#10: MIMI HOLVAST
With a TAFE course and a label internship under her belt, Bangalow-based designer and maker Mimi Holvast founded her eponymous label a year and a half ago and has just released her second collection, with a focus on utilitarian design, natural fibres and trans-seasonal styles. Mimi's label is about as Locally Made as it gets - the entire process from designing, to pattermaking, to sewing, is completed by Mimi in her home studio.
We caught up with Mimi for an early morning coffee while she was visiting Sydney recently to shoot her latest collection.
Annie: How did you learn to sew?
Mimi: When I was a kid, Mum was always like, do creative things! I grew up in a really creative family and I never really took to anything, but then I started sewing and buying things from op shops and fixing them. Then I went to Ultimo TAFE and did Applied Fashion Design and Technology, which was amazing. Full eight-hour days of patternmaking, full days of sewing, it was so much fun. I really miss it!
Annie: How did you find the technical side of the degree compared to concept and design?
Mimi: I love it! When I had my interview to go there, they said, you want to be a designer, why don't you go do the fashion course, and I was like, no! I wanted to know the whole process, and do it all myself, to oversee it all.
Annie: Did you have experience in fashion outside of TAFE?
Mimi: I was working in retail. When we had to do an internship, I did mine at ALAS and then started working there. By the end I was doing three to four days a week, basically as a production assistant.
Annie: When did you start your own label?
Mimi: I think the whole time, everyone doing my course was wanting to go into costume design, whereas I just wanted to have my own label. I didn't want a job in a high rolling fashion label, I just wanted to do my own thing. Once I finished, I worked for a few months and went overseas, but I had evolved my graduation collection - my classic strappy jumpsuit came from this short jumpsuit that I did. All my sister's mates were like, I want one! Can I have one? So I was unofficially just making-to-order for them. When I got back from overseas I was like, this is what I'm doing, I've got to make it legit. So I formed it more solidly then.
Annie: Can you tell me a little about your fabric selection?
Mimi: It’s all linen, cotton and linen/cotton blends. I find it really tricky to source fabrics. I want to get better at sourcing.
Annie: It's hard, I bought some fabric the other day and the store couldn't even tell me what country it was sourced from, not even the management.
Mimi: Yeah, even fabric wholesalers! You're like, can you tell me a bit more about this? And they're just very vague. That's the thing - you can buy something in Australia, but there are so many steps in the supply chain that you have to track.
Annie: Exactly. I know that my linen is grown in Lithuania, but then it's sent to China for processing, and then it's dyed somewhere. So when you ask, where's it from?, you really need to ask, where's the seed from? Where was it grown? Where was it processed? Where was it dyed?
Mimi: A friend of mine is starting this robe company with these beautiful robes made in India and I did her patternmaking and sampling. She hasn't launched it yet, but she went to India and she said it was so difficult because everyone just lies to you to sell a product, so asking "is this certified organic" or "tell me about the conditions of your factory", with the language barrier as well, she almost gave up!
Annie: So you freelance as a patternmaker as well? I don't think I know anyone our age who does patternmaking, apart from you!
Mimi: Occasionally, I've done a little bit for friends and some people I used to work with. It's so mathematical, and I was always the worst at maths, but I really enjoy it!
Annie: How did you develop your aesthetic?
Mimi: I think it's just 'me!' I just think, well, I really like this and I think my friends would like this. My sister has had a bit of an influence because she's a few years older and I've always looked up to her, so getting her opinion and then thinking, if you guys like it, then other people surely will!
Annie: Your range seems like it is designed to be worn every day, something that you can wear over and over again.
Mimi: Yep, definitely. I don't want to work within standard fashion seasons. Since it's just me, I don't have the time to make a new collection every few months. It's taken me four months to design and get this most recent collection going. Even sourcing fabric and getting suppliers, now that I'm not in the city, it's like, bloody hell! There are weeks in between everything. I don't want to be confined to any specific season or any trend, because then there's no longevity in it.
Annie: Also, traditionally we had four seasons, now there are fifty-two seasons with fast fashion. I've tried to be trans-seasonal with my collection, rather than presenting things as Autumn/Winter, etcetera, I'm just like, here are the clothes! The only time I've found it hard is with wholesaling, when stores expect things to drop at certain times of the year. Do you stock anywhere?
