MAYYAAGAYEVA is a London-based menswear / unisex designer and a graduate of the MA Menswear programme at the Royal College of Art.
Inspired by gender, moral and technological taboos, which she filters through a prism that perceives reality through the juxtapositions of societal norms and a postmodern dystopia, Mayyaagayeva creates intentional multifunctional garments that are designed to be used on multiple and different occasions. Utilizing dead-stock and recycled clothing and materials, she is one of a group of emerging designers who are challenging the fast-fashion mentality and whose environmental and ethical message have become increasingly prescient as the climate crisis accelerates.
I spoke with Mayya after her SS22 collection premiered as part of London Fashion Week in June, to find out what motivates her, how the brand has navigated the twin existential crises of Brexit and the pandemic; and how environmental and ethical commitments and considerations underpin everything that she does.
(1) Congratulations on your “Burning Wonderland” SS22 collection which premiered at LFW in June as part of their digital platform. The fashion film which showcased it depicted models walking through a haze of smoke. What message did you want to convey to the audience through that imagery and title?
My Burning Wonderland collection was meant to show how our society is burning our planet with the amount of waste we produced in a given year and how our actions affect and burn our planet.
(2) I loved the cut and shape of the pieces and the monochrome palette. What inspirations did you draw from to create these stunning garments?
Paradox mixture was the main inspiration for this collection. I was combining different cuts and materials, creating tailored sportswear, as well as menswear coats on women.
(3) Societal juxtapositions such as that between right and wrong, masculine and feminine, digital and physical seem to inspire much of what you do. How do those contrasts inform the design process?
The inspiration comes from the idea that taboo has always inflicted me. When it comes to fashion, I believe it's all about unisex wear. I start looking at vintage men’s and women's corsets and creating the idea of unisex corsets, then looking at lines. The gender identity and Patriarchal system that decides what is feminine and what is masculine is something I like to challenge with my exploration of the garments and materials.
(4) You use deadstock and recycled clothing and materials to make your garments. Did the pandemic pose any challenges in sourcing these or cause any other difficulties in the supply chain or production process? If so, how did you navigate them?
Yes, the pandemic and new Brexit laws are challenging and added delays and extra costs I never planned for. It has been challenging in every aspect, and there are so many times where I thought about giving up. Luckily I didn’t give up on my brand and now I have built a platform that I wasn’t able to before the pandemic. My life was so busy before the pandemic, and I oftentimes didn’t have time to think about my future. I like to think the pandemic had a positive effect on my business since I was able to slow down and see where I was heading in my future and how I could improve. When you can't change what’s happening, you need to let it go and find things you can change.
(5) I saw from the film credits that you were the Casting Director and I thought the models carried the clothes perfectly. I wondered how important it is to you to bring a holistic approach to the staging of your work?
My brand with both my artistic journey and my work, focuses on choosing people who share the same values and aesthetics as me. I was not choosing models; they were more of the muses, who were genuinely inspiring people to work with. I am so grateful to everyone who I worked with. I really love casting people for more of the roles rather than models.
(6) There is also a very touching dedication to Vitaliy Lapiga in the credits. How did they influence you and your career; and how do you think they would feel about your success?
Vitality Lapiga is my granddad, who sadly passed away on the 1st of May. This was right before I found out I would be collaborating with Toni and Guy and BFC. I didn't want to do it at first because I wasn't in the right mental state, but I knew my granddad would have wanted me to do it, so I went ahead and asked my friends for help, and they pulled up. I am incredibly blessed to be surrounded by such uplifting and incredible people. I was very close to him, and he was such a wonderful person. Everyone called him "everyone's granddad" because he was always so kind and loving. He had an incredible life and survived WW2, Soviet Union, and he had been sent to Mongolia to serve for many years. He was a survivor and always had a positive mindset which I always admired. He was definitely one of the biggest role models in my life and I truly think he would definitely be very proud of where I am today.
(7) I know that you also work as a stylist. If you could pick a dream client to wear Mayyaagayeva who would they be?
For me, my dream client isn't any particular celebrity. The dream client would be a person who wants to change their lives for the better and encourage people on their journey. Seeing people transform into their true form is something incredible and that would be my dream client.
(8) I understand that you worked with Christopher Raeburn and Preen by Thornton Bregazzi before establishing your own brand. What were the most valuable lessons you learned from working with such established names and how have you implemented those lessons within your own studio?
Being able to experience working with and learning from preen and Christopher Raeburn helped me realize how much hard work goes into running a brand and just how hard it is. Running a successful brand requires a lot of skilled people and a lot of time. When I was working at Christopher Raeburn, it truly changed me forever - I was genuinely inspired by sustainable concepts and that experience made me realize that it is possible to change the industry - it's going to be hard, but it's not impossible.
(9) As a brand that is wholly committed to a sustainable and ethical footprint what do you think needs to change before all of the industry genuinely addresses the climate and environmental crises?
Yes, this industry definitely needs to change. We also need to create new systems that allow brands to be sustainable. The industry doesn't change overnight, it's a process. I think there should be more guidelines and education around sustainability because right now, anyone can claim they are sustainable but there is no proof of sustainability. I see many fast fashion companies claiming they are sustainable when I know they definitely aren’t. I think sustainability is a journey because it's impossible to be 100% sustainable right now. You can encourage more sustainable processes such as material choices, operations, delivery, but unfortunately, it's still not enough to be 100% sustainable. Hopefully in the future will be able to reach the mark where we will cause no damage at all to our planet. But then, it's not just the fashion industry that needs to change – Every industry needs to make a change. I believe there should be a sustainability committee that also helps brands to be more sustainable.
(10) Following on from the success of “Burning Wonderland” what are your goals and aspirations for Mayyagayeva for the rest of 2021 and longer term?
My goal for my brand is to carry on with the exploration of different shapes and forms. I want to keep my message of acceptance, kindness, and love going. My biggest goal is to change the way people view beauty and luxury to promote acceptance, uniqueness, sustainability, awareness. I have plans to participate in Milan and Paris showrooms this year and in January present a new seasonal line.
Many thanks to Mayya for taking the time to speak to Sodium and giving us such a fascinating insight into the brand, her motivations and her inspirations. Using deadstock and recycled clothing to create staunchly sustainable pieces that challenge gender identity and the patriachy Mayyaagayeva is a brand creating clothes with intention for those who wish to live as their authentic true selves. That's a philosophy which we can all aspire to and if you wish to connect with the brand , you can find them here https://mayyaagayeva.uk/ and on IG https://www.instagram.com/mayya.agayeva/?hl=en