When you meet Maiwsi Ayana, she is one of those people that make you ask yourself “what doesn’t she do?”. From São Paulo’s far east side, the Cidade Tiradentes native, @maiwsi works with production, style, fashion stylist, social media, as a costume designer, dancer, plays for the afro bloco @zumbiido, and in her own words ” there’s more stuff but I always forget.” She talked to us about her passion for fashion, how her opinions reflected on her creations and how she deals with living so far away from the city center, and still, manages to get everything done.
“My name is Maiwsi Ayana and I’m 23 years old,.I work with fashion, more specifically, with production, style, styling, and a bit of visual communication. I also do social media and I’m a costume designer. Besides all that, I’m a dancer, I do some performances and I play in an afro percussive, afro block called Zumbiido. There’s more stuff but I always forget.”
When and how did you become interested in fashion?
maiwsiSpecifically with fashion, it was when I was 8 years old. I always liked everything that had to do with art – like, my sisters are dancers, my brother is a musician – and my mom, as a teacher, always tried to bring out the most out of our natural gifts. So I was always drawing, landscapes, things, the inside of the bus, I would draw anything; my mom also tried to develop our logical reasoning by making us play games. At the age of 8, I watched a show on tv about professions, and on that day they were talking about Stylists. At that moment I realized, that was what I wanted to do. From that point, I decided that I wanted to work with fashion, my mom bought me some books like “fashion for kids” that tells a bit about the story of fashion with some illustrations and etc, showing more about the subject.
At 12 I got in a cut-and-sew course that I was only able to stay for 3 months because my mom could no longer afford it, so I didn’t learn how to sew; I just learned about molds and how the machines worked and etc. I used to make a lot of clothes for dolls – when I was around 6, my mom taught me to crochet and how to knit, so I would take some rags and make little clothes. At 15 I did a modeling and clothing technical course and I graduated. Then I got into college and I have a degree in fashion with a specialty in style.
Today I have the perception that I chose to be a stylist a bit because of the appearance, I was never really a pretty girl, so when I was young I realized that when I dressed up nice, people would compliment me, even if it was only on my clothes. So I believe that I really focused on my style because of that, my self-esteem.
What’s your creative process for developing your clothes?
maiwsiMy process is not really documental, it’s mostly in my head. My mind is in a constant process – I believe it has to do with the logical thinking my mom always praised for so much, and I have a really photographic memory – so I don’t really work with notes, it’s mostly images. Every time I had to make a storyboard or write down a process in a book, it was hard for me, because I had to go looking for references that I had seen and were only in my head.
So normally my process is: It’s in my head by looking at some references, then I pick out a theme, and if I already have one I’ll do a huge brainstorming in my head, where I’ll go deep into putting together concepts until it takes a shape, a figure, color, and prints. Since I take part in every part of the process – I draw, sew, shape, print- this helps with every creative process.
Sometimes you create something that’s not viable to make, so the creation process changes, the type of molding, the fabric e tec. Usually, I have to think about low costs so I have to adapt. That limits my creation process – in the sense that I know I can’t-do a certain thing because I know I don’t have the money for it. But it’s also good because it forces me to find other alternatives. And if I had money all the time I would be where I would like to be (laughs), professionally speaking.
It’s easy to see that your opinions reflect on your creations. How is this connection between your ideas and what you make?
maiwsiEverything that’s made for someone has a bit of that, but not necessarily what I, Maiwsi, think. With the brand, especially with the collections, it has a concern to put out the black identity. So my first collection was a narrative in homage to my mom, telling my story – It was an entirely black and white collection – I did the pictures with an albino girl and with a red hair black man. So I tried to address the differentiation of color, in a more human way, but not necessarily race.
