Julia Ahrens of Miakoda
Julia Ahrens and Laura Ahrens are the sister team behind Miakoda, a modern sportswear line made and designed in Brooklyn. All of their designs are made with sustainable, organic materials and neutral colored fabrics that make mixing and matching easy. Their simple designs can be worn both inside and outside the yoga studio, easily transitioning from an exercise class to a lunch date with friends. I talked to Julia, a Parsons grad and the designer behind Miakoda, about her take on the sustainable fashion industry and the importance of educating consumers.
With regards to your own work, how do you define sustainability?
Sustainability to me, in terms of fashion design, is clothing that doesn’t hurt anyone/anything—meaning animals, people, or our planet. It means that the person wearing it can feel proud to spend their dollars on the clothing they purchase. It means that design and ethics are equally important.
Can you describe how you started your company and how you became interested in sustainable design?
I went to Parsons and graduated in 2012 with a degree in Fashion Design. Towards the end of my studies at Parsons I went vegan and started practicing yoga. The way I viewed the world shifted dramatically. I began to be more conscious about the impact my actions have on the planet. I first learned what sustainability was, and it immediately resonated with me. I knew whatever I did in this world had to be sustainable. The fashion industry isn’t always the most compassionate of industries (when you think about leather, sweatshops, pesticide use, etc). I love design and wanted to use it as a vehicle to open people’s eyes to the truths of the industry. As much as a piece of clothing might be “cute”, if it’s harming the planet and the people who make it, is it truly beautiful? I decided to start Miakoda as a way to give consumers more options that they could feel beautiful (inside and out) wearing.
What are the most rewarding and challenging aspects of owning a sustainable business?
The most challenging aspect is trying to get other people to care. At the end of the day, most shoppers are concerned with price. Supporting organic fabric producers and sweatshop free, ethical factories is more expensive than clothing made overseas with conventionally grown fabrics. Explaining why someone should skip the $7 tank from a fast fashion retailer and buy a $40 organic tank made in Brooklyn is my biggest challenge. However, whenever someone thanks me for giving them ethical options, my heart lights up with joy! It’s the biggest reward to know that I allow people to support good practices that they can feel good about!
Where do you see the fashion industry moving in terms of ethics and sustainability?
In my opinion, it’s inevitable that the fashion industry will have to become more ethical and sustainable. The earth cannot continue to support the practices we have been doing. I think the more people get educated about why ethically made is important, the more the fashion industry will have to shift.
How can we encourage consumers to buy ethically and sustainably?
I think education is our biggest tool. The more people learn about why these practices are so important, the more inclined they will be to look for artisan made, ethical, and sustainable fashion.
Can you describe what you hope your company will look like five years from now? In other words, what are your long term goals for your company?
My number one goal right now is to expand and grow the company. As we grow, we can produce a larger amount of clothing, and ideally drop our prices. Since we started 3 years ago, we have already expanded so much and dropped our prices over 50%! This allows us to be accessible to more people. The more accessible ethical fashion is, the more likely people will choose it over fast fashion.
What does a typical day in the studio look like for you?
There really is no typical day for me. I usually wake up and immediately begin to answer emails. Whether I’m talking to the factory, wholesalers, bloggers, etc… emails make up a big part of my day. Some days I design, some days I go to the factory, but everyday includes packing orders, updating excel logs, and a trip to the post office.
Tell me about your design process.
My design process has definitely transformed and evolved as Miakoda has transformed and evolved. At the end of the day, I may love a certain piece I designed, but I always look to sales and my customers to see what they like best. We try to expand the selection of pieces that sell well because those are the pieces the customers want. Comfort is always paramount in our design. Miakoda is designed to be the clothing you don’t want to take off--- I used to always come home and immediately change into pajamas. Miakoda is meant to be that clothing that is comfortable but effortlessly easy to wear out of the house as well as lounging around the house! Color is one of the things that inspires me as well. As a sustainable company, we are limited to the colors that our fabric suppliers have available, which is sometimes frustrating. I always create a mood board with images that inspire me and pick our color story from there.
Do you have a motto or saying that particularly inspires you?
One yoga chant in particular stands out when asked this question. From the first time I heard it, it has held great importance to me. Lokah samastah sukhino bhavantu. Meaning: “May all beings be happy and free from suffering. And may the thoughts, words, and actions in my own life in some way contribute to that happiness and that freedom for all.”
+To see the full Miakoda collection, head on over to their website.
+Keep updated on Miakoda styles by following the sister-duo on Instagram at @miakodanewyork
Photos courtesy of Julia Ahrens.