‘Weird, interesting and beautiful’


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A young fashion designer with talent and vision creates unique clothes for working women


Photos



  • The design of Mishkin’s silk scarves was inspired by the grid on paper-cutter mats. Photo: Courtesy of Naomi Mishkin




  • Artist and designer Naomi Mishkin models her fashion creation, the Bad Wife Shirt. Photo: Courtesy of Naomi Mishkin




  • The design of Mishkin’s silk scarves was inspired by the grid on paper-cutter mats. Photo: Courtesy of Naomi Mishkin



“You’ll get lots of breaks if you work hard, because you’re going to put yourself in a place to be lucky.”

Naomi Mishkin, fashion entrepreneur



Naomi Mishkin is as fierce and unapologetic as they come. When she was just 14, she sent late fashion designer Charles Nolen an email asking to intern for him. When she showed up at his door, he hired her, even though Mishkin said his initial reaction was “Oh My God, you’re a child.” About a year ago, she started a small-batch garment company for working women, featuring a shirt with an iron burn on the front and silk scarves that incorporate the grid design found on paper-cutter mats.

Mishkin, 30, who graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design and lives in Harlem, considers herself an artist. “We’re weirdos,” she said, “but I say that as the highest compliment to myself.” Straus News spoke with Mishkin about her career and her clothing line, NAOMI NOMI.

Why the shirt and why the scarf? Why did you begin the brand with those two pieces specifically?

I think they perfectly encapsulate two main tenets of the brand. One, that we are for working women. The idea of working women and all that entails. And so, the idea of women’s work is a complicated topic and I embrace the complexity in that. Most people, when they talk about working women, they talk about wage work, and for the majority of women, and the majority of civilization, women have not been paid for the work that they do. I wanted to talk about that complexity.

The Bad Wife Shirt [with the iron burn] really talks about that, and that was the reason I wanted to start with [it]. The scarf brings up another aspect of my brand, which is that it sort-of relates to our supply chain and the actual business model, which is extremely small-batch. What it is, is that everything I make is inspired by the process of making. I’m a maker. I majored in glass as an undergrad in college, and material as well. Everything that I do, everything that I make, comes back to the actual act of fabrication, the actual ideas of creation. So the Cutting Mat Scarf held up that tenet as well.

What inspires you?

Materials inspire me. The thing I come back to every time is materials and what I can do with them.

Why materials?

Something I love about making clothing, and clothing for women, is that it’s incredibly tied to reality. A woman has very specific needs and demands and wants out of her clothes. As wild as my imagination runs, when you’re designing clothes for women, there is a beautiful reality to actually dressing women. It’s a really interesting combination of fantasy and reality and materials and the reality of materials is a really ... humbling experience. You can’t make a material do something it doesn’t want to do, I mean you can try, and that’s what we do as artists, we’re trying to make materials do what we want them to do. [But] they have their own personalities. I was a glass-blower for many years, glass is the bitchiest material on the planet, I mean bitchy — like rude, obnoxious, breaks when you don’t want it to. Nothing is bitchier than glass, and fabric can be similar. Every material has a personality and understanding those personalities is endlessly interesting. I fall in love with fabrics and I design clothes out of those fabrics.

Did you have a big break?

No. I have been working in the New York creative industry since I was 14 years old. I think the idea of having a big break is beside the point. Work hard — work hard every day — and you’ll get a break. You’ll get lots of breaks if you work hard, because you’re going to put yourself in a place to be lucky. But, no, I’ve been working at this since I was 14 and I’ve done dozens of jobs in all kinds of creative industries, and you just gotta hustle. If you’re waiting for a big break, stop waiting.

Do you doubt yourself, and how do you deal with that?

Oh, yeah. Actually, an old friend [said] this in college which I always think about actually, is “We have no time for doubt.” I believe that — I have a lot of things I want to make in this world and in order to do those things, you don’t have time for doubt. And of course, you have it, but you have to be like ‘No! We have things to do today.’ You can sit around and doubt yourself for an hour a day, [but] you have a lot more important things to be doing with your time. So, you just have to power through it and surround yourself with people who critically question you, but always encourage [you too].

Did you know you wanted to be an artist?

I love making things. I used to hoard toilet paper rolls underneath the bathroom cabinet sink because I had dreams of making many, I don’t even know, like castles. I tell this story and my boyfriend is like ‘That is the story of a young hoarder.’ And I hear this story and I’m like ‘I was a young maker!’ I always made. I think in the back of my head I always knew I wanted to come back to making clothing. My grandfather manufactured wedding gowns in the 1950s and 60s. His mother had been a foreman on the garment floor on the Lower East Side, his father had been a pattern cutter. His business was very bust by the time I came along, but I grew up at his house sewing, at my grandparents’ house sewing, and they taught me how to sew and it taught me patience. I loved sewing, it was just so much fun. I’m definitely a designer who sews first, sketches later. I don’t sketch and then sew. I let the material speak to me, I fall in love with materials, and then I go for it.

What are your plans for Naomi Nomi?

I consider the company to be really items-based. I don’t believe, [or] think it makes sense for my business right now to come out with huge 30-piece collections that change every season. I don’t think its sustainable, either from an environmental impact or a business decision. People don’t need to buy that much every six months. They don’t. And I think the world is catching up to that.

Because I’ve always sewn my whole life, since I was six, I’m actually a horrible shopper. I spend hours every week talking to women about how they shop, because I don’t shop and I don’t know how to shop. But I know how to build a closet. That’s a completely different understanding of how to both approach the consumer and how to build a relationship with the consumer... Basically, I’m working on a signature collection of about 7-10 pieces which will be the NAOMI NOMI signature closet.

I don’t want there to be anything generic about NAOMI NOMI. It’s weird and interesting and beautiful. It’s complicated ... Anytime I have the opportunity to make something bland, I never take it. Anytime I think I want something very simple, it’s always going to be a little weird, and we’re all a little weird. If you give people that permission, I think they really open up.

Interview was edited for clarity and space.






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