Maya J: “Making The Clothes I Want To Make”
© Maya J
Seasonless, purposeful clothes; reimagining classics with a new perspective.
We’ve all heard the trope that every little girl wants to grow up to be a fashion designer (myself included). Well for Maya J, this became a reality, studying at two of the world’s leading fashion schools and launching her own collection.
Maya’s 2022 collection, AYAMA, aims to “construct staples within a community unbound by definition”. Her designs are playful, sophisticated and meaningful all at once. This translates into pieces that can be worn by “normal” people, inviting anybody and everybody to be part of her community.
And while “sustainability” and “inclusivity” seem to be the most used words in the fashion dictionary at the moment, Maya is authentic in her exploration of both. Besides her strong fashion aesthetic, Maya’s values as a female designer and business owner are equally as important.
© AYAMA Studio
Tell me about yourself and your background!
I was born in New York City and grew up between New York and Tel Aviv. I majored in womenswear design at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York, then later at London College of Fashion.
After a year in London, I came home and moved back in with my parents. I was working freelance design jobs during the day and sewing clothes in their basement at night. Eventually I was able to move back to the city and work full time on my brand. I decided to fully launch the brand after being named runner up to the inaugural Amiri Prize in 2021.
The Amiri Prize for young American designers aims to create a more inclusive fashion environment, by nurturing and supporting up and coming designers to “inspire a sense of possibility, hope and, above all, equal opportunity”.
© AYAMA Studio
Starting at the very beginning, what led you to a career in fashion?
I was always influenced by my mom growing up. She’s a makeup artist and would bring me with her on sets and to fashion shows. She’s always had the best clothes. We would play dress up and make outfits (which we still do when I’m home)! I started sketching girls in weird clothes when I was little, and she encouraged me to continue creating and bring the clothes to life. This eventually led me to pursue design.
Where did the inspiration for this particular collection, AYAMA, come from?
This collection was initially inspired by a trip to Vegas. There was a big break in production during COVID, so a lot of things changed; some days, I was solely influenced by my mood or feeling a sensory relationship to certain fabrics or colors. I don’t ever want to feel too tied to one source of inspiration because I change my mind so often. I can be obsessed with something one day and hate it the next. I like to find ways of tying together elements that stem from various sources.
You describe your most recent collection as ‘seasonless’. Why is creating a collection like this, rather than one dictated by seasons (like most of the fashion industry), important to you?
I wasn’t necessarily trying to make a statement, it’s more a preference of how I like to dress and create. Seasons can feel confining. I wanted to give myself the freedom to incorporate typical winter fabrics and summer silhouettes in one collection and vice versa. I think, if I designed and styled properly, almost anything can be seasonless. Designing for a season doesn’t really make sense to me: it’s technically spring and still snowing in New York! Plus, with the amount of overproduction in the industry, it just doesn’t feel necessary to confine to seasons anymore.
© AYAMA Studio
This collection is also described as ‘purposeful clothing’. Could you elaborate further on this?
Purposeful is the way that the pieces are thought out and crafted, with intricate detail and care. They’re made to be accessible for a wide range of people and not just one niche community or body type. I like to think there is a piece in the collection for everyone as I care a lot about inclusivity. It’s cool to have celebrities wear my clothes, but it’s equally rewarding to see an average person incorporate my pieces into their wardrobe. I believe that combining craftsmanship and accessibility is a key element of good design and purposeful clothing.
To what extent is the emphasis on local crafting a sustainable decision?
It was both a sustainable and a creative decision. Starting a brand requires a lot of trial and error. It was important for me to work closely with factories and tailors who I know are working under fair conditions, and prioritising craftsmanship. Manufacturing locally also allows me to be physically present for the production process, quickly problem solve and make creative changes when necessary.
© AYAMA Studio
Have you ever faced any struggles stemming from being a female-owned and led brand?
Women are usually expected to take a less dominant role when it comes to their careers and, even in this day and age, society tends to make it harder for women to be taken seriously as business owners and entrepreneurs.
I have been super lucky to be surrounded by so many strong, independent female hustlers who inspire me both creatively, and in business. My advice would be to embrace your power as a girl boss and use it to your advantage. Surround yourself with like-minded females who empower you, and don’t wait for men to do anything for you when you can do it for yourself.
What are your aspirations for your own brand, and for the fashion industry more generally?
My objectives are to continue creating a community that is inclusive and future-oriented. I aspire to collaborate with other artists and designers in order to introduce new elements of design into my creative process. I want to continue to challenge myself in being more sustainable, both in my approach to production and with the materials I work with. It’s important to remember that it’s part of my responsibility as a designer.
And finally, do you have any favourite pieces within the collection?
The Racer Set combines two of my favourite pieces. It was also the first piece I made for this collection, in a way it inspired the whole thing. The feedback on the set has also been really strong so far, which I’m grateful for!