This week, we're super happy to bring you our talk with Milena Melo, stylist and owner, designer, and creative director of YAY, the sustainable fashion brand for boys. A fascinating conversation about vintage-inspired styles, second hand, and the main future challenges for kid's fashion. ENJOY!
1. Hello Milena! Can you briefly introduce yourself?
Hello, I'm a Fashion Designer born in Brazil and based in Lisbon.
I'm fascinated by the power to touch people through communication. My first professional vehicle to start a conversation with a larger crowd was journalism. But one day I began to feel the need to apply my creativity more physically, in something that I could touch. So, I turned to fashion. Fashion has always been a part of my life. While most of us look at the light-hearted and fun side of it, I always looked at fashion as a way to express our individuality which is vital to our society, as it impacts our relationships and stimulates innovation.
That role in fashion became more real to me when I got pregnant. I was expecting a baby boy, and I was a little disappointed when I noticed that kids' brands did not look at boys like I think they should. So, I decided to do something about it.
I started a journey into kids' fashion-focused into little boys with an accessories line. Then, the business evolved into a clothing line. I began to get some attention from people in the industry, so I decided to study Fashion Design.
Today, I am the owner, designer, and creative director of YAY, a sustainable fashion brand for boys.
I also work as a fashion designer, stylist, and art director at COST., a Lisbon-based "small scale production" textile studio that produces clothes for kids, women, and men for other brands.
2. You have an extraordinary vintage-inspired style. Can you share with us your best findings? Do you think that it was better at this time?
I'm especially fascinated by the '60s and '70s. Those eras were so brightly defined by youthful exuberance, experimentation, and revolution. I'm obsessed with the work developed by fashion futurists Pierre Cardin and Paco Rabanne. Their contribution to kids' fashion was incredible, mainly because, for a long time, children were treated and therefore dressed "just" as miniature adults.
I'm not saying that it was better back in those days. But I do think it was a period with more creativity and a fearless approach to fashion. And it's all related to scale. In the past, a designer could do a few units to test the public reaction. Now everything has such a big scale that no one can afford to try something really bold. Plus: businesses do not innovate. People do. And people need time to innovate.
3. What's your opinion on second-hand? Do you have any website recommendations?
Second-hand is a huge trend, and it's a vital consumer behavior to reduce textile waste. The market is growing really fast, and I think brands can find pretty good opportunities in that market. I hope we can integrate more creativity in the process, offering services like upcycling pieces that can be used by young brothers or cousins, or other ideas that reapproximate the consumer to "art" that are related to the process of creating a piece of clothing.
We recommend our partner "White Stamp", a platform that came up with the SELL 1 BUY 1 program – where customers can sell their used fashion items to finance new purchases at partner brands.
4. What's the current situation where you are? Did you have to re-organize your work because of the pandemic? Do you see new opportunities?
I'm based in Portugal, where you can find a lot of textile manufactures. I think for the following years, the biggest challenge in front of us is to be more sustainable. The business is focused on scale, and we need to change that. We need to find a way to make small and more quality productions profitable while using sustainable materials.
For me, representing an independent label makes it very hard to negotiate with manufacturers. It's always hard to convince them to reduce our minimal orders per style, and we want to have the opportunity to try more styles without the compromise of ordering hundreds of units.
With the pandemic, we've accelerated an old dream. We've created a small factory inside our flagship store in Lisbon where we can produce our collections and, at the same time, allow other small brands to "test" their designs with a smaller order.
Our ambition is to create a space that reproduces the model of restaurants where you can see the kitchen at work.
Transparency is the keyword. When the consumer realizes who made it, what technique, and what story or emotion a particular piece intends to convey, the product gains another value. A value that simply goes beyond the financial sphere.
5. What are your favorite accounts to follow on IG?
@smudgetikka to keep updated with all related to kidswear,
@minotsvintage to find beautiful French old stocks of kids clothes,
@brookedidonato to find the inspiration behind her surreal imagery.
6. Finally, can you share your best bits of advice for someone who would love to get into kids' fashion?
The world is full of clothes, so what can be your contribution? What makes your brand different? Those are the main questions you need to answer. Plus: never forget that your product has two targets: parents and kids. Parents are looking for functional and beautiful. Kids want comfort and fun.