Live Consciously

How Mimi G Built a Sustainable Fashion Empire From Nothing

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By Mimi G, as told to Mara Santilli 

I’ve been homeless three different times in my life. I grew up in a dysfunctional family and was sexually abused when I was very young. By the time I was a teenager, my mom started dating a verbally and physically abusive man. That was the last straw, so I left Chicago for California on my own when I was 15 years old. I was sleeping on streets and in parks until a woman with small children let me move into a back room in her home and work as a live-in babysitter. 

A couple years later, I had my first daughter at age 17, and we became homeless again. We were squatting in a building across from L.A. City College, and I often panhandled to make ends meet. 

This horrified my mom, and she offered to take care of my daughter for a while. I was reluctant but eventually agreed so that I could take the time to get myself together and get a job.

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During the couple years my daughter spent with my mother, I got married to find some stability. Unfortunately, that relationship turned violent, and I left the marriage. And that was the third time—I started living out of the trunk of my car, sleeping on friends’ couches, and showering wherever I could. 

Getting back on my feet

Eventually, I got a job as a receptionist at a carpet cleaning company and was able to afford an apartment. After a little while, I met my second husband and was able to settle. I had a secure and safe home for the first time. I asked him to turn one of the spare bedrooms into a sewing room—I had loved sewing since I was 12 but wasn’t able to do much of it while I was homeless (for obvious reasons). Whenever I found myself bursting into tears out of nowhere—but really out of trauma and depression—I went to sew…and things got better. 

At the time, I was working in the film industry—I got to travel and meet cool actors, but something was missing. I was still breaking down crying on the way to work, on the way home, and after work, sometimes not even able to finish preparing a meal for my kids. My husband at the time was an actor, who sometimes had periods without work, so I was carrying a lot of the financial burden. 

That’s when I started the Mimi G blog in 2008, pretty much as a journal to keep myself consistent with creating and posting the garments I had created, inspired by the latest designer collections off the runways, which I and many people in my community couldn’t afford to actually buy. 

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The day my business took off

The turning point was a skirt I made for myself and posted on the blog. I called it the regal maxi skirt; it was simple, gathered at the waist, and had a sash bow and side pockets. 

People went nuts for it. I priced it at $250 and didn’t think people would pay that much, but I woke up to thousands of dollars in my Paypal account. I had to recruit my whole family to get all these skirts made. It was crazy. 

After that, I devised another way to monetize my sewing: a paid tutorial video for the skirt. Once I got going with the videos, I was making almost as much money as I was making at my job. My boss, who always appreciated the homemade clothes I wore to work, encouraged me to take the plunge and start my own business.

Starting the SewIt Academy was a big step, and I was totally terrified. But I love helping people make clothes that truly fit their bodies. I’d always leave a store feeling bad about myself, and it was always difficult to shop for my body—I’m Latina, and I have hips!—so it’s hard to find pants that will actually fit me in a department store. A lot of my followers can relate, women and men (!) included.

Sustainability starts to shine

Over time, my following has shifted to a more socially conscious audience. People don’t want to contribute to fast fashion anymore. 

Sustainability makes sense financially, too. I can buy $14 of fabric and make a pair of jeans that will last for years! Or, I can spend $75 on a yard on cashmere for a sweater that I can wear or pass down to friends for a long time. It’s all about creating something that’s going to last, fit your body, and help our world. 

People in the communities I grew up in couldn’t necessarily afford to go to fashion school, but the best part is, you can learn the same thing for $11 a month in my SewIt Academy. Once you learn the basics of sewing and creating garments, you can start to recreate all the details that you find in luxury clothing at home. Many of my students also love going thrifting, then taking a vintage garment and changing the buttons, adding new fabric to a lapel, or changing a dress that’s too big into a skirt.

My students don’t just learn how to sew, they learn how to create their own businesses, empowering their entire lives. They go into costuming or alterations—and they become more aware of their health. One of the coolest things I’ve noticed is that once they learn how to make clothes for their specific body type, they want to feel better in their clothes by eating better and moving more. Being able to make clothes that fit your exact shape—and take control of your career and your life, like I did—is such a form of self-care.

(Photos: Mimi G)

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