Mimi: Well Made Clothes, and a little shop in Newcastle. It's really hard because most places buy at least six months before, whereas this is what I've got now and it will probably be available for the next nine to twelve months. There are probably disadvantages to that, trying to adhere to the fashion world and how shops work with their buying.
Annie: With the conversations we've been having, I've been wondering what the future will look like; if the traditional retail structure is overtaken by online, will more brands start doing trans-seasonal ranges?
Mimi: It's hard to tell. On one hand, so many brands are moving faster into that fifty-two-seasons model, but then there is also the movement of, let's slow this down. At the moment that feels like a bit of a trend, but it's a better trend than fast fashion.
Annie: Do you think your customers are into slow fashion?
Mimi: I think a bit of both. Sometimes people will post pictures of my clothes on Instagram with #slowfashion. I guess being stocked on Well Made Clothes pushes to that kinda customer. For someone who isn't interested in slow fashion, finding my stuff might get them into it, perhaps.
Annie: How have people responded to your pricing?
Mimi: Pricing is such a tricky thing, I hate it so much. I was selling them for a bit cheaper, but then I sat down and was like, alright, logistically I have to put my prices up. Everyone's pretty good about it. I think when something is handmade people really do appreciate it.
Annie: Exactly, if they knew the backstory, or if they saw a photo of you at a sewing machine sewing it. How long does it take you to make a jumpsuit?
Mimi: Probably two to three hours.
Annie: And do they use a lot of fabric?
Mimi: Yeah, at least two metres.
Annie: As a designer, it makes me look at those brands selling dirt cheap clothing and think, how the fuck are you doing that? How is it even physically possible? When I know how much it costs to buy the fabric and make something, let alone the swing tags, the labels, the packaging...
Mimi: Yep! The postage, everything. There are so many overheards. Even rent. It's massive.
Annie: I think we have become so used to the cheap price of fast fashion, it takes away the thought that should go into a purchase. It can be such a quick decision, sometimes it’s not even worth trying something on.
Mimi: And yeah, you never wear it. It's nuts. You have to think, do I really want it? do I need it? Which I think is a better way to do it anyway. Everyone's always saying, I've got too many clothes!
Annie: Too many clothes and nothing to wear!
Mimi: Yeah, always! Changing trends and all that stuff that you've bought and you're like, I don't even want this, why did I buy it? By the time you've bought all these little things, you might as well have saved and bought one beautiful thing.
Annie: The sales culture gets us too; I won’t do an end of season sale to clear the stock - it’s not irrelevant, or lower value. But sometimes I think people are waiting for a sale.
Mimi: I probably won't ever go on sale because it's like, this is what there is. I don't want to have excess stock and have to get rid of it, I'd rather have a wait time, so that people understand I'm making it all from scratch. Even at Christmas time when you have a pre-Christmas sale. What the fuck, why? Boxing Day sales has always been the thing, but why are we going on sale before Christmas? It doesn't make sense. Here's a brand new thing, which is also going to go on sale in a couple of weeks. Just slow it down! We don't need all this stuff. If you can't sell it at regular pace, just slow it down, make less, make less waste, waste less money.
Annie: Did you learn and sustainability and ethical production at TAFE?
Mimi: No. I told them I was working at ALAS and we were using organic cotton and my teacher was like, organic, that's a fad. Most shockingly, when we did finish the course, my teachers were like, great, so now just go send everything to China and you can get it made for fifty cents, and I was like, what the fuck! You just spent years teaching me all these amazing skills and now you're telling me to go get someone else to do it! They just said that in the industry, that's how it works. After hearing that I was so shocked. So yeah, I learnt absolutely nothing about sustainability. Working at ALAS had a huge influence on me though, it was such a huge eye-opener. You can be so oblivious if you don't learn about it.
Annie: Would you consider outsourcing all of your production or do you always want to sew?
Mimi: I think I would always do the patternmaking and the sampling. I think I would outsource production but only to someone local. I wouldn't want it to be done overseas. I want to keep it localised, that's a big voice of my brand, and for the obvious reason that it's hard to follow the supply chain and know what's going on otherwise.