“I always come back to Colombia, as my greatest inspiration of all.”
Thanks to years of working with Maya Memovic, the Édité Team feels so inspired by her life story— a story of paving the way for women in the world of Colombian fashion. Throughout the past decade, Maya Memovic has established herself as an influential style icon and entrepreneurial trendsetter in the industry. Memovic was born in Croatia and raised in New York. After studying film directing and cinematography, Memovic ventured into fashion design starting an eponymous label while also working as a designer at Stella McCartney, Catherine Malandrino and Ralph Lauren. It was Ralph Lauren where she met her future husband and partner, Alex Srour.
Together, they moved back to Colombia to help restructure and refresh Salomon, a contemporary label founded by Srour’s parents with a strong emphasis on classic linen resort wear. The house eventually became AZULU, an iconic modern label known for its feminine resort silhouettes with a Latin flair, where Memovic is head designer and creative director.
In 2014, the duo decided to fill a gap that Memovic saw so clearly in the world of Colombian fashion—a place to showcase the most current and innovative designs that Colombia has to offer. They launched ST. DOM, a luxurious concept stores focusing on a mix of young Colombian talent that Memovic curates herself— everything from art to fashion with handmade touches, eclectic silhouettes and audacious bursts of color.
We chatted with Memovic about the importance of having her own voice, independence and perseverance to pursue a career in the fashion industry anywhere. Read on to see how she manifested her career on her own terms.
Tell us about your beginnings. How and when did you become interested in fashion?
I always loved fashion, dressing up and creating. Coming from an artistic family, I did a great deal of drawing, painting, sculpting, designing all throughout my childhood. My mother used to buy the old German pattern magazines and would sew up different pieces for fun while I would sit next to her and take it all in. As a teenager, I modeled and thus made friends with a great number of professionals in the fashion industry. Although I ended up studying film, fashion was always my great love.
Did studying film production at NYU (very impressive!) push you towards the fashion industry?
Due to my first job out of school as a producer for a multimedia company that focused on fashion films with brands such as Vivienne Westwood, Chanel, and MAC Cosmetics, I ended up being thrown back into fashion, which reignited my passion for the industry. I think more than push me toward it, studying film gave me a different perspective and a more cinematic approach to how we present Azulu. I find importance in storytelling and always try to showcase collections through powerful imagery.
Can you tell us about being a powerful woman in fashion and in Colombia? What are some challenges you faced? How did you overcome them?
Colombia has a very conservative and outdated social structure. Being in a Latin country, many men have that macho chauvinist mentality and, although they highly respect their mothers, they consider women as not much more than homemakers. In the beginning, I hated when many men would address my husband over me, ask him questions that were actually pertaining more to my work or accomplishments. This did hurt and I definitely had to prove more my capabilities only due to being a woman. Nowadays, I think that with everything that I have done for the brand and for the Colombian fashion industry, I feel that this has changed… I also feel that with more women in positions of power, Colombian society is starting to change.
All of AZULU collections are 100% Made in Columbia. Do you think it is important to produce the clothes in Columbia-the heart of their inspiration? How does AZULU practice sustainability with 4 collections released each year.
We did not start AZULU. Salomon, later Salomon Azulu, and finally AZULU, is a company that was started in the early 80s by my husband Alex´s parents, Mary Isabel and Salomon Srour. We arrived in the 2010 to revamp the brand, restructure the old business model, and eventually position it globally. Salomon was a very classic, linen heavy Latin brand, that sold exclusively in Colombia. We entered to change the design aesthetic, restructure the antiquated production processes (everything used to be made in China or India, Azulu today is 100% made in Colombia), and revamp the image of the brand. Additionally, we created a wholesale department and began selling and exporting worldwide.
Colombia is a country of much beauty and mystery. It has gone through a lot of hardship; it is also a home to numerous indigenous cultures, languages, customs; it has rainforests, oceans, snowpeaks, deserts; it is a home to the largest variety of birds and flowers… I fell in love with the country and its people, and, although I travel and gather inspiration from all over the world, I always come back to Colombia as my greatest inspiration of all. Due to this, I felt that it was important to move our production to Colombia, to aid in the economic growth of the country and help develop the local talent which, besides the social impact, would also allow us to have more control over the process and the quality of our products.
I feel that in the today’s world of mass production, it is important to go back to the roots and be conscious of the processes. With every AZULU collection, I set a goal to be more sustainable, be it with the family run small production facilities, or the fabrics that we are using such as organic cottons, eco viscoses, recycled polyesters and lycras. There is always space to do more.
Each of your storefronts are works of art themselves. Do you design the layout? Do your stores reflect the inspiration found for your designs?
Thank you for your kind words. We do design all of our stores, always trying to capture the essence of our brands, be it AZULU or St DOM. Our love for design expands to everything that we do… St DOM is definitely a celebration of that love (the store houses over 200 designers and artists of Latin origin, with a high emphasis on Colombia). We always try to mix our modern and minimalist aesthetic with local elements of design, including carpentry details, artisan tiles, typical furnishings, and local natural materials. As with everything in life, without personal involvement the vision gets lost.
While growing up in Croatia, you experienced a time of hardship for your country. Do you think this experience influences your designs at all? Or influences where you search for inspiration?
I think living through the wars in ex-Yugoslavia as a young child taught me independence, understanding, and a strong drive to find joy in whatever I do. Being close to death and instability makes me appreciate moments in life quite a bit more, and I think also allows me to be more fearless, do new things, keep myself active and challenged. Life is too short to dwell on it. Lately, I started exploring the history and beauty of my birth country (which I think I tried to leave behind as an old scar) and am thinking that I would love to dedicate something to that part of my upbringing.
Prior to AZULU, you worked with both large and small labels, including Stella McCartney, Ralph Lauren, and Catherine Malandrino. How does AZULU’s work environment compare to others in regards to uplifting business women?
AZULU is still a very small, family run business. Our team is also more like a family, we all do bits of everything, we brainstorm ideas together and are not afraid to get dirty. It is beautiful being a part of this company, we are still small, somewhat naive and definitely very excited with every new accomplishment. The design houses I worked for before were much more advanced in their structure, much more corporate as well… which is something that might eventually happen to us. However, I do hope that we will never lose the essence, this charm and passion that we all have right now.
Speaking of family, we have watched you raise two lovely daughters we know and love! How do you balance being a mom and a busy working woman?
It can certainly be challenging, however I try to include and invite my daughters into every facet of my life. They draw with me, pick colors, fabrics, visit stores, take pictures, etc… It makes them feel as a part of something greater and they come to understand our passions. By showing them who we are and what we do, we get closer to them.
How do you think WE, as the fashion industry community, can do better at uplifting & empowering women?
I think just by listening and giving opportunities, stopping the judgement and the definition process. We all have a chance to be great, we only need someone to let us prove that.
What are the three ingredients every female entrepreneur needs to set themselves up for success?
Believing in yourself, empowering yourself with great knowledge and great relationships, and setting up a strong work ethic while never neglecting your personal time.
What woman inspires you?
I think every woman inspires me. Women are blessed with the power to create life, with endurance to prevail, and, if they allow themselves, with talent and passion to succeed.
What is the “Maya” mantra?
Every problem has a solution, every dream has a reality.