Oct 7, 2020
The fashion industry is one of the biggest polluters
in the world. It actually makes up 10% of humanity’s carbon
emissions, drying up water sources, polluting rivers, streams, and
oceans. More than 85% of all textiles go into the dump each year.
There are many incredible fashion brands that are tackling this
issue head on by creating fashionable, sustainable, and zero waste
products that are making a big impact. My guest this week is Paola
Masperi, the founder of Mayamiko,
an ethical, sustainable, and zero-waste fashion and lifestyle brand
on a mission to champion a more responsible approach to shopping.
Using slow and traditional craftsmanship techniques, Mayamiko works
with global artisans from Malawi to Milan to create trans-seasonal
women’s clothing, accessories, and homeware collections. With a
zero-waste policy, the brand utilizes pre-consumer waste and
reclaims materials where possible, including cotton deadstock from
reclaimed silk alongside locally sourced artisanal fabric from
Malawi, geo-TS certified organic cotton and linen. Paolo is also
the founder of the Mayamiko Trust, which helps Mayamikan get up and
running with training schemes and microfinance projects which
provide funding and teach basic financial and business planning
skills. The trust then connects the trainees to fantastic ethical
and sustainable fashion brands and designers. This creates links to
markets where they can trade their products as high-value items
according to fair-trade principles. I loved this conversation with
Paola and I learned so much from her!
5:48 - The Paola 101
- Paola was born in Milan, Italy and grew up there in
a big family with strong, independent women and men who supported
them. She moved to England to finish her studies and early in her
career, traveled to Germany and then a number of African countries
for work in the early 2000s.
- Through her work in Africa, the seeds of Mayamiko
were planted and began to grow. Her worked in Africa focused on
using digital innovation to support education across developing
countries. Through that work, she became very passionate about the
potential of the places and people she met, and the friendships she
developed through her work.
- Paola grew up seeing two sides of her family
working day jobs while also working on social engagement projects.
Her dad opened the first cinema in the town which became a safe
place for the youth of the town who may have otherwise been
affected by the growing drug problem in the community. It became a
place to learn about culture and diversity while also creating a
safe community gathering space.
- Growing up with family who worked hard on both
their careers and passions influenced Paola with confidence that
she could work a day job while also pursuing passion projects and
traveling the world.
- In the late 80s and 90s, there was not a lot of
diversity in Milan, but when Paola moved to London, she worked for
an educational company working on software to teach language. Each
year on the project, Paola wanted to do a little more to bring
education to more places and more people. She made a suggestion to
the company’s leadership to see if they could apply language
solutions to a broader global context.
- The company started working with governments across
African countries to see if their technology could support bringing
primary education to those countries as well. Paola spent the
majority of her time working in Malawi and Uganda. It was a
formative experience that taught her how much she had to learn from
what was going on around her, even if just by listening. Whenever
Paola lands in an African airport, it feels like home to her.
14:42 – Mayamiko
- The heart of Mayamiko came from a friendship with a
woman Paola worked with on one of her language projects. The two
started thinking about what else they could do to help empower
women. They understood more than anything else that women needed
choices. They agreed access to choices came from access to
education and finance.
- In 2008, they started the Mayamiko Trust to provide
those choices to women through vocational training and access to
fair wages, both which would continue to open women to more and
more opportunities and choices.
- The Mayamiko Trust allows women to make their own
choices about what skills they want and need, letting them make
choices about what they are trained on and what to do with those
skills after training. They can either stay with Mayamiko in an
apprenticeship and go on to be employed by Mayamiko, or take out a
microfinance grant to set up their own business.
- Some of the women went out on their own and others
set up group co-ops together. Mayamiko is now 12 years old, and
nothing has changed in that approach to give women those choices.
Mayamiko also wanted to offer sustainable income opportunities to
women, so they started the Mayamiko label, setting up their own
brand to create a long-lasting employment opportunity and to not be
dependent on donations. Now they have a self-sustaining model that
- The first few years Mayamiko experimented with
accessories and bags to test the concepts. It was 2012, and there
were not many conversations happening around ethical or sustainable
fashion. It was still very niche. They realized direct to consumer
resonated most, and customers loved knowing the stories behind
their products and knowing that the artisans making them were being
treated well and compensated fairly.
- In 2015, Mayamiko launched a small women’s wear
capsule and has been slowly broadening the quality of those
projects and telling their stories to create products people love
for a long time, both for their aesthetic quality, and the story
behind them as well.
