It’s pretty much your loss if you haven’t heard of indie fashion brand Malia Mills. This brand is “by women, for women, and about women – a self-financed, independent, sister owned small business”…what’s not to love! Malia Mills began breaking the fashion industry mold in 1993 when she launched her swimsuit line with bra-size tops (ranging in sizes AA to E cup), bottoms and maillots (in sizes 1-16). The simple fact, or what should be simple *cough cough*, that Malia Mills includes sizes that are largely ignored by most fashion brands is a revolutionary act! We caught up with the mastermind behind the brand, at her Houston pop-up, to talk all things “Hell Yes!” :
On being a pioneer in the fashion industry + catering to all sizes
It was super simple. I thought it was fucked up that we didn’t see each other in the media. The people we saw in real life weren’t in magazines, on television and in movies. I thought it was really weird. When a woman finds something that fits well, she stands up taller and you take that energy way beyond the beach. When I started talking to women about the swimsuit buying experience, I heard a lot of negativity about it so that was our impetus to say “We need to turn the whole swimsuit experience inside out and upside down – really shake things up.” Do something really celebratory instead of stressful!
Magazines in the 90s were always calling on women to make their bodies “bikini-ready” as if they weren’t already worthy of a bikini! It seemed fundamentally wrong to me. So having bra-size separates allowed us to wear-test on a lot of different fit models who were different ethnicities (because we’re often built differently) and different ages (because as we age our bodies change). That feeling of being ‘good enough’ was something we really wanted to translate to everything. We don’t have to keep changing all the time to be ‘good enough’.
Malia’s favorite 80s rock bands inspire her creative process
I’m such a product of the ’80s! I graduated from high school in 1985 so Def Leopard, Asia, Aerosmith, Boston, and Talking Heads are groups that give me a visceral response. I think everyone has that experience when they listen to the music of their teen years… they’re figuring themselves out and the music they listen to is such a big part of growing up. Music in general is such a motivating force and it can always take you down memory lane.
What it’s like working with family
I’ve learned a shitload from my brothers and sisters! My niece Kaitlin works with us. My sister Sue works in the stores during the summer when she isn’t teaching. My sister Carol is my business partner. Sometimes I have had to stomp my feet for something I really believe in! But, as the youngest, I often do want to please everyone so I will give things a try even if I don’t completely agree with a concept. I’ll always give them a try. If I don’t like something I’ll step in and voice my opinions.
I’m very lucky because Carol and I share a very similar design sensibility. She had a graphic design business for 10 years before she started with me so it’s great because we call from similar inspiration even though we come at it from very different angles it creates a great synergy in where we don’t have many disagreements. I encourage it from my team because I don’t want everyone to ‘yes’ me all the time. That’s not how you learn and move forward. It’s a rewarding process so we encourage that dialog a lot.
I think feminism truly means shoulder-to-shoulder. I think we are in this to win this together and wrapping our arms around as many different people from as many different backgrounds as possible! After the election it was a very emotional time in our office and we sat down and I said that “Now, more than ever, ‘love thy differences’ means a lot more and we better put our money where our mouth is. A lot of people disagree with each other right now and we think they’re crazy to think that way. But if we really believe in ‘love thy differences’ then we have to respectfully let people do their own thing.” That’s the beauty of living in America and I think that’s a lot of what feminism is. We have to stand up for each other even when we don’t agree; it can be contrarian it just has to not be cruel.
It became abundantly clear that Malia is like the cool auntie everyone should have. She embodies so much of what the little girl in all of us aspires to be: trendy, smart, kind, confident, and brave. Speaking with her gave us chills because she’s so relatable and influential at the same damn time.
We gear up for the curve ball final question
Butter or Olive oil?
Olive oil! And I use it all over the place and with every meal. It’s a new thing for me, but my best friend from high school introduced it to me about 5 or 6 years ago. It makes cooking so much easier just coating a food with it with some salt and pepper and throwing it in the oven.
The admiration of women is evident in each step of the fashion process in the Malia Mills brand – from production to purchase and the woman herself is worth admiring, too.
This interview was edited by the CommonPolished team for brevity