African fashion is where my heart is. Born and raised in Malawi, I just couldn’t wait to write about Mayamiko, a fashion brand with roots between Malawi, Italy as well as the United Kingdom. Mayamiko is an ethical and sustainable woman’s wear and lifestyle brand, producing clothes, accessories and homeware, lovingly made in Malawi by a team of tailors, pattern cutters and seamstresses. The collections are cross-seasonal and are inspired by African artisanal traditions and prints, with ethical trading and sustainability at its core. Designed between London, Milan and Lilongwe, and ethically sourced, cut and sewn in Malawi, the label is designed for the global modern woman while giving an ode to their birthplace through the use of traditional African techniques and locally printed fabrics, referred to as Chitenje in Malawi.
Paola Masperi (left)
As one of my favourite sustainable fashion brands, I just had to talk to Paola Masperi the creative mind behind the Mayamiko brand. Being a Malawian in Italy and Paola an Italian in Malawi, it was very illuminating to talk not only about fashion but our various experiences in each other’s countries’ of origin. Paula’s determination to create sustainable solutions to the issues of poverty affecting women and families in developing countries led her to partner with creative artisans in Malawi resulting into Mayamiko, a label with high quality, trendy and desirable fashions, wholly made under ethical conditions.
When talking about her beginnings in Malawi, Paola recalls how she had been doing work in Malawi among other developing countries since 2005. “I started Mayamiko in 2008 as a charitable project, with the long-term view of turning it into a sustainable business for everyone involved. Providing education and skills creates a way out of poverty that is sustainable and not dependent on aid’’. Speaking on her support of women’s education and how that played a role on the birth of Mayamiko, Paula notes that women’s education as proven by various studies has a positive effect not only on the women but their families. Couple that with an interest in fashion, the availability of wonderful fabrics and the abundant artisanal techniques, the idea to create Mayamiko was born. “When I first had the idea for this business I had been working with Malawi for several years. At that point the country was pretty close to my heart because of its incredible beauty, warmth and potential, but also because of all the countries I had been to, Malawi seemed to need the holistic approach more than most. This is why it felt like such a natural starting point’’.
Based in Lilongwe, Mayamiko works in partnership with Mayamiko Trust, a charity set up by Paola in 2008 after her extensive travels in Africa. Mayamiko aims to help the most disadvantaged people in Malawi by nurturing their creative talents and turning them into sustainable activities that could be transferable to trade practices. Lifting people out of poverty and towards a better future. “With our Fashion Lab and training centre, we provide tailoring and sewing training, as well as embroidery and other artisanal skills to disadvantaged women from the local community. We also provide financial education and entrepreneurship training, so our ‘graduates’ are equipped with the right tools to succeed” Paola comments as she illustrates briefly how Mayamiko The Label and Mayamiko Trust work hand in hand to bring forth beautiful garments while promoting local creative talents. The Charity and brand work together through the Mayamiko Fashion Lab where the garments are made. “Often, on top of our syllabus-based course, we host experienced artisans who come and teach specific skills. At the end of their training, our graduates can apply for a grant to get a sewing machine and start their own business activity, or some may want to stay and work with us next door in the fashion lab on Mayamiko. It is very much a mutual arrangement, as everyone’s circumstances are different”.
Mayamiko a member of the Ethical Fashion Forums ‘Fellowship 500’ and supporter of the Fashion Revolution movement is also a proud member of Textile Exchange, a global non-profit that works closely with members to drive industry transformation in preferred fibres, integrity and standards and responsible supply networks. “By setting up a social enterprise in Malawi we ensure our team is well paid and protected, we contribute to the tax system, we are committed to buying local. This last commitment is especially difficult because it means we have limited options available in terms of fabrics and trimmings, but we value that the local community is benefiting from every step of our garment making process. Also, our zero waste policy is very important to me. I can see in our small factory how much cutting room waste is produced, and with some creativity, all of that can be turned into beautiful products for someone to love and cherish. Same with items which may not have sold as well as we had hoped. Instead of flooding the local second-hand market, we upcycle and transform. Paola comments on the importance of Fair Trade.
As a firm supporter of Ethical fashion, I believe we all need Mayamiko in our closets right now. The label’s online store is filled with a wide selection of wardrobe must-haves ranging from clothes to accessories. Make sure you take yourself there for some retail therapy.