Style File: Mima Osawa from MONO Handmade

Mima Osawa

Mima Osawa, founder and designer of MONO Handmade. Image supplied.

Mima Osawa is wholeheartedly dedicated to eco-responsibility and sustainable fashion. The Wellington-based artist was born in Japan but grew up in New Zealand where the countryside of Aotearoa ingrained a deep respect for her natural surroundings.

Her anti-waste passion was sparked during a visit to a store in her grandmother’s hometown (Nagano Prefecture).

“I walked into a textile store and discovered that the collection of fabrics was actually surplus, which had been thrown away by other major fashion producers.”

Shock at the endless piles of fabric (all in perfect condition) sparked her determination to find out more and Mima began studying the impact of the fashion industry on the planet.

Her delectable MONO Handmade collection evolved from a desire to make beautiful timeless fashion while caring for the planet. All MONO Handmade garments are crafted around deadstock fabric, diverting material waste from landfill and giving it a new purpose.

“Mono means one. Each handmade garment is uniquely its own. Made from natural and breathable fabrics, our pieces are minimalistic and designed to outlast trends.

“I’m inspired by the concept of slow fashion – and the beauty of celebrating the skills of craftspeople and the art of garment making.”

The designer has honed the art of following her heart and passion, which is why 50% of her latest creation, the Fred Bucket Hat, is donated to The Fred Hollows Foundation NZ to help end curable blindness in the Pacific.

“Having grown up with a blind dad and having witnessed first-hand the hardship, this cause is very close to my heart.”

We caught up with Mima to find out more about her collection and what inspires her.

Tell us about your latest collection?

The Fred Bucket Hat Collection – 50% of the profits will be donated to The Fred Hollows Foundation NZ to help eliminate avoidable blindness in the Pacific Islands. Most visually impaired people are living needlessly with sight loss that could be treated and prevented. At MONO, this is a cause we wanted to support. With each hat, we upcycle deadstock fabric. For this collection, our aim is to fund awesome work happening throughout the Pacific, all while being sustainable in our production process. The more hats we sell, the higher the donation meaning the more eye sights and fabrics we get to save.

What made you become a designer?

Being raised in a culture of sustainability, I was still unaware of the environmental and social impacts of the fashion industry. This all changed when I was visiting my grandma’s hometown and set foot in a local textile warehouse where I was shocked to discover what looked like a mounting pile of fabric waste. On closer inspection, I realised that all of these were beautiful, high-quality fabrics, just sitting there collecting dust. They were all deadstock – dumped from other larger producers in the fashion industry and destined for landfill. It was then I started to immerse myself in research only to be even more appalled by the unethical practices common in the fashion industry. Learning about the negative impacts, I felt inspired to take sustainability into my own hands, to create timeless pieces by upcycling and repurposing these unloved fabrics. Since then, I’ve been inspired to design and create timeless clothing pieces.

What inspires you?

Hawai’i. After spending a few years living in this paradise, I felt inspired by the simplicity of life and how minimal details can offer more room for experience.

Mima Osawa

The Fred Bucket Hat is Mima’s latest collection.

Describe your personal style and how it influences your designs?

My personal style fits the timeless concept of ‘less is more’ – a minimalistic approach to fashion. The idea behind these ‘less is more’ pieces is the opposite of following the never-ending trends of fast fashion and instead gives you more room to appreciate the simple things. Influenced by the slow fashion movement, I design minimalistic pieces that I think will outlast trends all while keeping them versatile with subtle details and textures. The beauty of a minimalistic wardrobe is how versatile and easily wearable it is for every day. From home lounging to going out, my pieces are designed so you can dress it up or down depending on your mood or the occasion.

What is your all-time favourite purchase?

Sewing machine around the start of the pandemic. Thanks to this hardworking machine, MONO Handmade was born.

What wardrobe item should everyone invest in?

Hands down, linen clothes – the more you wear them, the better they get. They get softer, silkier, and form a beautiful and natural texture after every wash. Investing in good linen pieces doesn’t necessarily mean spending more money; instead, it gives you an excellent cost-per-wear value. It’s also sustainable. Linen is a natural fibre with low environmental impact, giving you peace of mind with every wear.

Do you have a style rule you always obey?

Wear whatever makes you feel confident. We’re all different and have our own styles, so don’t be afraid to take risks and push society norms.

Mima Osawa

All MONO Handmade garments are crafted around deadstock fabric.

What has been the highlight of your career so far?

Collaborating with friends during COVID-19 was a way to creatively work together using art as a form of solution to stay connecting during a pandemic that keeps us apart. I love to celebrate the craftsmanship and creative culture of other artists. I just finished working on a creative project with a talented and good mate from Hawai’i, Chris Miyashiro. We worked on unisex pants designed to be a one-size-fits-all with pockets and patches of his beautiful artwork using sustainable printing techniques. Our first collection was a huge success so we couldn’t say no to creating a second batch!

What can’t you live without?

My sewing machine. For me, sewing is so therapeutic – it’s like meditation. Every clutter and noise is blocked, the minutes seem to melt into hours and before I know it, I’ve created a piece. It’s my kind of therapy and I love it.

Finish this sentence – You would never catch me wearing…

Anything that gives me the uneasiness and constant feeling of “get me out of these things”. For me, it’s all about comfort!

Garment images: Brenden Donahue.