Have you ever met someone 3,000 miles away whom you knew you were destined to cross paths with? I don’t believe in destiny. But I do believe that people who work towards the same larger goals find each other in the dark, and that’s exactly what happened when I met Maria Luisa Mendiola of Miga Swimwear. Miga has been featured in Teen Vogue, Glamour Magazine, Ravishly, and more. They had been popping up on my radar, and I had to see who was behind these major waves, so I made it a mission to get to know this spunky New Yorker.
Already in the short amount of time Wicked Flaws has been live, I’ve written extensively about how swimwear affects those with body disfigurations like mine. I shopped for bathing suits knowing they were never going to be FOR people like me, so I would just have to see what I could find to work with. I struggled to find suits that could hide my scar, leaning heavily on items like board shorts or skirts. The same scenario always took place. Eventually, as I was the last one still wearing my cutoffs while all my friends had shed theirs for the pool or ocean, I would face away and quickly disrobe from my shorts, jumping in as fast as possible. I felt somehow safer among the shield of the water. As I grew into a woman who no longer cared that my scar was visible, it was still difficult to find suits that would stay put, thus making me queen of the one piece! Acceptance and self-love or not, bathing suits are made for people with both sides of their hiney, not for me. Swimwear is perhaps one of the least “inclusive”markets in the world. But designers like Maria Luisa are taking this industry by storm, saying no more to generalizations and stigma, and welcoming all of us brave enough to take our flaws for a swim.
Miga swimwear designs bathing suits for women with disfigurement, to be worn by all. Each bathing suit comes with a custom bag detailing the disfigurement it represents. Miga’s latest launch was inspired by the needs of three burn victims in New York City. Protecting scars from harmful UV rays, the design team created suits that not only served a purpose, but were gorgeous and chic. With bright colors, and blocky, geometric, 1970’s influence, the suits in this latest collection hearken to an era of bold swimwear. High necklines, a single sleeve, and warm pinks and oranges remind of us the feather-haired cover girls gracing magazines like Farrah Fawcett and Cheryl Tiegs.
Looking at Maria Luisa thumbing over her renderings, she looks like your quintessential New York fashion designer. But she’s not. She faces so many challenges in her creative process that others don’t. I asked how she embarks on such a daunting task, she replied like a seasoned veteran.
“During my first meeting with the volunteers, I ask them design questions that range from their needs to the colors they like and what do they usually avoid when it comes to fashion. I ask this last question as I like to encourage our volunteers to go out of their comfort zone. Then I show them a couple of sketches before going into sampling with the studio so that the volunteers have an idea of how the piece will look before the first fitting.”
Miga launched a Kickstarter last week, so I asked Maria what she envisioned for it’s success. “The reason I decided to do a Kickstarter is two-fold.” She replied. “ First, it is sustainable. We will only produce the amount of bathing suits that are pre-ordered for. Since I am in this for the long-haul, I need to be as conservative with orders as possible as I believe this will allow for more collections to come. Secondly, and I believe this is the most important, it allows for our first buyers to be more than customers;they are backers. Once they purchase,they are part of the MIGA community.”
And there you have it, community. Isn’t that what we are all looking for? Not as men or women, disfigured or not, but as humans. A feeling of belonging to something greater than yourself. A community of the people sharing this world. Women like Maria Luisa are using their talent and passion to change the world, and fashion is one of the best places we can start. “Ultimately, our aim is to create a brand, for disfigured and non-disfigured women to come together and break the stigma of looking differently.” Said Maria Luisa as we wrapped up our call to go our separate ways for the evening. So many things rang out in my mind as I chopped vegetables for dinner that night. Her warm laughter, the smile I could hear when she spoke, the sirens of New York City interrupting our conversation, but mostly, that I am so incredibly fortunate to call her a colleague, fellow warrior, and friend.