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Keeping high-quality fabrics out of landfills: Interview with Maya Bergeron-Robitaille, founder and designer at uni design

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For my second blog post I interviewed Maya Bergeron-Robitalle, founder of uni design, a Montreal-based company that makes unisex clothing out of upcycled materials. I virtually met Maya (because quarantine responsibility people!) to chat about how she got started and to get a peek at the behind-the-scenes of her running her company. Here’s a summary of our conversation:

Thanks so much for taking the time to speak to me, Maya! What inspired you to start uni design?

I was interested in sewing from a young age, but it wasn’t until my 3-month trip across Asia that I really discovered my love for textiles – the weaving, the variety, the creativity. When I came back to Canada, through family connections I ended up being mentored by the owner of Zyza clothing boutique, and things just naturally evolved into me starting uni design.

I love Zyza! Their hemp underwear is amazing, I’ve ordered about 7 pairs. What made you decide to use only upcycled fabrics?

Initially, it was for cost reasons. New fabrics are expensive and when I was learning, I made lots of mistakes, so I just used whatever sheets or curtains I could find around my apartment or in thrift stores to make my prototype pieces. This turned into me discovering how many high-quality fabrics are out there, right here in Montreal, that aren’t getting the love and attention they deserve, which saddens me because I’ve seen how much work and resources go into making them.

Is it hard to work with upcycled fabrics?

The most challenging part is having to work with what you have – you can’t be looking for something specific. Each acquisition has its own story – the older person’s atelier stash that sat unused, the entrepreneur who decides to change direction and has quality stock to liquidate, the impulse travel buys that are ready to be passed on. I look for things that I can tell time has been put into. Vintage fabrics are especially interesting for me because production was a lot more quality-focused back then. I try to avoid synthetic materials as much as possible.

I’ve heard that “deadstock” fabric – fabric that’s left over after all of the production is finished – isn’t sustainable because it encourages textile companies to overproduce. What’s your take on this?

There’s a lot of controversy around this topic. There are legitimate ways to get deadstock fabrics, and usually it’s on a small scale. If you’re dealing with a shop that resells deadstock fabric, that’s probably not sustainable because it’s planned in the industry.

How long does it take to produce one piece in your collection?

Anywhere between 3 hours for simple pieces to 25+ hours for more complex ones. Details, zippers, buttons, etc. add on a lot of time as well. The most time-intensive part is making the pattern (the thin sheet of paper that determines how the fabric is cut and put together), that can take up to 10 hours or more with all of the testing and correcting to make it perfect. It varies and I’m still learning.

Why did you choose to offer unisex clothing?

I’ve always worn men’s clothes and put a feminine spin on them, and it has nothing to do with sexual orientation or gender identity. I think that clothing in general should be more fluid. Not everyone likes to wear tight clothes, and some people shop in the sections of the “other gender” just because that’s where they find the clothes they like.

That being said, I’m not trying to make clothes for everyone, just for people who will like what I make. For example, I make dresses and some people have questioned if that’s really unisex and if men will wear them. I say, dresses for men, why not? Anyone who wants to wear them, can wear them. If it’s not your style, that’s ok, but I’ve had male customers who are more fluid in their style tell me that they are happy to find clothes they like that aren’t labelled as women’s clothes.

To check out more of Maya’s work, you can visit her new website at https://www.shopunidesign.com. If you have quality fabric that you would like to pass on to her, or would like to chat about clothing that she could make for you out of the beautiful fabrics that she saves, don’t hesitate to get in touch with her by email at contact@shopunidesign.com or on Instagram (@unidesign_mtl).

Want to be featured on TheStoryofClothes.com? Fill out the Founder Interview Application form here.

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