Fashion MIE is the name of the sustainable fashion boutique of Marina Rajkovic in Reutlingen/Germany. Marina has turned her passion for fair fashion into her job. Sustainability in the fashion industry is not an easy endeavor: Fashion, the industry for creative dreamers, in fact, has a dark side that is not dreamy at all: in order to compete in the ongoing battle for low prices, a lot of fashion companies tolerate or even practice the exploitation of workers and also pollution. To make a living with the counter-movement called “slow fashion” – which is ethically and sustainably produced – requires more than know-how: People in the business of slow fashion also need an extra portion of passion, commitment, and endurance.
When did your interest in fashion start Marina?
My mom worked in a textile factory and was given fabrics with faults for her own use. With those fabrics, I went to my neighbour in our holiday home in Croatia. She was a seamstress, and my first tailored skirt was the highlight of the holiday. As a kid, I wanted to become a fashion designer and I loved drawing garments that I copied from fashion catalogues. However, I then started working in a commercial job that didn’t have anything to do with fashion.
And how did you find your way to fashion as your job?
When I started a position in a company that produced knitting machines, all of a sudden there was a connection to fashion again. The idea of wanting to do something with fashion started being on my mind again. When choosing my wardrobe, I always cared about where my garments are from and how they are made. I thought there should be more „green shopping oases“– not just in big cities like Berlin or Hamburg but also in towns like Reutlingen. After all, there are so many talented people having small productions that are in need of a platform.
And that`s when you opened your own green Shopping oasis Fashion MIE? That`s pretty brave considering that you had a secure job in the commercial sector…
Well, the idea of opening my own concept store wasn`t there right from the start. Originally, I just wanted to be the middleman between local shops and fair fashion labels. But I didn`t want to have my own store. I wanted to establish green shopping zones – for example a clothes rail full of fair fashion in a store of an optician. There are so many great sustainable products. I wanted to show that you don`t necessarily need to order them online.
Wow how smart! That means you don`t have to be on-site in person to sell your products... And how was this idea received?
It was difficult to find open-minded partners among the rather conventional retailers – especially during the pandemic. The owner of a furniture upcycling studio heard about my idea and suggested that I should start a green shopping zone in her shop. I started with one rail of clothes as a side hustle – and slowly my range of goods increased. The upcycling furniture business grew also and planned to move to bigger premises. So, I had to ask myself: What do I do? So, I stay in this place and open my own store?
So it was only then that you decided to open your very own concept store?
Yes, because meanwhile I had such lovely regular customers – and generally people got more and more interested in sustainable fashion. Of course, there was the pandemic and I couldn`t quite anticipate how my business would develop. But I knew: I don`t want to give up on it. And today I have my own registered trade name and sign patented.
Congratulations! Oh, by the way: What does Fashion MIE stand for?
MIE stands for Made in Europe. Because in regards to sustainability I find it important that routes of transport are short.
Sustainability is a very elastic term – what makes a label sustainable in your eyes? What`s the criteria that you apply when choosing labels for your store?
Sustainable can mean a lot. Upcycling, organic fabrics, hand-made, … there are many facets and I check each label individually and have a look behind the scenes. It doesn`t always have to be organic fabrics: for example, I also find social enterprises sustainable that are having products produced by people with handicaps or disadvantages – and that way giving them the opportunity of employment.
When you turned your dream of your own fashion store into reality, you probably had a lot of hopes, expectations and maybe also fears. What has turned out as expected and what has surprised you?
What I found confirmed is: When you meet people with honesty – especially when giving advice – you will get so much back, for example, empathy. That kept me motivated and that helped me in the pandemic when I often felt devastated. There were customers that came on a regular basis and be it just to buy a little something. Customers that brought me an ice cream or chocolate – just like that. Once there were customers stopping by who brought me a croissant – they didn`t even want to buy anything on that day, but just passed my store. Those are moments that make me think: Wow I`ve done it right. That has given me a lot of strength when there were difficult times.
And were there things that you had expected to be different?
I underestimated that having a business on my own is so much work that it`s hardly possible to manage it all on my own – especially as I want to be present online and offline. There are so many areas – accounting, IT, marketing, … Sometimes I feel like I`m all in one, but of course, it`s not possible and also I don`t know everything in all these different areas. So in some areas, I have looked for help – there is a student working for me, a temporary employee to help out, and a graphic designer on demand – and also my family helps out at times.
Often people say about these creative fashionable jobs: a nice dream but in reality, when it`s about making a living it`s difficult. What has kept you going?
You need to have a true passion for what you do. And it has always been a big motivation that I can be as creative as I want to be now. I couldn`t work this creatively in my old job. I have so many ideas that I want to put into action – sometimes I think: How is that even possible in my one single life? Another thing that has been keeping me motivated is the feedback that I receive. I sometimes think that I should do some things better or in a more professional way. Yet so often people praise my work even though it’s not always all perfect.
What have been the biggest learning experiences so far during your time as self-employed?
It`s important for me to have regular breaks. I have set the intention and already put it into practice to get help when needed. Also, I consult with my family and friends and ask for feedback. Very helpful for starting out was the consulting for start-ups: I got insights that I haven´t had before, could organize myself, and received a basic plan for my journey – which I can still adjust on the way.