INTERVIEW MAINA @THE UNDERARGUMENT
Can you introduce yourself in a few sentences? What does The Underargument mean and who is behind it?
My background very much influenced The Underargument. I grew up in a constant melting pot between my upbringing in France, my Ivorian half, my moves to London then Sydney then back to London. Plus, an eclectic professional background from working in media, working at a PR agency specialising in Hip-Hop and making a move to Fashion which was interrupted by a short stint working for an online florist... These experiences were rich in perspectives. They also forced me to learn to mould my identity to situations, become a chameleon, learn when to be myself, and when to be what others needed me to be. Basically, becoming a version of me that would be more “acceptable” for all, and that wasn’t ideal.
A few years back, I was labelled strong-headed one too many times, and that was my cue to embark on a journey where I’d try to give women a supportive platform to help them break the mould. This is how I set to create a brand that would become a
medium advocating acceptance. Lingerie always had an empowering and therapeutic effect on me. Using something close to our skin as a tool to embrace our individuality made a lot of sense to me.
Why did you decide to create The Underargument?
The Underargument was born out of my very (un)healthy life-long addiction to lingerie, my belief in the power of individuality and a tongue-in-cheek play on word turning the underGARMENT into underARGUMENT.
I wanted to create a space where women that may not have felt accepted or recognised before could see themselves and feel supported. I wanted to share their story and leave them feeling empowered.
Each piece I create is labelled with a “reminder”, a little quote to look at every day and find the strength to push through. From the first Underargument “For awesome // Against perfect” to the most recent ones like “For identity // Against stereotypes” or “For sexy // Against sexism”, each collection is a personal reminder to embrace our individuality, even when it means arguing against the norm.
What is your first collection about?
The first collection is named “For awesome // Against perfect”. I started with this theme to set the tone of the brand. The Underargument is all about embracing individuality. This begins with acceptance and praising things about us that we are made to think are not good enough, too different or sometimes even inappropriate. The purpose of this collection is to remind women to embrace their bodies just as they are. It also is a reminder to appreciate all our quirky ways and unique mindsets. I believe we can only find and fulfill our purpose by trusting our individuality so anything unique to us should never be tamed.
What is your biggest source of inspiration?
The Underarguments’ themes are usually inspired by situations I go through or mindsets I strongly believe in. But it can also spark when I hear someone’s story or view of the world or through the work of engaged artists like Barbara Kruger and even the odd Sociologist work! I’m fascinated by people’s mindsets and how we all function under society’s norms.
In regards to the designs, I am a die-hard lover of French and Swiss embroideries and lace, and I love textures and contrasts. A look will often spring to mind from finding the perfect fabric and trims.
How would you define The Underargument style?
The Underargument’s style translates authenticity and boldness into designs that play with the contrast of sheerness and strong graphic accents. The embroideries and mesh reflect the sentiment of authenticity and embracing our true-selves while the luxurious velvet and graphic jacquard elastics create a striking contrast. I design the pieces with a mindset of “everyday luxury”. It is lingerie that you want to wear both for special occasions and under an understated outfit. There is something extraordinarily empowering in being the only one to know how good what’s underneath is. It’s the perfect metaphor for our individuality.
What will be the themes of your next collections? What can we expect from them?
I’m very excited about the upcoming themes. Design-wise I’m introducing new colours with a deep midnight blue, a vibrant bottle green, and some beautiful earthy colours like our rich mustard and Terre de Sienne all tied together with two elegant off-white themes.
The next underarguments will uncover themes like non-conformist relationships, embracing failures and insecurities, trusting your instincts and much more.
What do you think of lingerie brands that are becoming more and more inclusive?
This is a very touchy subject for me. I’m mixed-race, and I grew up without really seeing “people like me” aside from some Benetton ads! If I am honest, it didn’t feel like an issue. You get so used to the same marketing formula that you start to internalise the image and think “it is how it should be”. But then you realise that the lack of exposure that minorities suffer from (whether based on body shape, gender, culture, race, ability, age, sexuality or any other criteria) is what contributes in a big way to a glass ceiling that’s preventing progress.
I recently attended an event where an iconic brand explained how they embrace the “diversity trend”. This mentality is a real issue. Diversity is crucial, it has to be a focus, but it can so easily fall into tokenism. I want to avoid this at all costs. Brands need to find ways to be more authentic with their approach (and a lot of smaller brands especially do this pretty well already). This is why I select the faces of my brand through what I branded an “anti-casting”.
Brands cannot exploit people’s physical differences to sell and expect a pat on the back. It is obvious diversity is needed at the top so tokenism mishaps and gross cultural appropriation are avoided, and so authenticity can finally belong in branding.
We love your concept of “Anti-casting”, can you tell us a little bit more?
The anti-casting is core to The Underargument’s purpose. It is my take on a more authentic representation of diversity but also my take on women empowerment.
Because The Underargument is heavily based on storytelling, I have an on-going call out for women to share stories related to existing or upcoming themes. I don’t ask them for anything else (not their size, not their picture, just their words). I pick a handful of stories I love, and this is how I select the faces of my brand. By not seeing the faces of my brand before the shoot! And yes, it can be a logistical challenge with sizing. But mostly, I take it as a humble reminder that with a commitment to diversity comes a responsibility to cater to different body types, needs and abilities.
The anti-casting shoots are the highlights of my work. Having everyday women vulnerably sharing their story and courageously posing wearing next to nothing in front of a camera is such a powerful moment for all involved. The feedback I receive from the experience is priceless. So many women have shared how cathartic writing their story and cementing it with the shoot was to them.
Now, I do find that I get more able-bodied cisgender caucasian women sharing their stories. I think that is because other people do not yet realise they are welcome in this space. The more the anti-casting concept spreads, the more diverse people I get to feature. I think it will continue to have the desired snowball effect, so all women feel they also belong in these campaigns. I’m learning as I go but doing diversity by typecasting will never be an option for my brand.
How can we make lingerie while respecting the environment?
Another tough question! In my wildest dreams, I would have collections that are mostly biodegradable. I do want to continue using sheer fabrics and embroideries, so I’m keeping a close eye on all the exciting bio yarns and fabrics that have been coming out over the past few years.
In the meantime, the focus for me is on sustainability. I see it as 3-fold; the design, the craft and the people.
I’m always looking at ways to improve the designs and the fact we are seasonless means that we can run a bit of an unusual production schedule to limit dead stock. We only source Oeko-Tex materials and only buy GOTS cotton. We give a lot of thought into packaging too. We’re plastic-free, and if it isn’t recycled and recyclable or biodegradable, it has to be reusable. This is how I came about designing pretty and colourful care labels that turn into bookmarks.
I wanted to guarantee a high-quality product that would last and support the craft. Paying the extra cost of having materials made by European craftsmen that have been making mesh, embroideries or lace for sometimes over a century is for me a key part of The Underargument’s dedication to sustainability.
Last but not least, people. I carefully select all my suppliers, and I cherish personal relationships. I picked our factory in Madagascar for many reasons, but one was the way they give back. From the way they provide for their staff to the children’s foundation they run, there is a lot of humanity in what they do. Sustainability for The Underargument is about building lasting relationships, thinking about how we can all stay in the game for the long run and support each other.
It’s all far from perfect, but every decision made for the brand is made with a conscious effort to do better and limit our footprint. That’s until my big dream for biodegradable ranges can come to life.