Fashion designer Mimi Plange talks to us about being born in Ghana, growing up in California, and nurturing herself on a steady diet of fantasy movies. She's always known she’d become a fashion designer, but an invitation to the White House by Michelle Obama came as a total surprise. Plus, she's got cred with both Beyoncé and Jay Z. Listen:
What is your earliest memory?
I remember going to Universal Studios with my entire family when we first arrived in California from Ghana. We had the best time and I was scared of everything. I had just turned 5, and every experience was so fantastical and weird. I really think that, that’s why I think of everything in fantasy and was always attracted to movies like Star Wars, The Never Ending Story, Willow, The Dark Crystal and anything else with a goblin, ghoul or hobbit.
How do you feel about democratic design?
I believe that the best craftsmanship and design should be available to all people and that those designs should be provided by designers from all different walks of life. Luxury is different to many people, but it shouldn’t be based on only one class being able to determine what is luxury and what is not. That determination is personal. In thinking about democratic design, we do have to think about price, does that mean that everything that we make should be at an affordable price for everyone? I think we as designers should do our best to create quality products at an obtainable price, but consumers who value attention to detail, limited quantities and artisanal work, also know that the real cost of making things is high. People have to be paid fairly for the work that they do. I think that is one of the most difficult aspects of being an emerging designer who makes all of our product in New York, but we are working on streamlining production techniques in order to bring cost down, so our product can be accessible to more people.
What’s the best advice that you’ve ever gotten?
To focus on yourself. It’s not selfish, it’s necessary, because you can’t begin to improve the lives of others without improving yours first. When you focus on yourself, you don’t compare yourself to other people, you learn to understand that you are different, and that everyone’s path is different. And ultimately, I think you build a strong foundation of self awareness and confidence, and you stay committed to the goals that you have outlined for yourself. Your inner strength will pull you through anything.
How do you record your ideas?
My mind likes to wander a lot, and I can be talking to someone and bam! Some idea just pops up! I will usually just hold it until I can get to my sketchpad, and then I loosely draw some abstract image and write down a few notes so I remember what I was thinking. I have many sketch pads and books, and I usually just open one up on any page that is clear and I record the idea. There is no rhyme or reason, just sketches and thoughts lurking everywhere. I love going through them, especially old ones to see what I was thinking-and to laugh.
What’s your current favorite tool or material to work with?
I really like drawing on Adobe Illustrator! I’ve been conflicted about it, because initially when I entered the work field, many seasoned designers kind of shunned the idea of drawing on the computer and would insist that the “real” way to do it was by hand. But I’ve learned that it’s mostly about moving forward with the times and being able to work at a faster pace. When I draw on the computer, my final product looks exactly like how I have sketched it. I make less adjustments and know exactly what I am getting. I think it facilitates the process. I still value sketching by hand, because it’s beautiful, but the world is turning faster and faster, and I want my pen tool to keep pushing me forward.
What book is on your nightstand?
The Patterned Skin by Christiana Oware Knudsen. It’s a breakdown of Ethnic Scarification in Developing Ghana, and an essential research tool for the work we do. I find it fascinating that these scars extend beyond beauty and also represent the spiritual and the sensual body. It’s a great read on why decorate the skin, and what impact it has had on the past and the present
Why is authenticity in design important?
It’s especially important today because it’s so rare. If you don’t have anything new to bring to the table then why are you here? I think being authentic in design is important because when you a sharing your work with people, you are communicating with them, and telling them who you are, and giving them a glimpse into how your mind works. You are putting your stamp or mark out there, and if you want it to be lasting, it must be authentic.
Favorite restaurant in your city?
Pearl Oyster Bar
What might we find on your desk right now?
Who do you look up to and why?
My mother is the world to me. She moved to America and raised 6 children on her own in Ontario, California. And though we didn’t have much, she made us feel like we had everything. She was the first to expose me to ideas of perception, and how you see yourself in any given situation. She was very clear that you are the one who will control the outcome of your life, no matter what. She always said that you could do and be anything, and I really believed her. I still do. She said it so many times... all the time. She brainwashed me, and I can’t thank her enough.
What’s your favorite project that you’ve done and why?
My favorite project has been setting out to create our brand and doing it. Being able to see it grow, change and evolve over the years has been amazing. There is always something new, and most importantly, we have learned so much about the dynamics of people-what do they want-what do they desire and what turns them off. In a weird sort of way, it also leads to more self discovery as well! It’s exciting all the time, and you practice listening to your gut, and conquering Fear. It’s kind of fun, like a rollercoaster!
What are the last five songs you listened to?
MyMyMy (New York: A Mix Odessy) - Armand Van Heldon
See the Sun (Aurosonic Remix) - Matt Darey & Urban Astronauts
Yulunga (Spirit Dance) - Dead Can Dance
Indus - Dead Can Dance
Bitch Better Have My Money - Rihanna