“Love thy differences,” Malia Mills declares, “it’s our mission to liberate women from feelings of inadequacy.” Malia Mills, a New York City designer, known for her bra and pant-sized swimwear, has had over 20 years of success by catering to women of all different shapes and sizes. Malia is changing the way women see themselves, “if the suit doesn’t fit, it’s the suit that’s flawed, not the body.”
The youngest of six kids, Malia Mills was born in Honolulu, Hawaii and moved to Etna, New Hampshire when she was thirteen. Later, she graduated from Cornell University in New York. “At Cornell, we studied textile uses that covered a broad spectrum – from scuba suits and clean room garments, to infant car seats and couches”. She also spent one year in Paris studying at La Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne, where she learned traditional techniques of couture. Malia feels she was “very lucky to have had experiences that were very different and very complementary.”
In 1993, she moved to New York City and got a waitressing job but also started making patterns and sewing swimsuits in her apartment. The main concept was “to design swimwear as an extension of our street style with a killer fit to bring out the vixen within.” Today, the Malia Mills collection continues to include this main concept, as well as a fresh collection of ready to wear and accessories.
All Malia Mills products are lovingly made in America, which has been very rewarding for the brand. “Small business is the engine of America and we couldn’t have started or grown our company without the very talented and industrious cutters, sewers, and pattern makers in the garment district,” Malia explains. She runs the business in Sunset Park Brooklyn with her sister, Carol Mills, who has been her business partner from the very beginning. “We’ve always shared a love of fashion, a love of New York, and we really dig the challenges of problem solving – it was a natural fit.” Malia adds, “when Carol was in high school, she used to sew maxi dresses made from sheets with 70s swirled motifs for her and floral rompers and gingham shorts sets for me – in some way, our partnership must have been pre-ordained!”
Love thy Differences, the Malia Mills mantra, all started “way back when, when we photographed all the different styles in our collection on 28 different women – friends from my waitressing days, our first employee, Carol (who was 8 months pregnant), a mother and a daughter – all of the women were stunning and fierce. The photos were incredible – inspiring, liberating, powerful – truly worth a thousand words and we narrowed it down to three: love thy differences.”
Besides the inspiring mantra, each swimwear or ready to wear piece is named after the badass women of the world. “Our Amelia pants are named in celebration of the fearless pilot, our Georgia romper is named after the kick-ass painter, the Aquitaine dress is named after the powerful leader Eleanor of Aquitaine, the list goes on! Sometimes we name our styles to celebrate our fit models or customers.” Malia adds, “Our mavens are my biggest inspiration, we are fortunate to meet incredibly smart, creative, stylish, go get ‘em gals each day.”
The future of Malia Mills looks even more exciting for women. Currently Malia Mills bikini tops run up to a 38E bra-size (85E in European measurements) but she’s making F and G cup bikini tops, “we’re fitting some rad shapes on fabulous, full-busted gals – bring on summer!” Malia Mills swimwear is sold in 13 Malia Mills boutiques across America to reach women everywhere, from the east coast to the west coast and down south to Texas. Malia wants to continue expanding her boutiques across America and eventually wants to bring MM abroad, “Paris, Tokyo, London, St. Barth’s… never say never!” It continues to be an incredible, amazing, challenging, and inspiring adventure for Malia. She wants to keep reaching out to women everywhere and tell them to “choose to see the beauty in you, get out there and carpe diem. Hell yes you can.”