Introduce us to you and your brand/work
Hi, my name’s Carla and I’m an Edinburgh-based Fashion Designer. Fashion has always been a passion, but in Portugal (where I’m from) it didn’t seem like a promising career. So, I ended up pursuing a career in IT instead. Everything seems more achievable in the UK and it was after moving to Scotland that I enrolled in a Fashion Design course and started planning a career change. Mauda is first and foremost a women’s fashion brand primarily focussed on adaptive (disability-friendly) clothing.
Between 2019 and 2020 around 14.1 million people in the UK from different age groups reported a disability. Inclusive design could make a significant difference to people living with different conditions, yet this is still an underserved market. In fact, adaptive / inclusive design wasn’t even part of the curriculum when I studied fashion design.
It was from a BBC interview with Sinead Burke – an Irish writer and disability advocate – that the plans to make adaptive started developing. Having lived experience of disability herself, Sinead is very candid about the challenges faced from lack of inclusive design – from getting dressed to navigating our streets. As I researched, it became obvious that adaptive fashion is still intrinsically associated with older age groups and stylish adaptive clothing is difficult to find.
Adaptive requirements aren’t much more complex than “conventional” fashion. Key things are practical closures & fastenings, breathable fabrics and features to make certain tasks easier (like reaching a catheter for example) without causing an adverse impact (thick seams or clothing embellishments may cause pressure sores difficult to treat). These are the main requirements in Mauda’s collections.
There’s already a range of products that could enhance the practicality of garments, but we’ve learned to associate them to a certain context. Imagine a Met Gala dress that fastens with Velcro for instance! Not a popular choise because we associate Velcro with a casual or sports context, but why not? If different size and colour options are made for the same design in a collection, why not having an adaptive option as well? The more I researched, the more I thought "I can pull this off!" And in late January 2021, during lockdown Mauda was launched.
,How has your brand/work developed since you began?
Similar to most businesses these days, Mauda launched as an online shop. Lockdown restrictions wouldn’t have allowed anything else, but for us being online and making the most out of online accessible features is a great way to reach our audience at such a difficult time.
We started off with a colourful Spring/Summer collection with the first collection photos taken at home, truly reflecting the times! Luckily restrictions eased and we managed to get a professional photoshoot via a model agency that works with disabled models. That definitely made a difference.
As soon as we found out restrictions would be lifted in the Summer we decided to take the next step and extend our presence to a physical space within the Scottish Design Exchange. And here we are!
Being such a recent business, we’re still working on expanding the visibility of the brand, which means lots of networking, lots of social media interactions! The feedback has been outstanding and we’re extremely grateful to the people who reached out. We’re using the public’s feedback to improve our designs and have already embedded some features into our collections as a result, like our care label sensory pockets. We’ll keep seeking feedback from the public to continuously improve what we do and how we do it.
,What do you consider to be your most popular product?
The Frances Trousers without a doubt! They come in a vibrant yellow and have a statement belt that completes the design perfectly. It comes with two belt options: standard functional belt or adaptive, i.e. with concealed Velcro as an easy fastening. The waistband is elasticated and raised which gives it an impactful look, but its main purpose is to ensure the back remains fully covered when transferring from a wheelchair to a chair if needed.
The care labels are concealed inside little pockets within the hem for sensory comfort. The sensory pockets started off as a test on two garments but the social media response was so positive that these have now become a default feature in our collections.
The legs are quite wide and easy to roll or pull up if needed to adjust a prosthetic for instance. It has been the most popular item so far.
,Tell us a little about a piece you are the proudest of?
It almost hurts having to say there’s one, but this would have to be the Sandra Dress. It’s made out of 22 fabric pieces and the closures are optional: standard buttons, magnet buttons, Velcro or snap fastenings.
