In the 1990s, while waitressing in New York City, Malia Mills started her fashion label with the help of her sister Carol. Today, they have 11 stores, a Brooklyn headquarters and an e-commerce business. Their motto "Love Thy Differences" sums up Malia's approach to swimwear: "We don't want to change the way you look, we want to change the way you see yourself."
It was Lower Fifth Avenue, 1991. "You know how to make the patterns and sew the suits. What have you got to lose?" said my sister Carol. We'd been talking about celebrating women with swimwear separates engineered to fit like lingerie, cut from rich fabrics that you could pick, mix and wear like the clothes in your closet.
Then: I called a friend who was a bartender at Odeon and scored a waitressing job the next day. I hand-dyed fabric and cut and sewed swimwear by day, and served up steak frites by night. Lynn Wagenknecht and Team Odeon were extremely supportive. I wrote our business plan in the basement office of the restaurant using an old-school Mac.
Now: My sister carol is my business partner. We're still a roll-up-your-sleeves operation. We recently moved our HQ to Industry City in Sunset Park, Brooklyn. We have an amazing team, and we're fortunate to meet super rad gals at our 12 Malia Mills stores. Hell yes!
Photo: Cartagena 2015.
Tenacity will take you to eleven. In the early 90s, former Ann Taylor CEO Sally Frame Kasaks said, "It doesn't take a genius to build a business. It takes someone relentless enough to go at it again and again." Her words resonated then, they resonate even more so today.
Photo: Antwerp 2013. Inspiration 24/7/365.
We try to do both. There is so much talent out there to learn from, and everyday we work hard to promote and celebrate "love thy differences." Our motto, our mantra, our driving force!
Photo: Studio snapshot. Long-sleeved bikini top, second sample to cut. Fabrics aligned for a shrink test. Masaaki drapes our new sonnet dress. Industry City 2016.
Wow. This is tough! Paris is the very first place I visited on my own and I ended up studying and waitressing there for about 18 months. It was 1987, I was 19 and wildly naive. I was lucky to make many long-lasting friends. I can remember those adventuresome days like yesterday. Liberté, égalité, fraternité.
1994 was the first time I stood on the rocky shores of the Mediterranean, after hiking down a craggy mountain from a tiny seaside village in Italy. We had no swimsuits! But we stripped down and jumped into the crystal clear crisp cool sea. It was raw, spontaneous, glorious, invigorating. The very essence of la dolce vita.
The Manhattan skyline never fails to inspire. During one return from our factory in New Jersey, the city at sunset was so magnificent we stopped our rental car on the side of the turnpike to take in the view. Bright lights, big city! The pulse of the city was palpable, powerful, pure magic. It still is!
Photo: Design porn. Autobahn 2014.
The greatest achievement would be to help liberate women of the world from incomprehensible atrocities. I would also like to invent hangover-free wine to aid with this mission.
Photo: I love sandwich board humor. New York 2015.
All images used with permission of Malia Mills.