How do two globetrotters go from travelling the world to starting up a fashion brand? Well, just ask Malimo. A power couple who decided to take their careers into their own hands. They still travel the world, but now they have their own business on the side. Admiring their bravery and dedication to the cause, I’m delighted that I was able to have a little Q&A with Johannes and Isabell, the founders of the brand. Malimo, who is a recent addition to our fineyellow store, was born in 2016 in India with the desire to do good (and look good).
So, guys, have you always had an interest in fashion?
Always. When Isabell was 8 years old, she started a little “fashion studio” with her sister in their nursery. They would cut up socks and transform them to upcycled cuffs. In her teens she converted her dad’s old shirts into tank tops and dresses. So, Isabell’s definitely always had the urge to design her own clothes.
At what point did you think ‘we want to start our own fashion brand’?
Starting our own fashion label happened completely by accident. We didn’t go to design school. Instead we travelled the world for almost two years. Whilst we were living out of a van in Australia, working 6 days a week, 9 hours a day, we really began to value our own freedom. So, we decided to work for ourselves. We quit our jobs in Australia and flew to India, where we met people working with leftover sarees. Together, we developed our first product line, our upcycled and reversible bomber jackets.
/‘foːɐ̯ˌʃtɛlʊŋsˌkʀaft/ power of imagination
Your innate power to create everything you dare to imagine.
What’s special about Malimo?
We design for longevity. Our inspiration comes mainly from vintage clothes, which were (and still are) cool. An essential part of the design process is strolling through musty thrift stores looking for the best patterns and colour combinations. We also travel to far away places and try to travel through time. That’s why we incorporate traditional elements into our designs. Our goal is to design pieces which represent modern day, but will still be cool in 10 years.
What’s the best way to style a Malimo jacket? What would be a cool outfit for spring?
This spring we’re introducing our new corduroy jackets (left & coming soon). You can match these with different colour corduroy bottoms and a pair of sneakers.
What’s your favourite Malimo item? Why?
Our favourite has to be the reversible dancing bird bomber jacket. Either you go full on funky with the bold print, or you just reverse the jacket to stay undercover.
What was your biggest struggle when starting Malimo and what did you learn from it ?
We had to face so many struggles along the way, but we learned from them and we’re glad they happened. Our number one life lesson is: trust your gut instinct. We originally considered producing in Bangladesh, but the people we began working with gave us a weird gut feeling right from the start. In the end we lost quite a bit of money. These things you just have to learn the hard way.
What inspires you at the moment? How does this show in your brand?
We are hugely affected by people trying to change the world for the better. There’s Bill Gates building sustainable sanitary systems in Africa, Hans Rosling shows us that the world is better than we thought it was, and Boyan Slat is cleaning up our oceans. These people teach us the importance of thinking about the long term, so that’s what we’re trying to incorporate into Malimo.
If you could some up Malimo in one word, what would it be?
Your production takes place in India now, why did you choose to produce there?
It developed naturally, we actually didn’t intentionally choose India. Although, there are loads of great reasons for producing there. Mainly, it’s just so much fun. We were lucky enough to find very trustworthy business partners. They’re so easy to be around and yet so professional. We get WhatsApp greetings full of love for every holy festival, like Diwali. Secondly, it does make sense as a European brand to produce in India because you are creating jobs and opportunities. There are so many motivated young people eager to start a career as a tailor and we’re happy to offer them a safe place to work. Today our world is a global community, so it’s more important than ever to work together and support each other.
People often think of sweatshops and child-labour when producing in India, was this what you found?
We don’t deny that India still has to work on these issues, but from our experience they are the exception and not the norm. The news doesn’t show the millions of normal workshops, where everyone is pursuing their normal daily job. All the tailors we met were proud of their craft and their job. We employ eight tailors, who work 8 hours a day, 5 days a week. We’ve visited both our workshops personally and the working conditions are no different than in Germany.
So you’ve definitely got the social aspect figured out, what about the environmental side?
We mainly work with upcycled sarees as materials and for every order we get, we donate part of the profit to Eden Projects. They hire local villagers to plant native trees in Nepal, Haiti, Madagascar, Indonesia and Mozambique. Deforestation is a huge global issue. We as humans have to start thinking longterm. It’s so important to give back to nature, as we won’t be able to constantly take from it. So, planting trees seems like a good start. Everyone buying one of our jackets is supporting local communities in remote areas while rebuilding our forests, 10 trees at a time.
You guys are keen travellers, what’s the best country you’ve visited and why?
That’s tough to answer. Every country has its pros and cons. India and Bangladesh were adventurous but draining as well. Thailand and Australia were both beautiful but not that off the beaten path. If you’d push us to decide we’d probably chose Indonesia, because we both really love the climate and the nature as well as the people and the language isn’t as hard to learn.
Where’s your next trip to?
We are currently in Chiang Mai, Thailand, meeting a friend from Berlin who grew up here. We’d love to explore more of southeast Europe and central Asia.
If you could meet anyone, living or dead, who would you meet?
We wouldn’t say no to a day on Necker island with Richard Branson.
Is there anything we should have asked you?
Our favourite animals, kangaroos and turtle.
Love Malimo? Check them out right here on fineyellow.
Are there any other brands you want to get to know a bit more? Any favourites you’d like us to interview? Let us know in the comments. We love hearing from you!