Growing up, Maria Luisa Mendiola felt vulnerable, isolated and uncomfortable with a specific body part that was a visible difference amongst her family. The questioning of her own body image led her to cope with her health condition, which up until that point she hid most of the time.
She was born with a genetic condition called Jeune syndrome that affects bone growth in which at birth she was born with short fourth toes.
“Very few people knew about my health condition or like the disfigurement I had on my feet because I was so good at concealing it,” Mendiola said. “It starts with realizing I cannot change others’ perceptions on body image until I change myself.”
Her own experiences of discomfort within her body inspired her to create a brand where people who have similar experiences can find support and feel empowered to own their own stories. MIGA Swimwear was established in 2017 off of the idea to find a community of resilient voices of people that dealt with perhaps a difficult health diagnosis or born with a visible difference.
In the beginning, MIGA primarily focused on people who had disabilities, chronic illnesses, visible differences like burn scars, paralysis, eczema or different types of skin conditions.
“The longer that we’ve been in the market the more that we’ve realized that we need to position our brand so that everyone feels like they are catered to because there are so many people that are misrepresented,” Mendiola said.
Think about any swimwear brand out there and you will immediately think of a size zero bikini body. In reality, this fit-inspired bikini body culture is unrealistic.
“It’s so toxic and so challenging,” Mendiola said. “Bathing suit anxiety is real; people have not been back to the beach or the pool in years because they don’t feel like they deserve to be there. And now, I would say our audience includes anyone who has ever felt that the beach or the pool is not a space for them, and we want to make sure that everyone gets to enjoy it.”
MIGA’s mission is influenced by the psychological research that found when in close proximity to a body of water, a pool or an ocean is incredibly therapeutic.
What makes MIGA differentiate themselves from the swimwear industry is their persistence to raise awareness about the experience of having a disability or chronic illness. Every single bathing suit MIGA has to offer to its customers is named after a woman who is buoyant and courageous. The design muse is specific to a woman and her specific story. The names linked to the bathing suits are women who are at a time in their healing journey where they can share their story and feel empowered by sharing it. There is also a matching bag with a printed personal story on the inside that talks about that women’s story.
“Every single one of our bathing suits is inspired by a woman who at one point in their lives has not felt welcomed, or just comfortable in a bathing suit, and how they’ve overcome that,” Mendiola said. “My hope is that by reading these stories before you put on the bathing suit, you feel empowered to love and accept your body before you walk out into the pool.”
A unique feature of MIGA Swimwearits design surveys. MIGA swimsuits are created from the demands and asks of their community. They crowd design instead of making assumptions about what women want or need in a swimsuit.
“We work specifically with women who have felt at one point or another that the swimwear industry did not cater or did not represent them to make sure that they feel comfortable going back to the beach or the pool,” Mendiola said.
When she studied design, she learned the circles of universal design of adaptive design. In other words, garments that are easy for anyone to put on. For example, MIGA Swimwear offers the Lydia and Anna, which are long sleeve one-piece swimsuits with a long string to pull in the back. Therefore, anyone with or without limited mobility can pull the zipper up.
“When we say we design for everyone we mean it because we have taken into consideration every single possible limitation that someone can have and can’t have,” Mendiola said. “We have the input of every single person with different types of mobility and different types of limitations.”
You ask they deliver. For instance, they’ve heard from so many women in wheelchairs asking for a tankini that caters to them. Their preference was for the tankini to cut at a specific length, so it was flattering for them. A swimsuit for just that came to fruition.
Other than MIGA Swimwear making waves of this message and awareness of fashion catering to all, Nike and Tommy Hilfiger’s, Tommy Adaptive are too.
“I think it’s amazing when big companies like Nike and Tommy Hilfiger, want to focus and draw attention to the disability community, a community that obviously is massive,” Mendiola said. “They have the marketing money and the product development money to make sure that they do make a really good product and raise awareness while doing it.”
Tommy Hilfiger’s, Tommy Adaptive is adaptive for boys, girls, men and women. Shop for easy closures, comfort, fits for prosthetics and seated wear. Tommy Adaptive represents their garments with real people who are experiencing unequal treatment with garments because of their disability. On the other hand, Nike released a hands-free sneaker but doesn’t portray it with a person who struggles on a daily basis with the limitation to tie their shoes.
“What I have an issue with is with brands who feature models that have disabilities in their campaigns and then their clothes are actually not adaptive because then you’re misrepresenting your product,” Mendiola said. “I think it’s important for representation, but I have an issue when it’s almost like a check the box, we’re really good at diversity inclusion. It’s not genuine, you have to make a consistent effort.”
The next step for MIGA Swimwear is to expand its sizing. As of right now their size chart goes to large and does not cater to plus-size women. The reason this goal hasn’t been obtained is because of COVID-19. They did not receive the sales they hoped to receive, however hopefully this coming year they will, and they can expand their sizing.
“When we say that we include everyone from the adaptive space, we got that covered but from the sizing space, we still need to work on that,” Mendiola said.
Another facet MIGA Swimwear hopes to launch is a men’s swimwear line and feature garments of resort wear and ready to wear. A goal of theirs is to support an organization that is psychosocial, social skills on how to cope with differences. Moreover, collaborate with people in the education systems so they are able to raise awareness for disabilities.
“I would also say as a fashion brand I want us to continue innovating in terms of sustainability, breaking down our carbon footprint, and making sure that we continue to innovate in terms of our fabrics and our processes,” Mendiola said.
At the end of the day, MIGA Swimwear would love to reach more customers who don’t have disabilities to keep the conversation going. Checkout MIGA Swimwear and follow @migaswimwear for all of the wonderful work and impact they are making in the garment industry.
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