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In conversation with Carmen Manning, founder of ManiMami

We're thrilled to have the opportunity to collaborate with Carmen Manning of ManiMami on an exclusive collection of one of a kind garments for Phosphene. Based in Madrid, ManiMami sources materials from second-hand curtains and other second-hand fabrics. Over the past two months we've worked with Carmen as she has sourced fabric for our collaboration together and we're in love with the beautiful blouses and dresses she's constructed for Phosphene.

Below we get to know Carmen, founder of ManiMami - hearing about her background in fashion studying at VCU (one hour south of Phosphene), what brought her to Spain and why she loves living where she does, and get insight into what has been inspiring her lately.


CARMEN MANIMAMI

Tell us about yourself -

To be honest, I really don't know at what age I fell in love with fashion and clothing, but I was very young. When I was about seven my mom would give me scrap pieces of fabric and I would sew together little coin purses for my family and friends. My step-father had a huge tin of buttons he had collected over the years and I used to sneak down into the basement to look at all of them and imagine what kind of clothing they had come off of. When I was about fifteen, my dad bought me a sewing machine for my birthday and ever since that day, I have not stopped sewing. My step-mom taught me the basics of how to work the machine but I never officially learned how to sew properly. I started making my own clothing - I would think up a silhouette in my head and just start making it. A TON of trial and error took place before I started making things that fit properly.

For University, I attended VCU School of the Arts where I majored in Fashion Merchandising, which is really just the business side of fashion. During these 4 years I took one pattern making class where I made a vest… I hated having to follow a pattern because I wanted to alter it to make it my own. And that one class is the only technical sewing training I’ve ever received. At first I was self conscious about my lack of training but I’ve never liked to do things the traditional way. Whenever I would wear one of my homemade pieces out in public I would always get compliments and people encouraged me to sell my pieces but it took me YEARS until I gained enough confidence to think about selling to the public.

I worked at a huge fast fashion chain for 5 years where I learned a lot about retail and selling but the fast fashion lifestyle just wasn’t for me. I moved my whole life to Spain in 2018 and two years later, during quarantine, I decided to go for it and start my own brand. My sewing machine blew up (USA to EU power conversion) so I invested in a professional machine and got to work. The summer of 2021 I took my brand to Virginia to sell at farmer’s markets and to network and that really helped my confidence and business grow. Manimami is now 1 ½ years old and I sell my pieces in 3 boutiques in Virginia and I sometimes can’t believe that I am an actual working clothing designer and maker - and self-taught to boot!

And following, what is the story behind ManiMami?

The story behind the name Manimami is kind of dorky. When I was creating my brand, my partner at that time and I called each other mami and papi. One day he just put my last name, which is Manning, and my pet name, which was mami, together and Manimami was born. I liked the sound of it and I don’t like to think too hard about things so I went with it and Manimami was born. 

 

CARMEN MANIMAMI

What draws you to sustainable fashion and working with repurposed materials? 

I was a bit of an oxymoron as a kid, because as much as I loved to play with my dolls so I could put them in all sorts of outfits, I also loved being outside and getting dirty and climbing trees. As I got older I thought I had to choose between loving fashion and being a “girly girl” or enjoying the outdoors and being a “tomboy” (I hate both of those labels btw), so I chose fashion. While at University, we learned a lot about the horrible impacts that the fashion industry has on the environment but it wasn’t until more recently that I really understood and cared more about what was happening. So, I focus on using fabrics that are donated to second-hand stores instead of buying fabrics directly from fabric stores. This is my very tiny attempt to cut down on the production of fabrics in factories where the working conditions are unsustainable for the workers and for the environment - I would prefer to use what is already made and available floating around out there in stores. I started by altering or “up-cycling” clothing but it didn’t feel very genuine to alter someone else’s designs. So, I started making my own silhouettes and buying home decor types of fabrics, like curtains, table cloths, bedding, etc., because it gave me so much more fabric to work with. People on Instagram started wanting more of my designs so that’s when I decided to do made-to-order pieces. Made-to-order pieces cut down on waste of time and materials for me and give the customer more options to shop. So, other than selling to boutiques, I primarily work on a made-to-order basis.

How do you source your materials / what are you looking for when sourcing? 

When sourcing fabrics, I only shop at second-hand stores. In Spain, there is really only one chain second-hand store, which is called Humana, and in the USA I would shop at Goodwill. I look mainly in the home decor section where there is lots of bedding, curtains, table cloths, and just plain fabric that other sewers bought too much of and didn’t need anymore. The colors and patterns that I look for really vary based on the season and which boutique I am preparing an order for. For example, for Phosphene I searched specifically for neutrals but for other boutiques I sell at I usually look for brighter colors and patterns.

 

CARMEN MANIMAMI

Can you describe your workspace? Where is it and what is in it?
How has your workspace evolved alongside your business? 

My workspace is also my home right now. For a while I had my own shared studio space in downtown Madrid but I moved a couple months ago to my own studio apartment outside of downtown so it just made more sense to work from home. My apartment has 2 small balconies and tons of natural light so I really enjoy working here. Although I have downsized my workspace as my business is growing, it is only temporary. I will be moving again this year to Barcelona where I plan to have a studio separate from my home again because I think work/life balance is extremely important and something I struggle with. 

CARMEN MANIMAMI

What does a typical working day look like?