- More often than not, the root of global poverty
comes from lack of economic opportunity. Both charities and
business have a role in tackling global poverty. Mayamiko would not
be where they are today if they’d not started their charity first.
Risk is inherent to business, and Paola was clear she did not want
to risk any of the money meant for charity initiatives with the
Mayamiko Trust. That was the motivation behind separating the
charity and the business.
- Mayamiko comes from the Chewa language spoken in
Malawi used for both boys and girls that means “Praise” or
“Thanksgiving.” Along with having a beautiful meaning, it is also
the name of a child that Paola worked with and so it has a special
personal meaning to her as well.
27:27 – Not the Great Equalizer
- Covid-19 has affected people disproportionately,
and statistically it’s reversing a lot of progress that had been
made for people rising out of global poverty in all parts of the
world. While we’re all experiencing it at the same time, our
experiences with it are going to vary greatly.
- For many artisans around the world, whether or not
they are getting paid is a matter of life and death. Paola was
acutely aware of Covid-19 a bit earlier because of her family in
Italy. When the UK started to enter lockdown, the training academy
in Mayamiko in Malawi had to shut down and people were sent home.
For people in Malawi there started to be a question of whether to
social distance or earn a living, and working from home looks very
different in different places around the world.
- Day to day life is conducted in big cities with
bustling markets and crowded public transportation is needed to do
business in the cities. It’s not possible to social distance in
some places in the world. The responses to Covid-19 really need to
- For Mayamiko, they knew prevention was the most
important answer. The government did well closing borders, shutting
down airports, and monitoring people who came into the country from
other parts of the world. They also realized they could space out
sewing machines within their facility and give everyone hand
sanitizer and masks. But the reality is that to get to work, people
had to use crowded public transportation options.
- Mayamiko decided to come up with their own plan to
allow employees to work from home. While they love making clothing,
it was much more important to make masks for the community.
Mayamiko employees work from home while wearing masks, and Mayamiko
provides a system to bring supplies to artisans at home and collect
them when they are finished.
- Mayamiko has done their best to make the most of a
difficult time. Luckily, they’ve worked hard and been able to keep
everyone healthy and employed while also giving back to the
39:45 – Getting to Know Our Guest
- Find out what Paola’s favorite TV show was growing
up, what her biggest guilty pleasures are, what she’s reading right
now, and of course, what it means to Paola to run a business with
13:07 – “One of the things that I learned very
quickly is that I knew nothing…very quickly I realized I could put
all my past knowledge to one side and have a listening attitude to
everything that was happening around me.”
16:39 – “We were very clear from the beginning that
we were not going to make choices on behalf of women, we were just
going to equip them with the skills that they told us they wanted
and needed, and then it was entirely up to them what choices they
made with those skills and those tools.”
23:43 – “At the time, the choice was the charity and
the charity’s funds should be safeguarded to do charity work, the
business should be allowed to take reasonable risk as a business
would, and therefore it makes sense to separate the two. The two
still have an agreement that any money that the business made, it
goes back into the charity.”
About Paola Masperi:
Paola Masperi is the founder of pioneering women
empowerment charity Mayamiko Trust and lifestyle brand Mayamiko The
Label, which has sold to over 40 countries and counts Meghan Markle
as a fan. With a background in International Development and
Digital Innovation, Paola has a a passion for crafts, traditions
and the stories they tell about the people behind the product,
their relationship with each other and their natural environment,
which she attributes to growing up in Italy surrounded by a strong
culture of traditions, combined with a strong sense of curiosity
about the future.
She started Mayamiko Trust after working on several
projects with women across a number of African countries, and the
Label followed a few years later as a way to create dignified,
creative and sustainable employment for women. The label now works
with women’s initiatives across different countries such as Malawi,
where the main hub is located, SriLanka, Peru, Afghanistan and
An award winner for sustainability
leadership, alongside Stella McCartney, Raeburn, Bottletops and
others, Paola is always searching for collaborative ways to create
responsibly, and ensure that her work has a positive impact along
the entire supply chain by actively protecting the environment and
creating safe, sustainable and creative jobs for women, as well as
remaining leaders in innovation and
sustainability. Paola is passionate about meaningful
storytelling, and has a keen interest in the ‘future of
work’, exploring opportunities and challenges posed by automation
and the impact on human relationships with each other and our
Connect with Paola Masperi & Mayamiko:
Thank you to our partners of the show:
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