All our items have been designed in a way to minimise fabric waste as much as possible, but with the Sandra Dress some of its parts are symmetrical blocks where the fabric was manipulated to give the dress its shape and features. A care label sensory pocket can be found inside the left front pocket and apart from the seams around the ruffled edges, everything else has flat felled seams for sensory comfort. The front opening as well as the skirt are wide enough for anyone to be able to put on/take off the dress in whatever way is the most convenient.
Do you have any past accomplishments you wish to share?
Being at such an early stage both in the business as well as this industry I hope this isn’t a premature statement or a mere assumption. However, one of the reasons Mauda was planned as first and foremost a fashion brand for all women prioritising adaptive was to help bring adaptive into mainstream fashion without perpetuating the current “divide” whereby adaptive can only be found in certain specialised shops. I do think we have a long way to go still, but it definitely feels brands are more aware of the need for inclusive design and the potential opportunities from the adaptive market.
"Mauda...to help bring adaptive into mainstream fashion without perpetuating the current “divide” whereby adaptive can only be found in certain specialised shops."
As our garments are made in the UK we have the ability to tweak designs to suit different needs. Despite an initial perception that because we’re making adaptive clothing, Mauda wouldn’t be a brand for non-disabled people, we’re starting to see a shift. Non-disabled people are expressing an interest in our designs and buying from us. Lockdown and the popularity of comfortable fashion may have played a part here, but we’re delighted to see this shift.
Despite being a very recent brand, our work has already been recognised. We’ve been shortlisted for the Fashion & Beauty Entrepreneur of the Year category at the 2021 Great British Entrepreneur Awards for the Scotland & Northern Ireland region. We’re honoured to have been shortlisted alongside great UK brands. At a time when society is so aware of the need for Inclusion, I’m hopeful that adaptive fashion will come into the mainstream sooner than we may think. Regardless of the Final’s outcome we’ll continue to focus our efforts and determination into helping bring adaptive into the mainstream!
How did you find out about SDX? And what made you apply to sell with us?
I have been a fan of SDX since the early days at Ocean Terminal. I remember seeing this art gallery-like space and thinking how refreshing it was to have work by local designers selling next door to major brands. I immediately fell in love with the art and the concept being SDX itself.
Whilst still going through course, I enquired about space rental and the staff were so welcoming and supportive that I knew this would be a future investment once the business was fully up and running.
What would you consider to be the most challenging aspect about being a working artist/designer?
As an independent business owner only just starting, you’re every role and department an organisation needs to function: the Board, Finance, Facilities, Marketing, Sales, Operations, Supplier Management, IT - to name a few. It’s really tough to constantly “swap hats”. Chances of something failing when this is the case are higher, because let’s face it, spinning too many plates is the perfect recipe for disaster.
When your presence and attention is split across so much, it’s easy to get distracted from the most important aspect of your business: your customers. It’s difficult enough to build a reputable and trustworthy brand as is, so any “distraction” from your audience may jeopardise it.
What have you found to be the most challenging aspect to your business since the beginning of the pandemic in 2020?
Mauda launched during lockdown and I’ll always view this period of my life through (extremely) rose tinted glasses, but I have to admit the uncertainty of the current times is rather stressful and at times frightening. The pandemic affected us all in different ways, but it was considerably harsher on people with disabilities. From shielding to having accessible spaces converted into something else to accommodate Covid-19 requirements, disabled groups were deprived of a lot more than most of us. Reaching customers has definitely posed several challenges.
"The pandemic affected us all in different ways, but it was considerably harsher on people with disabilities."
Our streets and older buildings weren’t planned with accessibility guidelines that exist today and the pandemic only exacerbated the problem. As businesses re-open I recognise that visiting Mauda at George St still poses an accessibility challenge in itself. This is something SDX management are aware of and have already looked into mitigating options for. Unfortunately, this is a wider problem across Edinburgh and an immediate solution plan hasn’t yet been confirmed. Lynzi (SDX Director) kindly walked me through the assessment work already conducted and welcomed Mauda to join ongoing discussions around accessibility with key individuals who can exert their influence with policy makers. It’s important to have more support from individuals and businesses to help push the accessibility agenda forward and we’re delighted to be joining efforts with SDX on this.
