Mimi Holvast: “I’ve Never Been A Fan Of Those Shops You Walk Into And Wonder 'How The Hell Is This Garment So Cheap!?’”
4 years ago | Features|
Image: Mimi Holvast in her Redfern, Sydney, studio. Image provided by Mimi Holvast.
We at Well Made Clothes are interested in the process of making clothes. We talk a lot about the problems with the fast fashion industry supply chain, sure, but we also try to highlight and celebrate the artisanship that goes into well-made clothing, because well-made clothing is just that: an art form. Whether it’s Katy Perry’s Met Gala dress, which took 350 hours of skilled labour to create, or the independent designers who create, cut, and sew every one of the garments they sell, we believe we need to get back to celebrating this process, and celebrating the quality results of this process when it’s done skillfully.
Enter young Australian designer Mimi Holvast, who is similarly obsessed with the processes behind the pieces she creates. The result of all this attention to detail is a tight collection of pieces which just nail every aspect. Take the Strappy Jumpsuit for example: the square neckline, the deep v at the back, the adjustable straps, the fit of the bodice, and the wide, slightly cropped silhouette of the pants have all been thoroughly thought-through to create The Perfect Jumpsuit. Here, we ask Mimi a bunch of questions about what makes her practice tick, the challenges independent designers face in our fast fashion times, and how we can be more responsible both as consumers and producers.
What first interested you about fashion design?
I've always been interested in making my own things. I don't like to directly associate with 'fashion' as much as I do with garments and clothing. My Mum always sewed my clothes for me when I was young, and coming from a creative family, she was always encouraging drawings, painting, music, and making things by hand etc. Sewing was what I took to the most. I dabbled in photography and fine arts, but got stuck with the lack of practicality and functionality of making those things, whereas creating garments fulfills a level of functionality and purpose. I'm really interested in practicality, style, and comfort, which extends from carefully chosen fabrics, to taking extra care in the details of designing, pattern making, cutting, and producing. What I enjoy the most about fashion is the tactility that garments have, which stands out for me more than trends ever could.
Tell us your story: from first being interested in fashion, to studying it, to working, to deciding to start your own label...
After learning the very basics of how to operate a sewing machine as a teenager, from Mum, I wanted to know about it in more depth, so I attended Ultimo TAFE and studied a diploma in Applied Fashion Design and Technology.
The course was amazing; it was so practical and hands-on; it focussed less on the design and conceptual aspects of fashion, and gave me the technical skills of creating tech packs, pattern-making, and sewing which I wanted to know in order to efficiently create clothes entirely myself from very start to finish. Studying such a full time course gave me an insight into the reality of the fashion world; sewing and pattern making for full days. It was hard work, but so enjoyable.
While studying, I always knew, in the back of my mind, I would want to make clothes and sell them, but I wanted to gain more experience beforehand, so I had some of the best (work) days of my life with ALAS, where the girls taught me so much about small businesses, and how to operate an ethical/sustainable label – they were (and still are) so inspiring to me! They also inspired me to only start a label if it meant something, and wasn't just what was already around.
Why did you decide to start your own label?
I decided to start my own label simply because I love designing, pattern-making and sewing clothes, and noticed that others got enjoyment from wearing my creations! If you can do what you love and get paid, why not!?
What key philosophies underpin Mimi Holvast the label?
First and foremost, every Mimi Holvast garment has been designed, pattern made, cut, sewn, and sent out by myself. I create garments in small scale, to avoid waste – there is so much waste in the fashion world, I want to avoid having excess stock, and I also cut using waste-minimising practices. This means that it can take longer for me to create garments, as I want to produce as little waste as possible, and I don't throw any of my scraps out, rather I consolidate them all and use them for smaller projects.
A second main philosophy is that Mimi Holvast doesn't follow any seasonal trends. I don't work in 'spring/summer' 'autumn/winter' seasons, rather I work in collections. All of my garments are transeasonal, so creating a collection that can fit any wardrobe at any time of the year is important to me.
Image: The Strappy Dress by Mimi Holvast.
How would you describe Mimi Holvast pieces?
Mimi Holvast pieces are created as an antidote to the ever-growing fast fashion market in Australia. I like to create pieces that are thought out, don't follow trends, and utilise local resources, in order for them to last longer in terms of function and aesthetic. I only use natural fibres like linen, cotton, and wool, or a blend of any of the above. All MH garments are super comfy and versatile. Everything also needs to have pockets!
You're interested in being a responsible fashion label with ethical practices. What first made you aware of the ethical concerns in the fashion industry?
I've always been interested in where things come from. I have never been a fan of those shops where you walk into and wonder 'how the hell is this garment so cheap!?' because you need to assume that along the line somebody has been exploited.
I also became very aware of how an intense an industry the clothing production one is while I was studying. After finishing my studies, our class was encouraged to 'produce everything in china for 50 cents' which did not sit well with me. The knowledge of how much work actually goes into producing a garment made me really aware of the human rights violations that must be taking place. This and articles that expose what really happens in the fashion world (thanks to you guys) allows not only myself, but our generation, to be more aware of how things are made. Another real eye opener is the True Cost documentary.
What ethics are important for you to imbue into Mimi Holvast the label?
It's important to me that I reduce as much waste as possible, with cutting garments as well as post-production. By being the sole creator I know the process and can handle quality control myself, and by manufacturing small scale I can track what is necessary to produce.
What do you think are the major problems in the fashion industry right now?
There is so much fast fashion and people are buying clothes at enormous rates, and then throwing them out after a wear or two. There is also SO much exploitation that occurs in the fashion world, with slave/child labour and unreasonable working conditions – think the Rana Plaza collapse in 2013. This links in with the fast fashion issue: people who buy cheap clothes and burn through them at a fast rate are just contributing to the mass amounts of landfill that the textile industry fills every year. Plus, very little of the clothoing donated to op shops is re-sellable due to the poor quality of the manufacturing.
Image: The Strappy Jumpsuit by Mimi Holvast.
You recently moved from Sydney to Bangalow: why make the move from the city to a smaller town? How has getting out of the daily grind affected your practice?
I have just moved to Bangalow, and it's the best decision I've ever made! I decided to move up this way for a lifestyle change, which is reflected by how I want to live, as well as how I want to run my label. There are so many amazing, supportive people up this way, and I am running on a more realistic pace than Sydney (multiple jobs and running a label is not ideal). I also get to look out at rolling hills as I cut and sew which is fantastic!
What are the biggest challenges facing small independent designers like yourself who are just starting out?
Time management, and knowing how to do everything yourself! I've just completed a small business course to learn the nuts and bolts and the logistics of running a business which has been super helpful! You need to be persistent and take the time do do everything right.
And the biggest rewards or benefits?
I get to do what I love all day. When designing, pattern-making and sewing clothes, I'm my happiest. I know that I'm contributing to society with clothing with a good ethos.
How would you like to see the fashion industry change for the better in the future?
People definitely need to slow down a bit, and think if they really need the item at hand. Think quality over quantity. The fashion industry also needs to implement more strict regulations for labour and quality within the manufacturing process.
Image: the Scrunchie Pants by Mimi Holvast.
You can check out Mimi Holvast's full collection here.
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