Summer may be over, but who doesn’t love a nice long swim? This #WomenCrushWednesday, meet a female founder who is dedicated to making sure EVERY woman feels comfortable and confident enough to take a dip. Her name? Maria Luisa Mendiola!
Describe your business/product. What is its main goal/function?
Maria: MIGA Swimwear is a swimwear line inspired by women that have disfigurements. For our first collection, we are working with burn survivors to design bathing suits that fit their needs. For example, for one of the volunteers who has scars on her right arm and hand, I created a striking one-shoulder bathing suit with a glove. Additionally, each bathing suit comes with a printed bag detailing the volunteers’ stories.
A big component of overcoming stigma related to appearance is taking ownership of the narrative and knowing how to explain the reason for the disfigurement. Thus, each bathing suit comes with a story, which we hope will also raise awareness and understanding amongst our shoppers that don’t have such differences.
Why did you decide to become a female founder? What inspired you to start your business?
Maria: I come from a long line of entrepreneurs, the first being my great-grandmother, whom I am named after. So in a way, I always wanted to be a female founder because that’s all I knew and because I learned by example to be the owner of my time.
MIGA starts from my experience with disfigurement: I 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 still feel like a 5 year old when someone asks me about my feet?
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 disfigured community. To my surprise, I found that fashion design coupled with storytelling could help women feel more comfortable with their differences.
What are the greatest challenges of founding your own business?
Maria: I would say one of the greatest challenges is to work with other people’s timeliness. As a founder you can set deadlines and plan accordingly, but you depend on other people to reach those. And when you are so focused on your business, especially if you are going at it alone like I am, you can quickly forget about that.
How have your experiences as a female founder shaped you?
Maria: Starting your own business is no easy feat and it can feel very daunting and isolating at times. To combat that, I decided to surround myself with people that were in my shoes, by joining a coworking space, The Wing, and also slack channels, like IFundWomen (how I found out about AtTheTable) for female founders.
Being part of these networks, and learning about the highs-and-lows of other founders has made more comfortable in asking for help. Although it may look like we have it all figured it out, we don’t. We are all in the same journey.
Growing up, what were your goals in life? Did you ever imagine you’d create something like what you created?
Maria: My partner and I always think back to this: “If your 7-year old self could see you right now, would she/he be proud?” and the answer, since I decided to venture in this business, is always unequivocally YES.
From a very young age, I have loved to help people and make people feel better about themselves. I always knew I would eventually find a way to help people as part of my career, but I never imagined that my disfigurement, and thus the disfigurement community, would be at the forefront of it.
What’s next for your business?
Maria: The bathing suits for the first collection will be available through our Kickstarter. For more information, join our mailing list by subscribing in our website www.migaswimwear.com or by emailing email@example.com.
What advice would you give to the next generation of women and girls looking to make an impact?
When something sparks your interest, maybe it’s a phrase on a book or a vegetable you saw at the supermarket, try to understand where that interest is coming from. Dig deep and start imagining where this interest, maybe passion, could take you.
You may be surprised to find that there is a niche that we, as a society, are missing and you may be the one to fill it. I think it is never too early to start thinking about what you want your legacy to be and what you want to be remembered for.