FASHION: GLOBAL NOMADS
Made-to-Order for Your Authentic Self
Interviewed and written by CW Nolen
Artist, stylist, feminist and now designer and entrepreneur, Miranda Starcevic has launched her first fashion line, Miranda Banana. Born in France to American parents running a theater company, Miranda grew up surrounded by creatives. However, in the French education system, her creative verve and individualistic streak weren’t always encouraged by teachers and peers alike. This experience of being an outcast continues to fuel her motivation in creating a brand to help your authentic self feel good. In the midst of the global pandemic, she decided to launch her own business, but even with strict lockdown rules (known as confinement in France) she isn’t alone: she has her mother who provides business mentorship and a family friend, Valerie, a costume designer, to help with production. In this interview, we follow her over two months as she grapples with the first steps in launching a brand that consists of colorful made-to-order garments emblematic of her unique punk-meets-funk aesthetic. She candidly shares with us how terrifying committing to a new business can be, but despite this, being patient and authentic are the key ingredients needed to keep going.
For our first interview in mid-November 2020, due to a second lockdown being mandated in France, Miranda and I spoke over Zoom. Only a few weeks earlier, we had met in person over a coffee at Le Peloton Café (featured in our Food section).
What made you feel it was time to start a business? MIRANDA: It wasn’t planned. A year ago I didn’t even know I would be here. I finished my BFA in fashion design at Pratt Institute in New York four years ago. After that I did mostly merchandising and worked in e-commerce. I’ve always wanted to have my own fashion brand, but I didn’t know where to start. So I got into styling instead. In 2019, after 10 years in New York, I came back to France. Even though I love my friends and New York is always going to be the city that accepted me, I was experiencing major burnout. I was really unhappy. I just couldn’t handle it anymore. I definitely struggled leaving, but if I didn’t follow my instincts, I wouldn’t have created [this] brand.
So do you feel like it was a culmination of burnout, leaving New York and the pandemic that pushed you to start Miranda Banana? MIRANDA: I think so. Being in strict quarantine — confinement — was the déclic (eureka moment) because I had just come back to France and I realized, “Woah I need a job!”— but my network was in New York. During confinement I stayed busy doing my art and I had maybe two meltdowns. That’s when I thought, “This is the time to create a brand.” I’m grateful too that I had my mom who really pushed me to go for it. So I would definitely say confinement was a positive experience, otherwise my projects wouldn’t be where they are today.
Your business is brand new; you’ve just shot your first lookbook. What makes Miranda Banana unique? MIRANDA: I feel like my whole life has been leading to this point. I’ve always been around an artistic milieu, which contributed to the bullying in school, but I used it against them as my strength: “Okay, you’re making fun of my outfit, so I’m going to wear the most ridiculous one!” This brand is a way to represent my personality. Deep down I knew I always wanted to make clothes for people who are scared of wearing something fun, or who can’t find things that will bring positivity and a smile to their face. We’re doing the copywriting for my website right now and a phrase that really represents my brand is: “Miranda Banana is an invitation to walk on the wild side” — I love that.
When we talk about fashion, it’s often about trends which are driven by the industry-as-business. But there are brands that are focusing more on self-expression and timeless style. How does your brand fit into that dichotomy? MIRANDA: I’m trying my best to make my brand a representation of someone’s personal style. I’m not inspired by big brands that go through trends — for me, that’s not fashion. In France, trends are very big. You wear something because it’s the new cool thing. That’s what’s gross about fashion — that repetition where somebody wears a certain t-shirt only because a celebrity did. Staying true to yourself is the most important thing. That is what fashion should be: wear whatever you want, as long as you’re happy with it.
I remember being in New York one winter. It was miserable, cold, everyone was angry, we were all just waiting for spring. I was on the subway wearing one of my favorite coats — super colorful. This lady came up to me and said, “Oh my god your coat, I just had the stupidest day and I absolutely love your coat. I’m going home with a smile on my face.” That was the best comment ever. That’s how I want my clothes to make people feel.
I like to think entrepreneurs have somebody for whom they’re doing this — who is it for you? MIRANDA: I want to incorporate my feminist side into my brand. Not only is this a brand created by women — me, my mother and Valerie — but I’m naming each piece after inspiring women: civil rights activists and feminist icons. Because both feminism and my brand seek to represent all women, I also have pieces named after my best friend or my sister. I am trying to cater to as many womxn — with an “x” — as possible.
