MEET MAIAMI W/ MAIKE
We've discovered many new and emerging brands whilst scouting for PARO STORE, but it is rare to come across a brand who has been around for over 16 years, and whilst growing in size has stayed true to their original vision and maintained sustainable operations. We talked to Maiami founder, Maike Dietrich about how the brand has evolved, and how her passion for the hand made is still as alive today as it was in 2004.
"I don’t sit down and sketch, I design by knitting — arguably one of the most sustainable ways to produce a garment with rather little impact."
What 2 words best describe Maiami in 2 words?
When did you start Maiami, and what inspired you to?
It’s a bit of a cliché but it’s true, I have loved knitting since I was a child. In the beginning of the 2000s I used to work as a stylist and I had lots of spare time between productions or even on the set, so I picked up the knitting needles again. In the beginning it was very much series and films that I translated into my collections. Today it could be anything. Sometimes it’s a yarn innovation that inspires me to design a new textile surface, sometimes it’s the effortlessness of someone I see walking down the street. However, it’s always the contrasts that inspire me the most: pastels versus brights or warm wool versus a light knit.
Tell us about the team behind the brand
I started out by myself, doing everything from prototyping to shipping out boxes to the first shops. Soon I started working with knitters here in Berlin, usually older ladies who were happy to have some purpose and over time I started working with family led manufactures all over Europe.
At one of my first trade shows I met a Japanese agent who strongly believed in me, the product and the brand. He helped me grow the business in Japan where Maiami was very much loved from the start — we still work together today. Over time, other agents in more markets became interested and so Maiami grew into a global brand which is also reflected here at our headquarter. From managing everything myself we grew into a team of six including me and we are currently looking for new talent.
What’s playing on the studio stereo?
I’m afraid to say: nothing. I know it’s dull but we’re on the phone a lot and there’s always a lot to converse about … you do hear the sound off knitting needles a lot, though!
We believe that making a positive impact on people and the planet should be a key input in the design stage for any product. How do you approach this at Maiami?
There’s a short and a long answer to this. The short one: I don’t sit down and sketch, I design by knitting — arguably one of the most sustainable ways to produce a garment with rather little impact.
The long answer: Of course there are other factors to have in mind when designing, the people who do the knitting and the materials we source. We are very aware of the fact that there are areas in the world where workers are exploited for the production of fashion. We only work with manufacturers in Europe and we are in touch with all of them. We try to visit them as often as we can and even sit with some of the knitters from time to time. In 2020 that wasn’t possible for obvious reasons but we are always in touch with our manufacturers which are often family run. As soon as travelling becomes easier we’ll go again. In any case, we only work with people that share our ethical and social values.
The other factor, the sourcing of the materials, is the part that is the hardest to control for us. We are an independent label and we need to rely on the main suppliers for our yarns. Even though we use up to 2.5 tonnes of wool per year for our production, we are not big enough to have our own yarns created especially for us, needless to say be able to oversee our own production. Thus, we need to rely on the guarantees our yarn suppliers give us when it comes to animal welfare. They do promise us that all animals are treated ethically and since we have worked with most of them for a long time we trust them. However, we wished all this were more transparent and we are always on the lookout for new suppliers that satisfy our quality standards and strive to make a positive impact.
There has been a big increasing interest in sustainability from shoppers and the industry over recent years; the opening of PARO earlier this year is probably a good example of this! How have you seen this shift happen over your time as a brand, and has it affected you?
We have been very close to this transition in the industry. That our products are handmade has been appreciated from the start. Knitting is a very sustainable form of producing a garment. The shift in the consumers' demand for products from brands that operate more responsibly only brought this more into focus. In this respect we have an inherent credibility in terms of sustainability. We simply see it in our sales. Buyers feel the pressure by consumers. Many brands struggle to make that transition — we were ready.
Where is Maiami going in the future?
Since I’ve started I have put every cent of profit back into the label, no investors, all organic growth. We have so many ideas how to expand the Maiami world but we are also an independent label and these ideas need funding, which we are working on. For now we focus on delivering the best product we can and grow step by step, all in the sustainable, organic way the label has for the last 16 years.
The fashion industry is responsible for huge environmental and social issues. How would you like to see the industry change and progress?
For obvious reasons I believe in smaller business units like ours. They are easier to oversee and the impact on the environment is so much smaller — and if only because not every garment is shipped twice around the globe for its assembly. The way we work is way more humane than massive factories. I believe that everyone involved creating the product gets a more even slice of the cake rather than just a few people at the top who get the biggest piece.
What advice would you give to people who want to be more responsible when they’re shopping?
Whatever you buy, make sure you’ll want to use or wear it for a long time — it’s the most sustainable form of consumption.
Find out more about Maiami and shop the collection here.