A few weeks after we learned that a new sustainable fashion company called Maykher has won the Ethical Business of the year at the Wales Federation of Small Business Awards, we had the chance to meet with its founder and creative director, Heidi Griffiths, and to find out more about the Maykher’s ethos and vision. On an unseasonably cold Saturday afternoon we caught-up with Heidi at their new studio space in Cardiff Bay and then went for a walk around the windswept Mermaid Quay, chatting about what inspired her to start a brand dedicated to tackling the issues of poverty, inequality and lack of education faced by women working in the fashion industry across the globe and why it is important to support the wellbeing of makers and do our best to protect the planet from mass waste.
A passionate and creative soul with strong beliefs in people and equal opportunities, Heidi is part of a generation of forward thinking urban entrepreneurs for whom the fashion culture has ceased to be all about expenditure, consumption and wastefulness, and who are tirelessly bring in the global fashion arena sustainable and ethical practices aiming to empower, educate and facilitate social change.
Working collectively with artists, makers and artisans from all over the world, Maykher has created a business model and a fashion brand which harnesses traditional skills and fosters sustainable development, while acting as an advocate for equality and empowerment of women through education. Having won the 2018 Ethical Business award is a well-deserved achievement and a testament to the fact that companies like Maykher thoroughly understand that building fashion brands with a mission and implementing ethics as a standard is the best way to forge ethical relationships and meaningful interactions, both with the garments we’re wearing and with the people who make them.
Tell us about Heidi, the founder of Maykher. What is your story?
I’m a woman on a mission to save the world, one bag at a time. Ha ha!
What is your most vivid childhood memory?
I have a really vivid memory from when I was about 2 years old. I was out in a pushchair and it was raining heavily, I had one of those plastic pushchair covers over me to keep me dry. I remember watching the patterns that the rain formed on the plastic and how loud the rain sounded whilst I was underneath the cover. I think this might actually be one of my earliest memories.
How did you get into the world of fashion? What was your journey like?
Honestly, I stumbled into the world of fashion! It wasn’t a great master plan. I studied and graduated as a Graphic Designer. When I left University somebody close to me recommended a role in Buying that they thought I would enjoy and be good at, it sounded exciting so I decided to take a leap and went for it. With hindsight I had no idea what I was getting myself into, but I was young, enthusiastic and willing to learn. Within about two weeks I had been offered a position and I moved to London. I was terrified but I’m stubborn and was determined to prove to myself that I could do it. I’ll never forget my first few weeks of feeling completely out of my depth, I had no idea what I was doing. Within just a few months I had grown a lot in confidence, it wasn’t long before I was showing other new starters the ropes and moving up the levels myself. Working with textiles is now one of my most favourite creative things to do, personally and professionally. I think my career is a great example of how saying yes to unplanned opportunities can definitely work out for the best.
What inspired you to look into ethical and sustainable fashion?
I can’t marry my respect for this type of fashion to a definitive event or point in time, more an interest and passion that has evolved and grown over time. My (and many others) dislike for the current form of fast fashion has led to a wave of more conscious companies who feel and believe in a better way. I believe in people and care for the environment and therefore in a period of time where automation is growing, where authentic techniques are being replaced for cheaper/faster alternatives and where a garment is becoming cheaper and more disposable, I think it’s important to deliver something that supports the wellbeing of makers and to do our utmost to protect our planet from mass waste.
How would you define the Maykher style and vision?
I would define the Maykher style as Fresh, Confident and Versatile. We want to create pieces that fit seamlessly into busy lives, which is fundamental for modern women. Most of our pieces adapt as you move through different occasions, dressing up or down. Our scarves are intentionally large in size, they drape beautifully when dressed formally, but look great casually with jeans, equally the larger size makes them perfect as sarongs for those days when you’re lounging on the beach! Our backpack converts to a satchel (and vice versa) to offer flexibility and it completely transforms the look of the piece. The Maykher attitude to fashion is buy less, buy better, so versatility is key in allowing items to become staples in your wardrobe. We’re really excited to expand on this in the future.
You created a brand dedicated to tackling the issues of poverty, inequality and lack of education faced by women working in the fashion industry across the globe. What is it that both fascinates and outrages you the most about the industry?
I would say we’re focused on addressing those issues for women across the board, not just those who work in the fashion industry and whilst we work primarily with women it isn’t exclusive, we’re proud to work with talented men also. Whilst our core focus is with women to address the inequality issues that so many face around the world, we don’t feel like we can represent equality and inclusion in its truest form by eliminating somebody based on their gender. Many of the women we work with have never had a formal education, so a number of our makers are also on development programmes to support their personal and professional development, programmes that cover literacy, leadership, wellbeing and even support programmes for those who have mental health struggles. I’m continually fascinated and inspired by the resilience and motivation of so many of the makers and women generally, yet hugely frustrated that in 2018 women are still having to demand conversations about equal rights and opportunities!
Do you believe that equality and sustainability will ever become the main trend in the fashion industry?
