It is my absolute pleasure to be introducing this blog!! As someone who's been following the story and journey of Manimani since the early days, I've loved watching it flourish, seeing new designs, products and being consistent with its eco, but chic ethos! I absolutely love wearing my Manimami pieces, but I also love receiving endless compliments while wearing them (so if you're the same, make sure to check out Carmen's website)! As a fellow female small business owner, I've really enjoyed building a relationship with Carmen and I'm buzzing that she agreed to share her hun story with us all. So read on if you love slow, sustainable and chic fashion! _______________________________________________________________________________
Hello! My name is Carmen and I am the owner/ creator/ designer/ everything behind Manimami :). I'm originally from Virginia, USA, and I grew up, pretty exclusively, in the trees… I was always covered in sap when it was time for dinner, that is if I wasn’t stuck in a tree. But, as I grew up I began to think of nature as being lame,., and instead, I grew a deep love for fashion. At around the age of 7 or 8, I started hand hand-sewing sewing little purses with scrap fabric my mom gave me. When I was 16 my stepmother showed me how to operate her sewing machine, and then later I was gifted my own sewing machine. I started by making my own dresses; I didn’t know what patterns were but I would look at a dress I had and mimic the shapes I saw and alter a little until it fit me right.
I attended Virginia Commonwealth University School of the Arts where I earned a BA in fashion merchandising but that was just to understand the business side of the fashion world, not the creative side (turns out degrees in the creative world don’t really matter all that much). I worked in fast fashion as a visual merchandiser for about five years but, being the rebel that I am, I hated that I had to follow all these different rules and guidelines to try to make massive amounts of money for someone else. I wanted to be my own boss and make my own money by creating my own things, so I quit! I tried to start selling home goods with an Etsy shop for about a year, but my heart wasn’t in it, as I was dealing with some personal stuff, so instead, I decided to pick up my life and start over. In 2018 I moved to Spain (as I am half Spanish) along with making some personal lifestyle changes; I became sober, vegetarian and I even started going to therapy at the beginning of 2019. It was then that I really began focusing on what I wanted to do career-wise, whilst thinking about what impact I wanted to have on the planet (this is where my childhood tree-hugging roots come into play). Fashion is not only a business that is extremely damaging to the environment but is also very cut-throat,ass-kissing and you have to do a lot of ass-kissing to get where you want to be, which I cannot do. So, knowing all industry this about the fashion industry as well as being more and more concerned about the environment, I decided to try to blend the two together, and create my own sustainable brand, thus Manimami was born!
How and why did you start Manimami?
I have been buying second-hand clothing and making them into different things for years. I’ve also been making my own clothing out of store-bought fabric since I was a teenager, and whenever I would wear my pieces people would always ask me about it and tell me that I should start selling my stuff. I didn’t have a lot of confidence at the time as I wasn’t technically trained in garment design so I never went for it. It wasn’t until I changed some aspects of my life: I started loving myself more, being more positive - which help me gain the confidence I needed. Also, my partner (who I met in Spain) is the most supportive person ever, he really pushed me and encouraged me to try to make a brand happen.
Manimami was started in 2020. Right before the pandemic hit, I started making pieces and since I moved to working solely online (teaching English), I had a lot more time to make things, so that is when my production really took off. I launched in August of 2020 and I’ve been trying to keep up ever since. The brand has evolved since its inception, as I'm trying to make a more cohesive and streamlined brand, but I'm always striving to do things in new sustainable ways, like making my own fabrics by using natural dyes from food scraps.
What’s your creative process like, and what's your favourite part?
My favourite part of the creative process is definitely when I picture something in my head, draw it out, make it and then it ends up being exactly like, or better than, I had imagined it. This almost never happens, so when it does it’s such an amazing feeling.
Tell us about running Manimami as a side hustle through lockdown...
I’ve always considered myself a hustler. I’ve been working since I was 14 in restaurants, then in retail, then interior design and then teaching… I’ve had a lot of jobs! But, I'm always ready to pick up an extra job if I need to. I currently teach English to Spanish kids to make money, to pay rent and bills, as the money I get from Manimami is never a sure thing, and usually goes back into the brand. I don’t mind doing both jobs as I know I'm working towards my goal of making Manimami a full-time gig once I build a larger customer base and network. I'm still a very young brand and I’m willing to hustle for however long it takes to get to where I want to be. The dream would be to grow and have my pieces in stores for people to see and try on, versus purely online, and if needed I could employ other women like me to help with the construction of the garments. I never want to sell out, I don’t want to produce anything in factories or do anything that is against my sustainable goals for the brand.
Lockdown has honestly been a blessing for me. When lockdown first started, I worked only online and I worked fewer hours so it really gave me the time I needed to get started on creating the base of Manimami.
What's your favourite thing to make?
That would definitely be dresses! I started my sewing path by making my own dresses when I was a teenager and I’ve always loved them. There is something about a dress that is both feminine and powerful at the same time; I feel at my most confident when I’m wearing a beautiful dress with sneakers walking down the street. I also love the history of dresses - from togas to victorian dresses. They had mainly been made to restrict women and that’s all we were “allowed” to wear, yet now we are wearing all sorts of dresses - long, sort, strappy, sleeved, sheer, etc. - to show off our femininity and to me, it feels like a big F U to the man!! Like, yes - we can wear whatever we want to as women in the 21st century, but it's like, I’m wearing this amazing dress because I like it… not for you. I honestly swear that I was a dressmaker in my past life.
Where you get your fashion and creative inspo from?
My creative inspo comes from museums, 100%. I really don’t like to look at what other fashion designers are doing because I don’t want to consciously or subconsciously copy their designs or follow all the latest trends. There is a Romanticism museum here in Madrid and it’s my favourite. It's filled with all these paintings of women in the most amazing handmade dresses - I just picture myself living in that era hand-stitching these dresses made of high-quality fabrics (not factory-made) in my little shop as the town’s dressmaker. Also, being in nature also gives me new life to create when I’m feeling a bit depleted.