Julia Ahrens: Co-founder of Miakoda
It’s no secret that I’m a major fangirl of sustainable plant-based fashion brand Miakoda. I’ve was first introduced to them nearly two years ago and have partnered with them on numerous occasions since. While I haven’t met Julia in person (yet!), I feel like she’s truly a friend of mine at this point. Her approach to ethical/sustainable fashion is inspiring and her designs are unparalleled when it comes to comfort and quality athleisure apparel. I’m delighted to introduce you to the face and force behind Miakoda today…
Share a bit about your personal background…
I grew up in NY with my mom, dad, and sister—we are an incredibly close-knit family [I’m talking good morning, good afternoon, how is everyone, and goodnight group messages everyday]. In our house we always had a huge number of pets [or companion animals] ranging from hamsters, to gerbils, to frogs, to rats, to cats, to dogs, to rabbits, etc etc. I became vegetarian at the age of 11 after learning that meat was once a live animal. Having so many pets that I loved, I couldn’t fathom eating meat when my mom told me “chicken was once a chicken.”
Fast forward a few years, I went to college at Parsons School of Design in NYC—my absolute dream school where I wanted to become the best fashion designer ever and work for a famous high end designer. I loved shopping [and did it frequently], I loved shoes [and would save up the Barney’s warehouse sale where I could score a huge deal on designer heels], and loved to work and do homework [my friends and I would have all nighter homework parties regularly. Where we…. drank tea and did homework, the typical college stuff, right?!].
Towards the end of my time in college I went vegan, started practicing yoga, and experienced a complete flip in my priorities. I wouldn’t say that my morals and values changed… they had always been the same, but they definitely became stronger and even more important to me. I no longer wanted to shop 24/7, I no longer bought designer shoes, and cooking delicious food and going to yoga and feeling aligned with my thoughts became priority.
As I graduated, I felt disconnected from the fashion industry that can be [and usually is] so detrimental and exploitative and harmful to so many humans and our planet. I searched for companies that felt like a good fit to apply to for a job, and was left with no possibilities. I contemplated what to do to create a fulfilling life and career for myself. I spoke to many teachers and colleagues about starting my own company to do things in a way that feels positive and beneficial. I wanted options that I wanted to support with my career and as a consumer. Everyone told me not to do it… except my family and my sister who believed so strongly in my mission, in my passion, in my values and morals. And thank goodness they did because Miakoda is now 5 years old—founded 6 years ago with my sister and best friend, Laura!
Do you have a morning routine?
My morning routine involved a lot of coffee. It’s the only consistent each day. I have a strong nighttime routine, but I have to admit, my morning routine could be a lot more intentional. I am usually too excited to start the day and start checking stuff off my to-do list to do anything aside from get ready, drink some coffee, and start answering emails, packing orders, and getting my to-do list taken care of. I find it easier to put all my special activities at the end of the day when I have less on my mind and less “to do.” So my nighttime routine is filled with tons of self care and skincare—my two favorites!
What was the inspiration for founding Miakoda?
The last paragraph about me is the longer story—but the short story is that I wanted to work for a company that felt good to me to be my career and that felt good to me as a consumer to support. At the time when I was graduating college, there were few options and the majority of the ethical and sustainable companies were really small and not hiring. I knew I would never be happy and fulfilled working for a company that is hurting our planet, animals, and humans—so Miakoda was birthed!
How does Miakoda guarantee the ethical treatment of workers and sustainable production of clothes?
We work with an ethical factory in NYC that we visit regularly. We spend time with the workers and with the factory owner. The owner of our factory is a wonderful human who is completely aligned with us and ensure that the workers are treated well, paid fairly, and also leave work at a good time to have time with their families. We also only work with fabric supplier who audit their supply chain and who are transparent and willing to share information with us.
What is your personal strategy behind building an ethical wardrobe?
My personal strategy is to buy pieces that you need and that you will wear. I am in a bit of an unusual situation since I wear 90% Miakoda [I design things I want to live in and hope you guys will want to live in too!]. But when adding other pieces to my closet, I usually have an inspiration board of outfits I’d love to wear. I look at my closet and see what pieces are missing. I make a list of the pieces I’m dreaming about adding to my closet, and if those pieces stay on that list for a few weeks, I’ll start researching options from small sustainable companies or look for it second hand. I personally love shopping from small companies [probably because I know the work, love, and passion that goes behind those products], but if I can’t find what I’m looking for, second hand is the most sustainable, ethical, and budget-friendly way to shop.
What has been the most rewarding part of creating Miakoda?
I can’t pick one, so here are the top three most rewarding parts of creating Miakoda:
1. Having options I feel good about wearing, good about selling, good about creating
2. Having the opportunity to educate friends, family, customers, community on what ethical and sustainable fashion is and why it’s so important
3. When a customer tells me they love the product—that they feel good about supporting us, or that the clothing makes them feel incredible
What is one thing you wish more consumers understood about the clothes they buy?
They don’t just appear. They are SO many people involved in the creation of one garment, from the person planting the seed, to watering the fields, to harvesting the crops, to cleaning the crops, to knitting the fabric, to dying the fabric, to working in the fabric warehouse, to the cutters and sewers, etc, there are hundreds of people involved. These people are so often exploited, taken advantage of, or exposed to unsafe conditions [pesticides, toxic dyes, etc]. Fashion and clothing are great… but they aren’t great when they cause suffering. Ethical fashion isn’t difficult, it just requires pay and we slow down a little bit more.
Side note: I actually save money since I stopped buying fast fashion because although I buy more expensive pieces, I buy way less [no more leaving stores with 15 new pieces].
Do you have a personal favorite garment that Miakoda produces?
Slouchy pants—100%! Slouchy pants are actually a style I developed as part of my thesis collection in college. They were the first pieces I created for Miakoda. They’re the first piece that sold out, and the only piece that we’ve created every single season because they are the most comfortable pant you will ever wear.
Where do you hope to see Miakoda 5 years from now?
I hope that Miakoda has expanded, just enough to stay small but to reach more people to create more impact. The more people we reach, the more we can share the importance of ethical fashion and sustainability.