In the interim, Mauda’s online shop is and will remain available 24/7 and I’m planning creative ways to bring Mauda to the public at different venues. Details will be timely shared via our website and with SDX, so that customers can plan in advance. We’d encourage feedback from customers as it may help us plan and cater for different needs as appropriate. So, please do reach out! Despite the challenges, we look forward to what the future holds.
How have you spent your time during lockdowns, any new hobbies or passions discovered?
Lockdown was spent almost entirely planning Mauda. Not just the collection, but also how our values could be reflected in everything presented to our customers when placing an order. It’s curious how many languages one can learn without ever learning one language in all its written or spoken forms. So, what better time to learn braille and British Sign Language? I must confess BSL has been put on hold recently...
...braille is something we embedded in our business. Its most basic form (the only one I know for now) is present in our swing tags and Thank You cards.
Apart from Mauda, my other passion is cooking and lockdown has been great from a dietary perspective. Between 2019 and 2020 I was spending almost every week away for work and my meals were a combination of restaurant or vending machine food. Being able to eat fresh every day has been one of the best things that happened in our household. I’ve also attempted a few dishes we’d normally have at our favourite Edinburgh restaurants, just to get a bit of that “going out experience”. They were good, but let’s just say we’re delighted those restaurants are open again.
How do you think the pandemic will affect shopping habits and the retail industry moving forward?
That’s the million-dollar question. Before the pandemic there was lots of discussion around the crisis in the high street and old reputable brands closing their doors. The pandemic has definitely forced everyone into a virtual existence, but people seem to have gained a different appreciation for physical spaces and the overall retail experience.
I don’t think anyone will change the current online shopping habits or that the old retail shopping model will make a comeback, but consumers will expect options. 24/7 online availability will be a must. For physical spaces: product on display will not suffice and the devil is in the detail. Creativity will need to extend beyond the product itself as people are more and more looking for an experience. I can see the retail industry expanding from products only to a combination of the experience associated with that product. Even if only a taster of what that looks like.
What do you hope to gain from working with SDX going forward?
Mainly visibility which will hopefully translate into new customers. The Scottish Design Exchange has already built a strong reputation which makes it easier for an artist showcasing their products at the SDX to build their own reputation. The fact that the Edinburgh shop is so central is great. It’s a very prestigious area, ideal to reach an audience interested in unique high-quality products made in the UK.
Having the support of the SDX is great as to some degree by renting the space, the SDX staff are also supporting the artists with the sales side of things. Having the opportunity to “share” one of the hats makes a difference.
If you could share just one piece of advice to aspiring artists/designers who want to make a living from their creative talents, what would you tell them?
Listen to your instinct, knowledge and experience and go for it. Without trying you’ll never know. Plan what you’ll do and how you’ll do it, but do it. Everyone’s different, so someone’s way of doing things may not be what’s suitable to you. Don’t despair, it’s not that you can’t do what they did, you probably just need to do it differently. Don’t be afraid to reach out for help. Listen and learn from people around you but let the “if it were me” be applied to whatever it is that person would do if it were them. Do things that are suitable to your circumstances and to what you want to achieve in your own time.
Tell us your favourite inspirational quote or best advice YOU were given.
A number of people crossed my path and influenced who I am today. Under different circumstances I apply different learnings they shared with me, but the one I find myself abiding to the most is from my mother: If you want something done, do it yourself! It has served me well for as long as I can remember. At times when someone doesn’t believe you or what you intend to do, doing it yourself and proving it can be done is half way through to get other people onboard. Tough, but effective. And if it doesn’t work, then you’ll know why and you can think how to make it happen next time.
Thank you to Carla for participating in our Meet The Artist Blog Questionnaire. You can find Mauda at our Edinburgh, George Street shop.