burn victims

Miga Swimwear: Casting off Stigma with Style

Need swimwear that reflects your unique style? A new swimwear brand emboldens wearers to embrace and celebrate every individual body, no matter its shape.

Founded by Maria Luisa Mendiola, Miga Swimwear is working to shift the paradigm in fashion where women, regardless of physical ability and diverse shapes, feel their bodies must fit an archetype to be deemed beautiful or stylish.

“Customers are not mannequins,” Mendiola explains. “The biggest thing for me, is that [in the fashion industry] women have to fit the clothes, the clothes don’t have to fit the wearer. With fast fashion retailers, every brand has its own sizing. The customer starts to internalize this and feels that their body is wrong.”

The designer, Maria Luisa Mendiola

The designer, Maria Luisa Mendiola

To counter the mentality that the body is a problem, Mendiola approaches her design by making the customer a part of the process from the beginning. All of an individual’s unique needs are considered when creating these custom garments.

To wit, Miga’s current clients include burn survivors from NY Presbyterian Hospital. Pieces include a seamless beach cover up for an individual who previously couldn’t wear jeans because the seams would aggravate her burn scars, and a swimsuit with matching gloves for a client with a scarred hand. The suits are bold and striking.

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“Fashion is a cultural building block and we’re using it to break the stigma of disfigurement.” Marialuisa explains. “Owning your style and feeling confident is less about clothing and more about self-identity.”  

The idea of defying the current fashion industry to empower and celebrate women with different bodies came from Mendiola’s own struggles with disfigurement. Originally in finance, Mendiola switched gears to the creative when she decided to pursue her M.A. in design thinking at Central Saint Martins University of the Arts in London. Courses in her specialty urged designers to take inspiration from personal experiences to problem-solve.

Moodboard for brainstorming shapes and colors.

Moodboard for brainstorming shapes and colors.

Mendiola had plenty of material to work with. Born with brachymetatarsia, the fourth toe on both of her feet are smaller than her fifth. Back in her homeland of Costa Rica, where physical appearance is highly regarded, she felt self-conscious about going to the beach and other places where she might have to expose her feet because school friends would single out for her condition, especially since “everything else looked normal.”

“I always struggled with my disfigurement and even the weight of the word,” Mendiola said. “When people asked about my feet, I’d feel paralyzed and extremely vulnerable.”

Despite dealing with her condition all her life, even as recent as three years ago, Mendiola would freeze when asked about her toes. But taking part in the Saint Martins program encouraged her to dig deeper. Part of that awakening, she explains, included understanding that the current fashion industry demands standards of perfection that no one, disfigurement or no, can fulfill, something she fully realized when a volunteer model she was fitting a garment for started apologizing for her body.

“You can’t bring about change unless you change yourself first,” she said.  

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That is what she feels Open Style Lab is getting right about fashion.

“I love the tagline ‘designing for people of all abilities.’ It gets right to the focus of style and function for everyone,” she said. After all, owning your style empowers you to own your personal story and reserve the right to define yourself.

To read more about Miga Swimwear, check out its Kickstarter here.