Industry Insight: An Interview with the Founder of Adaptive Fashion Brand 'Mauda'.
This week's Industry Insight spotlights a creative whose work highlights the distinct lack of disability representation in the fashion industry, and is working hard to provide a step towards a more inclusive, and more realistic, approach to fashion, design-thinking and garment-making. Carla Costa Darling is the creator and founder of Mauda, a brand who keeps disability needs at its core. Not only are Mauda's garments inclusive, but they are also sustainable and ethically-made; all designed and produced in Carla's home studio in Scotland. We interviewed Carla to find out more about her important work, her inspirations and where she plans to take Mauda next. You can support Carla by following Mauda on Instagram, and shopping Mauda products here. Hi Carla! Can you tell me a little bit about yourself and your work?
I'm originally from Portugal and moved to Edinburgh in 2012 after meeting my now husband.
Fashion has always fascinated me and Mauda is a very special project I kicked off in January 2021. It’s a fashion brand for women, all women, but primarily focussed on adaptive design. Clothing that is easy to put on and take off to make the dressing experience slightly easier for people with disabilities. I design clothes I’d like to wear and consider the detail around user-friendly fastenings and closures. Disability has for a very long time been under represented in different industry sectors. Mauda is a little contribution to change disability representation in fashion and promote universal/adaptive alternatives.
How did you get to the point you are at now?
I worked in IT/Financial Services up until very recently. Although fashion has always been a
passion, it didn’t offer many opportunities in Portugal. It was only when I moved to the UK
that I felt I could invest in a fashion career. There’s respect for practical skills and
craftmanship in the UK, which I had not seen before, and that then led me to enrol in a
Fashion Design course a few years back. During the course I experimented designs with different body-shaped croquis and was really pleased with the results. However, I’d get positive feedback on designs in extremely (unrealistic) slim croquis, but not on designs in larger sized croquis. I think it was then that I realised how much we need to break with pre-conceived notions of ideal body image. Fashion is a way for people to express their individuality, so it really needs to be available to everyone, regardless of body size or shape. I then came across Sinead Burke’s campaign for a more inclusive design and that was it! From then on, I knew I’d be designing with a focus on disability.
Can you tell us about a role model who has inspired you?
I have two in fact. They helped define what is now Mauda:
1. Elsie Inglis - a Scottish doctor, teacher and suffragist – peaceful and constitutional
women’s vote campaigners (not to be confused with the suffragettes – the more
militant ones). Inglis was told to go “home and sit still” when she offered her services
in World War I. She didn’t. She set up the Scottish Women’s Hospitals, instead. The
brand is a merge of her middle name Maud, and the word moda (pronounced
mawda) which means fashion in Portuguese.
2. Sinead Burke – an Irish writer, teacher and disability activist. It was via Sinead, more
precisely her book “Break The Mould” that I woke up to the challenges the faced by
people with disabilities due to lack of more inclusive design.
When you were a child, what career did you see yourself having?
I always hoped I’d work in fashion, but my parents always encouraged me to go to university
and get a degree that secured me a safe job and fashion didn’t offer that then. From a very
early age I used to sew my Barbie’s clothes, which then progressed into trying to make and
alter clothes for myself. At some point in my teens I tried working as a model with this agency in Lisbon, but that was short lived (literally one photo session!) I genuinely hope the pics taken then are nowhere to be found these days… So, I studied European Studies and with my first savings bought my first sewing machine!
What are you most proud of doing? What do you consider your biggest achievement
Mauda is in fact what I’m most proud of doing. It’s such a meaningful project and a subject
I’m extremely passionate about. The years studying and working in areas unrelated to
fashion weren’t in vain though. Everything I’ve learned has helped me define and lay the
foundations to bring this amazing project to life. I’m delighted I pursued my interest in fashion eventually, but I’m grateful for everything I learned from different industries and my previous career.
What do you hope to achieve over the next year? What are you most looking forward
Mauda is in its “infancy” and I’m currently trying to give the brand more exposure. I’m looking forward to being completely out of restrictions and able to speak to people, physically show Mauda’s clothing to the public and work further with our customers to meet their needs. Ideally, I’d like Mauda to be a reference for adaptive/universal fashion in the future. We’ll see…
What is your favourite cultural product at the moment?
The Defiant Ones, a short documentary about Beats Electronics and the partnership
between Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine. Watched 3 episodes and really loving it!
What do you think is the biggest issue today facing women in the creative industries?
We were just talking about Elsie Inglis… 100 years on and women are still fighting for
equality. Women in leadership roles are under-represented across many sectors and the
creative industry isn’t an exception. There needs to be a shift for more equality for sure, but
we (women) also need to help ourselves. Women are less likely to apply for a role if they
meet 7 out of 10 skills in a job spec, whereas men will apply if they meet 1 or 2 out 10 skills.
From imposter syndrome to guilt we sometimes allow us to “boycott” ourselves. Elsie Inglis’s offer was rejected by Britain so she offered it to the French who accepted it. Eventually Britain were seeking her services. Inglis truly was the change she wanted to see and we need to be more like that. Believing and recognising our own value is an important step to get others to do so. Obviously, we need support, but most times we can take that first step ourselves.
How important is it for women to lift each other up and what does that mean to you?
In the words of Shelley Zalis (The Female Quotient) “a woman alone has power; collectively
we have impact”. Individually we can take small steps to drive change, but the “power of the
pack” can give it the right visibility to expand its reach. For me, more than the support from
other women, I have greatly benefited from their experiences and learnings. We never know
what challenges lie ahead, but learning from other women helped me prepare for what I was
planning to do and overcome challenges that got in the way. What is the most important message you want to send out to young female-identifying creatives thinking about their careers? Any resources you’ve found useful?
Don’t wait for something to happen, make it happen yourself. Just go for it and lead by
example. My mum always said if I wanted something done, I should do it myself. It has served me well so far. We’re likely to get push-back when we ask for something, but as soon
as we do it, that’s when you spark people’s interest to also do it. It’s contagious!
I reached out to Business Gateway (Scotland) when I was setting up my business. I’m not
sure whether there’s an equivalent in England, but I know Barclays has been supporting
start-ups via their Barclays Eagle Labs: https://labs.uk.barclays/. These organisations help
with mentoring and events exploring different aspects of running a business: marketing,
finance, etc. Networking events were also extremely helpful to connect with other creatives.
Start with your local creative hubs and take it from there. Nothing to lose! Where can we find you?
You can visit us on https://www.mauda.co.uk/ or if you’d like to know what we’ve been up to
on social media just follow @maudafashion on Instagram.