Vocation and occupation are two terms that do not always work together. This was proved by this fashion designer based in Berlin, who never went to a fashion school. Her training in sustainability led her to a sewing machine, where she learnt how to sew on her own. She believes that fashion is a tool for self-expression and the celebration of human diversity in which mass production has no place. Her ethical fashion brand is the icon of textile reincarnation. Blankets, tablecloths or curtains are some of the materials that Melisa Minca explores until they become the garment that you would die to have in your closet.
In an industry as competitive as fashion, where new brands appear every day, how do you come out with this idea? What is the differential value that Melisa Minca offers as a fashion brand?
Ethical fashion has a bad reputation when it comes to design for not being exciting enough. I’m trying to bridge that gap. However, I remember how I couldn’t find any similar brand when I was setting up mine two years ago. Today, I see new fashion upcycling projects daily. It makes me very happy! I don’t see them as competition because if a brand makes one-of-a-kind pieces, they’re always going to be unique. The point is to deflect consumers from fast fashion. The more ethical brands, the better.
You’ve developed two workstreams: system recovery and custom. What’s the difference between each other? Which one do you usually spend more time on?
System recovery is made up of upcycled and repurposed pieces from second-hand materials such as curtains, blanket covers or tablecloths. I also rework clothes that I get in second-hand shops and flea markets. The custom collection is comprised of pieces that I make to order after I’ve made a sample. You can either send me your measurements or come to my studio to be measured. In system recovery, I always get to make something new, so I think I end up giving myself a bit more time with that subconsciously.
As you work over existing clothes, garments are unique with no option of choosing the size. Do you think that it’s more difficult to fulfil the demand of the public with these kind of garments, or are they the ones that best represent the spirit of the brand?
I understood that it might be difficult to find the right person, that’s why in my shop, I’m offering customisation. If the existing garment can be altered to fit you, I can do that. You only need to contact me. The shopping experience becomes quite personal and the garment you’re getting, a bit more special. I notice some people like it a lot and some are maybe put off because it’s not a one-click shop. I get asked to restock or to recreate sold out items a lot, which is a great thing.
The clothes and materials you work with need previous research, it’s not as simple as going to look for fabrics. Do you usually design before and then you look for materials or do you use the materials as inspiration for your designs?
Most of the time, I let the clothes inspire me. I don’t live in a vacuum, so whatever comes out will be affected by current fashion trends. You can do so many things with staples such as blank shirts, suits or jeans. Therefore, I usually do the research after I’ve had the chance to source.
You are a self-taught designer who never studied fashion at school or university, and despite all, you’re developing an innovative proposal in the industry. Do you think that one thing is related to the other?
My interns tell me how their university professors sometimes don’t let them go where they want creatively but instead ‘put them in a box’. I’ve even heard that in some places, upcycling is not considered important enough to pursue as a designer. However, I’m sure there is plenty of innovative talent coming from the universities. To me, being innovative and celebrating sustainability is about who you are as a person rather than whether you’re educated in the subject of fashion.
You have collaborated with brands such as Adidas. Do you think that big companies are getting concerned about the value of creating something unique and sustainable or is it just a fad for them?
No, I think they’re just trying to stay relevant. And turn attention away from the fact that even though they have one sustainable collection and/or work with small upcycling brands such as mine, they still have twenty other unsustainable collections.
How do you think Melisa Minca will evolve the next five years? What challenges do you have left to achieve?
Only the ultimate challenge! Make people understand that the current system of how we consume fashion is unsustainable and that a big change in our consuming habits is absolutely crucial. Hopefully, in five years, I’ll be able to get closer to my dream to have a studio with a few happy employees and many returning customers and clients. Experimenting and finding new ways to upcycle, collaborating with like-minded people, helping my community and running an ever more sustainable operation both environmentally and socially.