March 10, 2022
Malia Mills is an artistic yet realistic designer. She is also a smart, successful, and savvy businesswoman, who changed her industry by not being afraid to make bold decisions. During our conversation earlier this year we discussed her inspirations and evolution as a designer, sustainability in the fashion industry, and what prompted her to create the unique, personalized experience that characterizes her brand.
Mills studied apparel design at Cornell University where she was exposed to Claire McCardle, a breakout designer in the 1940’s and 50’s who came to define American sportswear and the concept of wearing separates. McCardle published a book that focused on using all five senses while designing clothes. She was concerned not just with the aesthetics, but how do women feel when wearing a certain piece, are they cold or hot, can they move freely? What impact does it have on their confidence? McCardle emphasized appreciating the needs of her clients over fashion trends. Along that same vein, Mills was involved in a project where, as a student, she designed protective equipment for people working in the semiconductor industry. The employees had to wear suits that covered them from head to toe to achieve the zero-dust factor required by the industry. Her knowledge became very technical - what kind of stitching to use, how to keep the temperature comfortable, and evaluating the emotional impact of wearing the suit all day. She used a similar thought process when she eventually designed her first swimwear line. She begins by working on the design concept, then sketching, creating the patterns and finally to production but according to Mills, the magic happens when you put the product on the body. How does she move, how does she feel, does the fabric move with her, is it highlighting her best assets, does she exude self-assurance? From the beginning of her career, Mills learned the importance of understanding and listening to her customers; this approach continues to dictate her designs and business process today.
Running her business for over 30 years, Mills can talk supply chain, margins, payables, and cash flow, but she is also passionate about sustainability. Just as she uses five senses to design her swimsuits and clothing, her team analyzes the entire path of the garment and its impact on the environment. Before anything goes into production, they examine climate and seasonality, washability, where has it been sourced, what is its end use? Malia’s team considers the living wages of the women making and sourcing the fabrics, do they have access to capital, what skills do they need to progress in the industry, are they being fulfilled and challenged at their work, and what is the most climate-friendly way to transport garments? Everything is interconnected, and she believes that if we all give a little, there is much to gain. Malia subscribes to the Vivienne Westwood theory (Westwood is a British designer known for her Avant Garde designs) to “buy less, choose well, and make it last.”
Mills' direct customer interaction shows up in her hands-on in-store trunk shows and believes her designs deserve a fit-centric and personalized experience. She has crafted an in-store experience where women come in to be taken care of while finding a swimsuit that fits their body and makes them feel like a rock star TODAY, not after dieting for 3 months. Malia was one of the first swimsuit designers to lead the conversation about women being comfortable in their bodies. The consumer loved the suits and the message, and the media totally embraced her mission. It wasn’t until the mid 2000’s and the onset of social media that the fashion industry started to pay attention to what Malia had been advocating all along. Women were saying “We are going to celebrate ourselves even if you aren’t” and the fashion industry finally took note and decided to get on board. Having personally gone through one of Mills' personal swimsuit fittings, I can say I went in as a skeptic and came out of the experience with several great fitting suits that made me happy and confident!
While her intellect, expertise, and creativity are beyond impressive, she remains a grounded, gracious, humble person that is a pleasure to speak with, so please join us at The Collective on March 17th and 18th to meet Malia Mills and enjoy a personal fitting for bathing suits, beach cover-ups and her ready-to-wear collection. This year Malia is introducing some brighter colors including an Azul blue that will immediately take you to the ocean, a wisteria purple that is reminiscent of walking the streets of France, and a brilliant paisley pattern that is named for Toyama Bay in Japan. Other highlights of the 2022 collection are the Alexandra one piece swimsuit with a supportive and comfortable crisscross back, the new seaming on the Luna bottom, and the freedom and versatility of the Rosie Jumpsuit which is a must have for your next travel adventure!
February 10, 2022