How are you addressing inclusivity and sustainability? MIRANDA: One of the biggest questions I got from my community was whether there would be bigger sizes. My goal is to make clothes that will fit a smaller and bigger person. I have a lot of stretchy pieces; we use elastic, and we have a loose fit. For the lookbook, it went from a size 34 to 44 or US 0 to 14 (average dress size in France is a US 8), which was awesome, but fashion doesn’t stop at size 44. The reality is I don’t have time right now to do more, even though I want to. There’s always going to be someone who says, “Why didn’t you … ?” but we’re just two people sewing and I’m going to do my best.
There’s also price inclusivity. We do made-to-order, which reduces waste but is very difficult from a business perspective. The amount of time it takes us, the money we’re spending buying fabrics — we have to market our pieces at a price point that cuts a lot of people out.
As for sustainability, I want as little waste as possible, so we are reusing all our remnants. I’m creating patchworks and making unique pieces, but I can’t make a lot “for the moment.” I don’t want to go and purposely make fabric scraps for the sake of the designs. So whenever we have enough remnants that we would have thrown out otherwise, and I have the time, I can make a one-of-a-kind patchwork piece.
What are the most difficult aspects of entrepreneurship and the most rewarding? MIRANDA: The worst part for me is everything that’s noncreative! I just want to make a dress; but, you can’t just make a dumb dress, you have to calculate how much fabric, the costs, logistics … it’s not fun. Then there’s the scary part of thinking, “Oh my god this is so expensive! Is it worth it? Are people actually going to buy this?” It’s a challenge to deal with that fear in my head. We need to be able to sustain the brand, but also to be able to go home and buy food. It’s pretty crazy not knowing what’s going to happen, but that’s also the best part.
Speaking of, are you working any other job right now? MIRANDA: I live off of my very small RSA (Revenue de Solidarité Active — government welfare supplement for low-income workers) but it’s not like I’m buying anything or traveling. We’re in a pandemic.
Right now, no one is paid. We’re all giving our time and energy because that’s what needs to be done when you create a business! My mom has a lot of experience in business so she’s giving me some great advice. I really hope we will be able to earn some money so we can start paying ourselves. That is one of the main goals!
Aside from the practicalities of daily life, has the pandemic affected your launch? MIRANDA: Well, everything is online which is really great; we haven’t invested in a shop. I started my Instagram for my brand not long ago, in early October, and I was worried nobody was going to follow, but actually I’ve had really amazing feedback. Maybe this is because people are on their phones more. But in terms of buying, I don’t know because we haven’t started selling yet. At this point, it’s just confidence and drive. But I’m also getting lost in comparison. I’ve always been really open about how easy it is to fall into a trap of comparing yourself to other people and how you shouldn’t assume that they’re doing great. But you spend your time as an entrepreneur comparing yourself. It’s a constant struggle.
I caught up over Zoom with Miranda a month later in mid-December to hear about how things have progressed from early photoshoots to making first sales and how she’s coping with the complicated emotions of starting a business …
Last we spoke, you were working on your website, but this has been delayed — how has this affected your launch? MIRANDA: Because we don’t have a website yet, people started asking to purchase something through Instagram. So I sold two items — without a website! But this is really difficult. People don’t have ways to trust you like through a website where you get an email receipt as proof that you paid. It’s all going through my DMs, which is really hard. For instance, we created a PayPal, so we can get paid. Then PayPal sent an email saying, “We’re going to keep your money and suspend the account, because we want to make sure that you’re a real brand.” So what do I do now? It’s a frustrating platform, and they take 2.9% of each item that I sell, but there’s not much else I can use.
We’ve also been waiting for a shipment of fabric, which arrived, and we can finally make stuff. And yesterday, I got the final design of my logo. That’s really exciting because I can start building a website now!
How are you feeling for the year ahead? MIRANDA: I’m really scared. It’s so hard to project yourself. I’m really excited for my brand to work and hopefully start selling, making other people happy and getting some kind of notoriété (notoriety) from it. But the older I get, the more pessimistic I become. It’s really hard to stay positive — I’m actually scared that my personal problems are going to affect my professionalism.
I think that’s a really legitimate fear that people don’t talk about enough. Instead, when we work, we’re supposed to shut off our emotions: be productive, professional and perfect. MIRANDA: Yeah, what you just said. But it’s okay, we’re going to have bad days. For example, I had an upsetting experience on the subway. Then when I arrived at work, I just didn’t want to talk about it, but it was so hard to focus. I should have taken an hour break. I should have gone and sat, had a tea and analyzed what had happened and admitted to myself, “I’m not okay, this is awful.” Not just go into work and be completely confused.
It sounds like entrepreneurs need to talk to each other and have that self-acceptance and confidence to say, “Hey, I’m going to have bad days, but I’m not going to beat myself up.” MIRANDA: Definitely.
Workshops and the zine are organized by Slow + Sustain through the volunteer efforts of our contributors. Funding comes from both the contributors and the public.