My second collection was for my graduation project, in which I really wanted to take on the subject, especially to confront my school. The subject was the Slave ships. I put a lot of attention in telling stories about the black man and our culture because it’s so denied, so I try to research a lot about the subject so that my clothes are a study source or a source of knowledge for someone who draws interest, and not just another piece of wardrobe. And I didn’t want to talk about the black man as a slave, but where we came from and how we got here, it’s important to know about this. Everybody knows we came in the slave ships, that’s all they know, they don’t know how that journey was, from which port the ship set out, which slaveowner, how was life inside the ships, how the stories make it to us, how was the arrival, the whole disidentification process – the process of ripping them of their identity and selling them as products. So I tried to tell all that in my collection and most of the time people understand it, some don’t – and I think is valid to have different opinions – so I try to bringing something more than just pieces of clothing.
To me fashion is not futile, it’s not only a piece of clothing, it’s your identity. What’s your identity? Why can’t your clothes also tell a story? And why not your story? I have this concern but it’s not something that’s mine, that’s “Maiwsi’s”, it’s something bigger than me. It’s my race, my people, my story that’s not only mine – it belongs to a lot of people. And I think that’s why people relate to what I do.
Does the city affect/inspire the way you dress?
maiwsiYes, a lot. I’m very cosmopolitan, I’m so São Paulo and I can only see myself living somewhere that’s similar to here. I can’t stand going to the countryside and “breathing fresh air” (laughs), even though I live in a neighborhood full of trees, so I actually have a healthy life for the place I live in.
The fact that I live in the far east region, I can’t wear something that works only for a short time, because I know that I’ll take at least 1 hour and a half to get anywhere. So I gotta be prepared if it’s hot, cold, raining, and even sneakers are a part of that. Because if I know that it will rain, there are sneakers I know that can’t take getting wet, and I hate getting my feet wet. I always have my backpack on me, and in it, a jacket, an umbrella, the entire kit. When I have to go out with only my wallet and my keys, it’s very complicated.
Since I live in the city, I can see that my style is really urban like. I’m not like “good vibes”, I don’t wear long skirts, organic fabrics, cotton, I don’t have all that. I wear synthetics and a lot of tight clothes – that’s more of a suburb thing, of getting the body involved. And because of my lifestyle, I come from Hip Hop, I dance, so normally I have to feel comfortable in my clothes, I can’t get stuck on any type of movement. I move a lot, I never stay still, I never leave the house to go to just one place, so all this is an influence.
And being from fashion is even harder because I don’t repeat outfits (laughs). For example, just today I had two outfit changes and I’m going to do another. I’m wearing the same top, but I’m going to wear it in 3 different ways, so I have to think of a way to camouflage the top and at the same time make it the key element in look. It’s so boring (laughs).
What’s your relationship with the city?
maiwsiI really like São Paulo, I really have a big passion for this place. But at the same time, after I traveled to other places and socialize with people that are from other states – specially Cariocas and Baianos, that have quite a different lifestyle – I learned that São Paulo doesn’t let you make bounds with anyone. Not that you don’t communicate or socialize with anyone, because you do, but it’s always something very immediate, and necessarily intense or strong, otherwise you’re not going to see or be with that person very often. So my relationships here are usually very strong because of that.
São Paulo makes me feel lonely: at the same time that I’m close to the people I know and I socialize with, in the city, but I think the city’s dynamic makes me feel lonely. This loneliness makes me work the way I do – I work at home, away from everybody that I’m usually with, but that’s necessary – what I do involves people. So I have the need of meeting new people, be seen by people, socialize, and this only works because I live in São Paulo. If it was anywhere else, it wouldn’t work. At the same time that it isolates you, it makes you the need to be with other people. I live intensely these two worlds.
I love the city, and I’m pretty sure I’ve been to every neighborhood, I say that I’m a tourist guide because I know how to get to anywhere. I know where all the buses go to if I have a bus pass I’ll go anywhere in São Paulo. I’m someone who knows and likes to discover the city, and that’s a part of the stories I like to tell. If I want to tell stories about São Paulo I have to know all of São Paulo, and I need to live the city if I want to know it. I never had a car nor have I been around someone who does, so I’m really familiar with this urban lifestyle because of public transportation, and it’s always been like this. My neighborhood was built to be a dormitory city – and in a certain way, it’s still is till today, but now you can actually live there. – and you didn’t have that possibility before, so I always had to go out of the neighborhood to do things. So this dynamic of going around the city has made me understand and know the city in a different way. Although there’s a limit to public transportation, I was able to break that barrier.