A typical work day always starts with coffee, walking my dog, Cookie, and a to-do list. I am a very organized person and to-do lists help me maintain that organization, not to mention it eases my anxiety to be able to cross off something on my list! I would love to say that I wake up early and draw designs and create clothing from 9 - 5 and then relax in the evenings but that is simply not the case. Growing up in the USA I thought that being productive and having a “real job” meant that you have to wake up early, punch into a timeclock in a building somewhere, and grind all day until it’s time to go home. But living in Spain has completely changed my entire lifestyle. Businesses and stores don’t really open around here until 10 am and the general vibe about work is way more laid back. So, I decided to go with the flow and follow this mentality. I generally sleep in until about 9:30 and don’t really start my day until 10:30 or so. Depending on what I need to get done that day, I will work until anywhere between 5 pm or 10 pm - I like to just follow my own creative flow. Whether I am spending the day running around the city sourcing fabrics or sewing in my studio, I always stop at midday to eat lunch and take my dog to the park. I still struggle with feeling like I’m not actually “working” sometimes but I hope whoever is reading this sees that you don’t have to measure your productivity with society’s made-up standards.

 


Could you share with us any specific works of art, literature, music, etc that have been inspiring to you recently?

Oh man, there is just so much inspiration around me I don’t even know where to start. I have been extremely fortunate to have been introduced to traveling at a very young age. I took my first international trip from Virginia to Spain when I was 3 years old to visit family and was able to take other trips outside of the country as I got older. My older brother and I have been to at least 15 different countries together because we both love to travel so much and I will never take those opportunities for granite. Being able to walk around a live - if only for a couple weeks - in someone else’s world is very humbling.

My favorite trip, hands down, was to the Peruvian Amazon Jungle. My brother and I stayed in huts deep in the jungle and met some of the locals and so many animals. Seeing the art the locals made from plants and seeds and the vibrancy of the colors of nature and how the people lived so harmoniously and sustainably with the environment around them will live in my mind forever.

Other than travel, I love museums. My favorite museums here in Madrid are the Romanticism Museum and the Thyssen Museum. I am particularly drawn to paintings of women from the 1800’s and before just to see their incredible dresses - I swear that in a past life I was the town’s dress-maker wherever I lived. I am also really drawn to Expressionism (specifically Kirchner and Kandinsky) for the abstractness and bizarre color combinations they used.

 

CARMEN MANIMAMI IN MUSEUM


Tell us about your move to Spain - what motivated the move, how did you decide where to live, what do you love about where you live?
How does this move influence your work? 

I am half Spanish on my mother’s side - my mom is the first generation of her family to grow up in the USA. When I was 20 years old my brother moved to Spain for the first time to teach English and that turned into many years of him living between Virginia and Spain. When I was 27 (2018) I decided I wanted to try to live in Spain too because my brother had enjoyed it so much. So, I applied for an English teaching program with my brother and his husband and we all got placed in Madrid at different schools. For the first year of me living in Spain I lived with my brother and brother-in-law. Now I live on my own and I still give private English lessons to kids for extra income.

I love the laid back culture of Spain. For me, it is way more conducive to the creative process. I don’t need a car here, I have free healthcare, and the general cost of living is way cheaper than in the USA. All of these things contribute to a low stress lifestyle which in turn helps me to work and create more effectively


What does an ideal day of rest and recharging for you include? 
What are your favorite rituals for self-care? 

I am self-admittedly awful at self-care. It’s something that I am working on! I tend to work extremely hard because I get so passionate about certain projects and then I get burnt out. One thing that always recharges me though, is going to the park. We have a huge park in downtown Madrid, called Retiro, where my dog can run around and I can have a picnic and turn my phone off. I find that nature is the only thing that really truly recharges me.



What are some of your favorite objects in your home?
Some of my favorite objects in my home are pieces of artwork. One of my best friends is an extremely talented painter and I have a couple pieces of hers that make me happy to look at. I also have some wall hangings and other pieces of art I have collected from my travels to Latin America that I love. My plants also make me happy because I usually kill all plants but for some reason all my houseplants are thriving right now so that makes me feel accomplished!


CARMEN MANIMAMI SEWING MACHINE

CARMEN MANIMAMI favorite objects

What is something that you’re proud of, personally and/or professionally? 


I am immensely proud that I have been able to move to a new country and create a life and business for myself. Never did I think I would be a working clothing designer… it always seemed like a faraway dream. But I worked hard and just took it all day by day and now I have my dream job that I have created entirely for myself.. The dream doesn’t stop here though. I would love to have my own boutique someday where I sell my designs as well as products from other sustainable brands. 

 

What are you looking forward to?

I am looking forward to moving to Barcelona this year and to growing Manimami. When I decided to move to Spain I wanted to move to Barcelona first but I was placed in Madrid as part of an English teaching program that was my first job here. So, 3 and a half years later, I am finally making the move to a beach city! I’ve always wanted to live near water because I think it has healing properties and it’s just good for your soul. I also am extremely excited about the opportunities for Manimami I will have in Barcelona because it is a more international and eco-conscious city compared to Madrid.

CARMEN MANIMAMI SPAIN

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

The best advice I have ever received was from a fellow artist friend. He told me to believe in myself and my talents and to not care what other people think but to follow my own intuition. He is a very accomplished tattoo artist and sculptor who has worked with many celebrities in Spain so hearing that advice from him was very impactful for me. I think a lot of artists don’t feel “good enough” and compare their art to other people’s art but at the end of the day all of us creators have incredible talents that we are just trying to share with the world and we have to believe in ourselves.

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