Her clothes are inspired by a walk in a Zen garden and living in an enchanted forest. But what’s coolest about Julia Ahrens is her commitment to eco-friendly and cruelty-free fashion. She has named her company “Miakoda” a Native American word meaning “power of the moon.” Perhaps as a testament to the grand force of feminine energy, and a reflection that these styles are accessible to all women. She has created select designs with effortless shapes that are beautiful to the touch and lovely to the eye. Please enjoy my interview with Julia and a glimpse into her world.
Chic Vegan- How long have you been vegan and what motivated you?
Julia Ahrens – I just celebrated my 3 years of being vegan on May 10th. Prior to going vegan, I was a vegetarian for almost a decade. I went vegetarian because at the age of 11 years old I didn’t want to kill any animals. I wasn’t aware of the suffering that I was still contributing to by consuming eggs and milk, and wearing wool, leather, and silk. When I began to learn more about veganism, I realized that I had to change my lifestyle.
CV – That is very similar to my story. I just didn’t know about the dairy and egg industry, but once informed, it was a quick & easy decision. When people learn that you are vegan, what do they usually ask you and what is your response?
JA – When people learn that I’m vegan, their first response is, “I could never be vegan, what do you eat?” I explain how easy it is to eat a vegan diet and then go on to explain that veganism extends beyond your plate. Most people aren’t aware that veganism is an entire lifestyle and also encompasses what you wear, the products you use, the companies you support, etc. They then usually ask me what food I miss the most and what vegan clothing means.
CV – What inspired you to be a designer & how did you get started?
JA – I’ve always been a very hands on and creative person. As a child I was obsessed with doing arts and crafts, specifically ones that you could use and wear (friendship bracelets, making scarves, etc). In high school I started taking weekend classes at FIT (Fashion Institute of Technology) and fell in love with fashion design and decided to pursue it in college.
CV – Tell us more about the term in your mission statement, “triconsciousness”?
JA – Triconsciousness is the word I use to describe the protection of the rights of animals, humans, and our planet. It is being conscious of the impact that we are making on our world and all beings that inhabit it.
CV – Talk about your design aesthetic and what inspires it.
JA – In my opinion, fashion should be cute, comfortable, and compassionate. I’m inspired by nature, our beautiful earth, and body movement. When I first start designing I find a location that I love, beautiful pictures of our planet, or a concept of a location and go from there. For example, our Zen Collection was inspired by the Zen gardens in Portland, Oregon. Our Forest Collection was inspired by the idea of living in an enchanted forest, and the collection I’m currently working on is inspired by the concept of living in the sky and sleeping among the clouds. I then design garments that would fit into these environments—always making sure that the designs are comfortable without sacrificing style. I’m also a huge fan of neutral colors and simple clean silhouettes (they fit best into any wardrobe and can be worn for any occasion!).
CV – I love my Miakoda asymmetrical tank. It’s cute & comfy, as you intended, but it also fits into my personal style that tends to be a little edgy. I like when I can mix & match aesthetics to enhance personal style. I can see your entire collection being diverse in that way. How would you describe your personal style?
JA – My personal style is definitely reflected in the style of the garments I design for Miakoda. I never design anything that I wouldn’t wear myself. I describe my personal style as refined grunge. I love slouchy, relaxed silhouettes in neutral, clean colors.
CV – I noticed on your Facebook page, you have just created more mala bracelets. They are really pretty. Do you make them yourself and what is the inspiration for these designs?
JA – Meditation has been such a helpful tool for me to stay grounded, present, peaceful, and happy. I especially love practicing mantra meditation with my mala beads. Wearing my mala throughout the day reminds me of the peace I find in my meditation practice. I wanted to share this practice and these feelings with others, which lead to me designing a mala collection. I do make them myself (so every mala is made with tons of love!). Each mala is made using sacred beads or gemstones. All crystals have different metaphysical properties, so I make sure to pick each stone carefully.
CV – Why do you think some designers are apprehensive about using vegan materials?
JA – I think that many designers are apprehensive about using vegan materials because they don’t want to be ‘limited’ and because they are stuck in old habit. They love the wools, silks, leathers, and furs that they have always used and are probably afraid that their customers won’t like the change. I also believe that many people, as well as designers, aren’t aware of why it’s so important to humans, animals and our environment to use vegan fibers.
CV – Do others in your industry disagree with your views on being vegan?
JA – Some people do, some people don’t. I think that in general, in every industry, some people will agree with veganism and some people won’t. Fashion definitely tends to be one of the less vegan-friendly industries, but it’s exciting to see how many more vegan and eco-friendly fashion lines are popping up!
CV – What advice can you give up & coming designers who want their fashions to be cruelty free?
JA – My advice would be to just commit to being cruelty free. Find fabric suppliers that offer great vegan options, get a ton of swatches and remember that there are tons and tons of great vegan fabrics. Limitations can help to fuel creativity!
CV – Have you ever had to compromise style & quality In order to stay cruelty free?
JA – Personally, I feel that anything that is cruel is not stylish. I’ve definitely fallen in love with a sweater hanging on a rack and read the label to find out it contains wool. After discovering that a garment isn’t vegan it no longer looks as beautiful to me because I know the suffering that occurred in order to create it.
CV – Do you have a pet peeve about the fashion industry?
JA – I love the fashion industry; however, I wish it was more compassionate sometimes. I wish that companies would promote a healthy idea of beauty, use fair labor and fibers that are eco-friendly and cruelty free. The industry is definitely heading more in that direction every year!
CV – What is your favorite indulgence?
JA – Amazing vegan shoes and bags!!
CV – What advice would you give to someone wanting to be a vegan entrepreneur?
JA – Never give up, and remember why what you’re doing is important and necessary.
CV – In your wildest dreams, where would you be in 5 years?
JA – In my wildest dreams, Miakoda will have a storefront in NYC and we will be promoting and spreading gorgeous, stylish, vegan, and eco-friendly love to a large audience! I would love for Miakoda to do more charity work and to give back more to places and people doing awesome things for animals (i.e., animal sanctuaries, shelters, etc.)!
CV – I’ll be the first to line up there! For now, where can we find your products?
JA – You can shop our collection on our site: www.miakodanewyork.com. Also at opensky.com/miakoda and scoutmob.com/new-york/miakoda