What places would you take someone who’s never been in the city? Is there a place that you identify yourself more?
maiwsiThere are some tourist spots that you need to take someone who’s new to the city because they are part of the city’s identity, but there’s the unpopular places. I would take them to Av. Paulista so they can understand the dynamics of the city – you get the chaos between cars and buses, all at the same time, and there is a protest going on, it’s even better! So they can see how we are politicized here even though it sucks; you have art, malls, – which is a strong characteristic in São Paulo.
I would take them to Ibirapuera Park, not to see the park but to go to the Afro Brasil Museum. I would take them to the Banespa building so they can see the city from above, which I think is really cool and I don’t know many people who have done that. I would also take them to the opposite view from Banespa which is Pico do Jaraguá, and once you are there at the peak you can see Banespa. I would take them to some hood, like the back of Capão ou here at Cidade Tiradentes, so they can see the other side to the city, and to me, São Paulo is really its outskirts. I would take them on a bus ride or the subway.
Know a place in the city that I identify with, at the same time I’m all outskirts, I love my neighborhood – it’s not really me, but I’m all about my hood. At the same time that I’m all outskirts, I’m not the typical outskirts type person, and the people here don’t identify with me. Even on account of the dynamics of me like living the city. The social-political way the city is built, it’s all so people stay in their neighborhoods, and I did just the opposite – I left, I lived, and that makes me different from the people who live there. I’ve always been different, I didn’t want to be like everybody else that I saw around me, not in the sense of their lifestyle but the way they see the world. I saw them satisfied in just living there and that just wasn’t me.
As much as I not a representation of my neighborhood, I became an example to the people there. The fact that I made it out and accomplished things, like having an education, graduating college, having a scholarship, having done big projects, all of that makes people look at me as an example – of course, it’s not everyone that sees me like that, some think it’s whatever – but, even that negativity shows that I got to that person in some way. That’s the weight of being meaningful to your neighborhood. I never denied where I came from, and today I don’t see a reason to live anywhere else, even so, that I always say that I live in the perfect neighborhood – the only problem is that it’s far, but I still deal with the distance normally.
Describe to us what a day in Maiwsi’s life is like?
maiwsiI don’t have a routine. But let’s go: I don’t wake up early, usually, my day starts at midday; If I have to do anything on the street I’ll wake up, have breakfast, change, have lunch at home so I don’t spend on the street (laughs), and leave. If I have something on the afternoon, I need to leave at least at 2 pm so I can make it at 3:30pm or 4 pm. I’ll stay till around 6 or 7 pm, and then there’s always something to do at night, that I don’t necessarily want to go, but sometimes I have meetings at the same place we’re going out to. I mostly see my friends at parties, shows, and hangouts, and by the way, most of my friendships revolve around that, entertainment. Normally my nightlife ends around 00, 1 in the morning.
There are night buses that stop right in front of my house so I can come back whenever I want. Since I take the bus a lot, I’m fed up of taking them when they are full of people, so I prefer taking them at night when it’s empty. I call myself Miss Nocturnal (laughs) because the bus is all mine, it goes super fast because there’s no traffic. If I get home, which is around 1 in the morning, I’ll work through the night – I think my work pays off more.
What role do your sneakers have on your daily hustle?
maiwsiIt’s a strong influence, so I’m all wearing sneakers. When I’m at home I usually wear flip flops, because my feet spend too much time inside my sneakers during the day, and that’s not good for your feet. But anyway, every time I have to imagine myself, I have to imagine what look I’m going to wear, and I always picture me wearing sneakers because it’s usually my key piece. It’s not the first, but it’s usually one of the most important, because of my style and because I’m always on the move, I need to be comfortable, and I need to last the entire day. So I will most likely do all that with sneakers on.
It plays a big role in my daily comfort, style, visual and cultural identity – it’s a big part of my culture, and I try to keep that close to me. The sneaker is part of the hustle.
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