In my eyes a trend is something that comes and goes, I think that sustainability will (and has to) have a more permanent position in the industry. More people are asking questions today: who made my clothes? why so much plastic? It’s hugely encouraging to have these conversations but there is much more to be done. The industry is currently in quite a predicament in addressing many different and complicated issues, it’s certainly not going to improve overnight, especially for large retailers. Working to a realistic and measurable set of goals to improve practise is a good step forward for many.
What was the greatest challenge you had to face as a young entrepreneur?
Firstly, I love that you’ve called me a young entrepreneur, this has definitely made me smile! You face challenges every day when you run a business but with experience you become more confident in your abilities to solve, sometimes very difficult, situations quickly and efficiently. I think the greatest challenge for me currently is balancing my time to achieve everything and knowing when to stop and rest. When you run a business, especially in the early years, you work around the clock and there is still not enough time. I’m still learning to listen to my body and to allow myself that time for R&R. For those who have got the balance figured out, my ears are open!
Tell us about your journey through Thailand, Singapore and Malaysia. Why these places and what was the most valuable lesson you brought back home with you?
I love to travel, it’s one of my favourite things to do. It was a sabbatical in 2011 when I did South East Asia and it was a life changing experience for me. You experience life in different people’s footsteps and see things that you never normally would. It’s hugely clichéd but travelling has made me realise how incredibly lucky many of us are, even when we think we’re not. It was through these experiences of travelling, seeing poverty first hand, that made me want to do something to help. However, I had no experience in social sciences, international affairs or anything that even in the slightest related to addressing inequality or poverty, so after much deliberating my partner and I decided to use the skills we did have in fashion and design as a tool to do some good. From there Maykher was born.
Who do you admire in your industry and why?
When it comes to slow/sustainable fashion and encouraging good practise, socially and environmentally, I definitely think Livia Firth. She is fantastic at initiating thought provoking conversations and great at challenging others in a way that is so considered. She’s a fantastic activist for the industry and I have a lot of respect for her.
What was the best piece of advice you have ever been given?
Taylor Swift told me to: Shake It Off :)
What would we find in your wardrobe? How would you describe your personal style?
I feel like my style has changed A LOT over the last few years. At one point my entire wardrobe was full of bright colours and bold floral patterns but it’s much more simple now. Like the Maykher principle, I shop by the ethos of buying less and buying better, so each piece in my wardrobe has to be really easy to outfit build with. My style is very casual, I’m in jeans and DM’s most days, but I do like to have fun with my style so I can be quite playful. I just asked my partner to sum up my style in three words, he said vibrant, eclectic and confident.
If you could live anywhere in the world, where would that be and why?
Weirdly I often rate a city on my ability to live there. I have quite a few favourites for very different reasons, but today I’m going with Sydney, Australia. It offers a perfect balance of city & beach life. There is such a great focus on wellbeing and enjoying outdoors. I love that. I also have a lot of friends and family there, which of course is a bonus!
What other project or disciplines are you involved with or interested in?
In addition to Maykher, I run a Design Agency called Dirty Little Serifs. DLS do all sorts of wonderful creative projects which I adore and through it I’ve met some wonderful people. It has given me the opportunity to set up Maykher which is my passion project so I’m really grateful to it. I’m also on the board for a fantastic Social Enterprise called Full Circle Education who do incredible work with young people across Wales and beyond. I guess you could sum me up as a creative soul with strong beliefs in people and opportunities.
What was the best gift you have ever received?
Goodness, this is hard, I’ve had to ponder over it! I appreciate actions and experiences with people so much more than physical ‘things’ whilst I’ve had some incredible ‘thing’ gifts. So, for my chosen answer… My partner and I have been a couple for not far short of 15 years. He’s incredibly good at knowing what I want/need and when, I’m extremely fortunate that he has such immense intuition! I’m a little grouchy in the mornings, so every morning, pretty much without fail, he makes and brings me a perfect cup of tea. It makes me smile every single day. I know when he reads this he’ll probably say; “… of all the gifts you’ve ever had and you’re choosing tea!” I can hear him say it disapprovingly. BUT it’s the sentiment of little gifts or actions from loved ones that you’ll always remember, right?
What are you working on at the moment?
I’m balancing quite a few things. Aren’t we all? I’m mostly trying to finalise everything for our next range, I’m looking at some new products which I’m really excited about!
What does the future hold for Maykher?
Growth. We’re a small business with big ambitions. The bigger we can grow the more social good we can deliver and that really motivates me. Our core focus is to use our store as a tool to get as many girls into education as possible. We’ve started to achieve this with our first girl at the start of this year, we’re hoping for many many more. I’m so excited to see what 2018 and beyond has in store for us (no pun intended).
And now a Yes or No Max Frisch question: If you had the power to put into effect things you consider right, would you do so against the wishes of the majority?
Tough question! With so many variables!! Have I done my homework? I’m 100% certain I’m right? What are the consequences of my actions? Do I have less (or more) insight than everyone else? I think anybody in a position of power has to make choices that not everyone is going to like, it’s the nature of being in that position, however I think it’s hugely important to listen and learn from others. So instinctually I’d have to say I’d need more information to answer :)
Can you recommend us:
A book: Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg
A song: Maria Maria by Carlos Santana
A film: Moana :)
A dish: Massaman
Thank you, Heidi for the wonderful insight into your entrepreneurial venture.