience development.

Will this make a real difference and actually push for inclusion?

While the new standards are centered around the inclusion of women, people of color, the queer community, and people with cognitive and physical disabilities, what do the Academy’s new standards for inclusion mean? Some point out that this is a step in the right direction, others have their reservations. To gauge the potential impact of this new standard, we could take a look at how older works measure up to it. The New York Times points out that standards C and D will be very easily met by big studios. If that is the case, these studios will easily sail through without having to think too much about the issue at hand. That would essentially indicate that none of the recent nominations would fail to qualify for the Best Picture category.

This, in turn, might mean that no one will be pushing for any real change since the requirements are already being met. Is this entirely true? That is a little difficult to say. These standards could perhaps offer inspiration to veer off of white, male, and cis-centric storylines. And, if this is the first step of a long journey, perhaps we will get to a place that we are proud of eventually.  

Read more entertainment articles at Cliché.
The New York Times’ article on the Academy’s push for inclusivity- here. 
Feature Image provided by @theacademy. 

Why Hulu’s Upcoming ‘Ramy’ is an Important Show To Watch

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Comedian Ramy Youssef first made a splash appearing on The Late Show With Stephan Colbert when he performed 5 minutes of stand up that spoke about his Muslim identity in a witty way that had the crowd laughing 10 seconds in. It is no surprise that he is now executive producing and starring in his own Hulu show titled Ramy, which is set to premiere April 19th.  Early reviews of the show have been overwhelmingly positive, making it a show that will be a necessary watch. The series of this magnitude is long overdue and for that reason alone, its arrival is important.  

The show is also executive produced by Jerrod Carmichael, whose own series on NBC made waves as it tackled social issues ranging from race, gender, and even school shootings. In its three-season run, The Carmichael Show never shied away from uncomfortable topics, and from the Hulu trailer, Ramy seems to be following in its brave footsteps. The series has 10 episodes and each episode is rooted in Ramy’s real-life stand-up.

Much like his own life, Ramy follows a first-generation Arab-American Muslim living in New Jersey who is struggling to find himself. In the just-released trailer, you can see Ramy speaking with friends about being 30 years old and still grappling with the identity issues that arose from being caught between two cultural expectations. The culture clash emerges from a post-9/11 world that believes the term ‘Muslim-American’ is an oxymoron. In the previews, you also see him questioning whether he’s even a good enough Muslim to be accepted into his own community while dealing with explaining his beliefs to his non-Muslim friends.

What makes this new series so special is that it has never been done before. There has never been a show quite like Ramy that centers around the voices of young Arab-Americans like this. And as Ramy has said in his own interviews, Arabs have never had their ‘pop-culture’ moment. These truthful characters are finally taking the main stage, and the creators promise that they are going to have actual depth to them. In an interview with Vanity Fair, Ramy said his goal with this series is to not display his community as squeaky clean and polished people, nor is he playing into the harmful stereotypes we’re so used to seeing on screen. He’s simply showing his community as they are. “Meeting at our fault lines is much more interesting to me than meeting at shared values. I’m not trying to sell you something. If anything, I’m trying to show you where we are. There is nothing to hide.”

If a Hulu series isn’t enough, Ramy also has his first stand-up special set to premiere on HBO this summer. Between a stand-up special and this upcoming Hulu series, Ramy Youssef is making important strides for his community. Make sure you press play on April 19th to finally see Arab-Americans have their pop-culture moment!

 

Read more Entertainment News at Cliché Magazine.

Why Hulu’s Upcoming ‘Ramy’ is an Important Show To Watch: Featured Image Credit: @Hulu on Instagram.

The Future of Journalism

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Did you know that the percentage of minorities in today’s newsrooms are at a mere 12%? Lacking diversity, different points of view, and cultures, NABJ/NAHJ was put into place to combat these low statistics. NABJ stands for National Association of Black Journalists, while NAHJ stands for National Association of Hispanic Journalists. Every year these organizations host a massive conference and career fair to increase the opportunity for minority journalists. MSNBC, CBS, Time Inc., Hearst, NPR, ESPN, and many more are in attendance every year to dole out jobs and internships for qualified candidates.

I had the pleasure of attending the conference this year in Washington D.C., and if I had to sum it all up in one word, I would use “game-changer.” Okay, I know that’s two words, but there is no one word that could sum up this amazing event. Not only was every major news company in attendance, but the very people we see on TV reporting news were there: Melissa Knowles of HLN, Cari Champion of ESPN, and Roland Martin of TV ONE just to name a few. It was inspiring and eye-opening to learn how they rose to success. It made us feel like we can actually do this thing. We can actually reach our goals as long as we stay as focused as they did!
Along with these wonderful journalists, you’ll never guess who came to speak at the conference! Loretta Lynch, Attorney General of the United States, and Hillary Clinton came to speak! The Hillary Clinton: democratic presidential nominee. Her support of the conference and her inspiring words validated how important this conference was and how essential diversity is for all of us in all careers. Hillary wasn’t the only household name in attendance; we were able to meet Gabrielle Union and Nate Parker from the upcoming film The Birth of a Nation. I’m not ashamed to admit it: I was absolutely star struck! You don’t just see these people walking down the street every day!
I walked away from this conference with a new found confidence in the career path I have chosen. I walked away with a new plan for success. I walked away having had contact with people who work for and hire for the very companies that I dream to work for.
Next year, the conference will be hosted in New Orleans, Louisiana from August 9th – August 12th. By then I’ll be going into my senior year of college and post-graduation plans will need to be made! I absolutely cannot wait to see what it has in store for me!
Read more Career posts on ClicheMag.com
The Future of Journalism: Photo courtesy of Yunuen Bonaparte/NABJ NAHJ