Conversation with Erika Maish
A nice thing during Fashion month is the fact that you can meet many gifted designers. Amongst them, you will find Erika Maish, a young designer from LA who graduated from CSM. Hard to ignore her beautiful installation at the BFC showroom. Her pieces made from can tabs and healing crystals are a pure ode to craft. In an industry where the pace has become faster each day, Erika chose to take time to produce clothing out of reused materials.
Deeply influenced by her own experience, the idea of cleverly reusing what we have around us is very present in the way she grasps the act of making fashion. Between two shows, Erika and I shared a very enriching conversation about her collection and her opinions on today’s fashion challenges.
Can you introduce yourself?
What’s the concept behind your collection ?
Yes, so the concept started when I learned that Ronald Reagan the American President had an astrologer while he was living in The White House. I’ve learned also that a lot of companies at Wall Street have astrologers on their board. I love that mixture of esoteric with capitalism in the United States. I’m from Los Angeles, and I grew up around this wellness and spiritual communities. I have always traveled around the south western desert of the United States growing up and there are so many interesting communities scattered around the desert that have proposed these alternative ways of living.
One of the places I went to, they made houses out of glass bottles from saloons because they didn’t have wood from trees to build houses. I just found that way of thinking was really inspiring. That nothing is ever a set way in how you do something. And that kind of inspired me to use these unconventional materials and to really challenge myself to make clothing out of them. I was kind of envisioning as this businesswoman – from Wall Street or Washington DC – who gets stranded in the desert and she’s trying to just make her wardrobe again with things that she is finding in the desert. She’s kind of try to reconstruct her trench coat, her pinstripe suit from can tabs. She’s wearing like healing crystals as a bikini, she’s wearing massage bids and just hammering constellations into her dresses.
So I sourced can tabs from sellers on Ebay that sell used ones. There are also rejects from factories. Then I bend and clip all of them and link it together into this chain mail. It’s actually like a children craft technique – a lot of my work focuses around craft. This is really DIY techniques and I just try to elevate them to be more high fashion, because I think they’re really cool techniques. I worked a lot with just trying to make pieces that have colors, pockets, belts… I wanted to try to make tailored clothing out of materials you wouldn’t necessarily be tailoring and shaping with.
How long does it take to make those pieces?
It depends on how big the piece is, but for the all skirt suit, something like that could be 3 to 4 weeks. And then smaller pieces could be about a week to make.
So it can be quite long then…
Yeah, everything is really time intensive, but I definitely think slow making is really important. Especially as a response to fast fashion. All my clothes are fully fashioned or seamless which also eliminates any excess like cut-aways from improductions.
How many looks did you have
It was 9 looks.
You’ve talked about slow making as a response to fast fashion, which part did sustainability had in your approach overall?
I think it’s very important for like everything in design going forward. For me, I think it is just about finding that balance of you need to be sustainable. As a designer or as a company, you need to practice sustainable methods of making things while just running your studio. But I think also it goes hand in hand with the design has to be good.
What do you think about cancelling the Fashion Week as a solution to environmental crisis as movement like ‘Extinction Rebellion’ claimed?
Initially, I supported movement like ‘Extinction Rebellion’ but I think it’s gotten too extreme. And I don’t agree with the ‘us vs. them’ mentality. I wish they would make an effort to work together with designers because for instance if we just cancelled Fashion Week two weeks ago, it would have been so much waste. If you think about all the stuff that was produced and that doesn’t get to be shown. People are depending on money, we are in a crisis… It kind of goes down to classism. I think a lot of it is has to do with people who can afford to be protesting and to be part of those organisations.
Also there are so many people in the fashion industry that contribute to making these collections. When you think about it, so many things started out of plants and it goes to that all process from farmer to actually ending up in a store. That’s just crazy how many people are involved in the process. So it’s not a black or white issue. But I don’t think cancelling Fashion Week would solve anything. Especially I don’t understand why they would protest London Fashion Week. There are presentations and other things that happen off schedule and they don’t necessarily require to work in the cycle. But having organisations like the British Fashion Council that shows young designers in organised space is an amazing way for our work to get seen when it wouldn’t otherwise get seen… When Burberry does a show, people will always see it. They have enough attention, they don’t need Fashion Week…
But I do wish Extinction Rebellion would maybe try to do something to help designers become sustainable because it can be really hard, even if it was advising or helping source materials… And just trying to help rather than just try to shut it down. Because it feels like it’s a lot of people that don’t work in fashion and don’t always understand it.
Would you say that your own environment – politics, ecology, social issues – has a impact on your creation process or your way to see fashion?
Well, I guess for me a big thing was championing craft techniques, and I think that’s an important thing for me. Especially in the US with the election happening, it’s just the sexism that you realise is in everything. We’ve never had a female president and all the news coverage is insane… For me, it’s really important to be part of something, that is traditionally thought as women’s work. That’s something I really want to be proud of because I think people are thinking it is less than. Because sewing and knitting and all these techniques are just things that women do… and they’re not like good as what would be a traditional masculine thing.
I definitely see that a lot, and that’s something I’m aware of. But I think everyone should be comfortable to embrace masculinity and femininity in things but I don’t think any industry should be one way or the other. It’s just about embracing that spectrum and saying like ‘you can be the president of the US and you don’t need to wear a suit to be powerful’… but you can if you want to but you should be able to wear like a pink dress’. That’s also powerful!
How do you picture the future of fashion – including your future collections?
At the core of everything, it is just materials. There’re so many shapes that have been done. But I think the way forward for fashion is just thinking about materials that we use.
Are you planning a new collection then?
I’m hoping so… I’m hoping to start working on some things and just do freelance work as well. And even just over this event I’ve gotten approached by so many people from different projects that are really exciting. It’s cool to just work with people and on other things to become a multi-disciplinary designer. Because I like to do my own work but also I really enjoy collaborating with other people
Has your approach been influenced by specific artists?
Oh yeah El Anatsui! He’s from Nigeria. I love his work. He makes these huge installations out of cans and he uses bottle tops as well. He creates beautiful drapey pieces. I have seen his installations in a lot of museums and galleries growing up and I love his work.
Also I love Paco Rabanne. He was just challenging the way you can make clothing and what is made from. I love his work.
What are your brand crushes or which brands you would love to collaborate with?
I mean, Paco Rabanne… still. I would love to see the archives there and do something. There is also Prada. I love Prada a lot. And then, like just smaller designers in London like Charlotte Knowles and Kiko Kostadinov.
Finally, can you say a funny / unexpected fact about you?
Hum… I’m trying to think… I’m really good at Hula-Hooping. I can hula-hoop like for 4 hours straight. Like I’m really good at it.