Meet Maria Luisa Mendiola, the Entrepreneur Making Swimwear—and Summer—Beautifully Accessible
Apr 07, 2020
Our women’s business owners series continues to highlight women doing remarkable work in Brooklyn. Today, we’re thrilled to introduce you to Maria Luisa Mendiola, Founder and CEO of MIGA Swimwear, “a line inspired by women that have disfigurement, from birth defects and burn scars to paralysis and skin diseases, but made to be worn by all.”
The idea for an inclusive line of swimwear began with Maria Luisa’s own experience with disfigurement. “I have a genetic condition that caused me to have brachymetatarsia, which means that I have shortened 4th toes on both of my feet. A couple of years back, a friend asked me, ‘what’s wrong with your toes?’ I got very uncomfortable and quickly changed the subject. I remember thinking: How is it possible that I am 25 years old and I still react like this when someone asks me about my feet?” she recalled.
“It dawned on me that this question was always going to come up, no matter how old I got. So I decided to focus my master’s at Central Saint Martins, UK, on figuring out ways to lower stigma in the disfigurement community. To my surprise, I found that fashion design coupled with storytelling could help women feel more comfortable with their bodies.”
And so MIGA Swimwear was born. As it turns out, the SoHo-based business is a first. “MIGA Swimwear is the first line inspired by women’s stories with disfigurement, disabilities, and chronic illnesses,” explains Maria Luisa.
For her design process, Maria Luisa works with volunteers who have different types of disfigurement, disabilities and chronic illnesses different from her own. “So I start my design journey by not making assumptions and instead asking them what type of swimsuit they think will empower them to return to the beach or pool. Then, I ask other questions relating to their fashion preferences and their overall experience with body-image. After gathering this information, I start to design the collection.”
“For our last collection,” she continues, “I designed the Lydia swimsuit because it was made with the input of multiple women living with stoma bags. The Lydia bottom has a belt that can be moved around, depending on where you have your stoma bag (they sit in different places depending on whether you have an ileostomy or a colostomy).”
She goes on to explain “I also work with our design muses to create a narrative that explains the reason behind their different conditions. Through my work with this community, I have learned that providing a concise story that explains the reason behind the diagnosis is crucial in helping us overcome the stigma of looking differently. Once the narrative is created, the story is printed on a canvas bag. Thus, each of the swimsuits comes with a matching bag that emboldens our volunteers to share their story and also helps raise awareness and understanding among our shoppers that don’t have these conditions.”
“Through the line, we aim to raise awareness and share the resilient stories of our community, as a way to help others through their self-love and self-acceptance journey.” Seeing their gorgeous designs, it’s easy to see why the company is finding success.
But the journey from idea to entrepreneurship hasn’t always been smooth and Maria Luisa thinks imposter syndrome is still very much a reality for many women going into business for themselves. “We are told to always sell ourselves short and not believe in ourselves. When you start your own business, you have to believe in yourself, because there are already going to be so many people out there who won’t think you will [succeed]. Women in leadership positions, I believe, are also judged very quickly which can make financing and running a business incredibly hard.”
When asked for advice for other entrepreneurs, Maria Luisa doesn’t hesitate. “It is so easy to get distracted comparing your entrepreneurship journey with someone else’s, especially with social media, so my biggest advice would be ‘slow and steady wins the race.’ Just because some brands might look like they have garnered explosive growth within a year of launching, it doesn’t mean that they haven’t run into their own set of challenges. Some of the brands that I admire the most and I am blessed to count their founders as my mentors have told me that it could take upwards of 5 years before you see consistent growth. That is what I am aiming for and I have planned adequately so that I can keep doing what I am passionate about for as long as I can.”
We’re also big fans of Maria Luisa’s personal mantra: Follow Your Fear. “Since I decided to go down this entrepreneurship path, time and time again I have come to realize that every time I take a big risk, I gain in some big way, whether it is a valuable lesson or a valuable client,” she explains. “I feel supported by the community of female founders I surround myself with. I have met some through my co-working space and others through friends in common. We stay grounded by sharing knowledge and experience. How we see it is that if one of us succeeds, we all succeed.”
If you’re a woman-identifying Brooklyn business owner who’d like to see your work featured here, please get in touch.