A Q&A with MIGA Swimwear's Founder Maria Luisa Mendiola

In honor of Disability Employment Awareness Month, we've partnered with our friends at MIGA Swimwear to promote, educate, and spread awareness on the topic of disability employment. In order to go a bit more in-depth with MIGA Swimwear specifically, we wanted to get to know their brand directly from the source, their founder Maria Luisa Mendiola. Below is a brief introduction to MIGA Swimwear's beginnings, community-centered mission, and what they hope their customers gain from wearing their products:
What pushed you to start MIGA Swimwear?
MIGA Swimwear starts from my personal experience with disfigurement: I have a genetic condition that caused me to have brachymetatarsia, which means that I have shortened 4th toes on both of my feet. Back in 2016, a friend asked me, “what’s wrong with your toes?” I got very uncomfortable and quickly changed the subject. I remember thinking: How is it possible that I am 25 years old and I still react like this when someone asks me about my feet? It dawned on me that this question was always going to come up, no matter how old I got. So I decided to focus my master’s at Central Saint Martins, UK, on figuring out ways to lower stigma in the disfigurement, disability and chronic illnesses community. To my surprise, I found that swimwear design coupled with storytelling could help women feel more comfortable with their bodies. 
The mission of MIGA Swimwear seems to be centered around community. Why is community such a significant part of MIGA?
Community is at the forefront of everything we do at MIGA Swimwear. MIGA starts from my quest to find others who have experienced the same isolation and misunderstanding I felt growing up in Costa Rica and being the only one in my family with feet like mine. When I started working with women that had different types of diagnoses I realized that although we all had very different diagnoses, we could find support and healing from each other’s experience.
Since then all of our designs have been community-made. We use comprehensive surveys (our last one had over 400 submissions with detailed images) so that we make zero assumptions about what our community needs because we understand that all diagnoses are unique. 
What do you hope others gain from your brand’s inclusive, sustainable products?
Our hope is that when our customers wear our suits, they’ll feel encouraged to appreciate their body as is. Through my work with this community, I have learned that providing a concise story that explains the reason behind the diagnosis is crucial to overcoming stigma. We work with our design muses to create their narrative so that they can feel empowered to disclose, if they want to, thus lowering stigma. Once the narrative is created, the story is printed on a canvas bag. Thus, each swimsuit comes with a matching bag that tells the body story of our collaborators, which also raises awareness and understanding among our shoppers that don’t have these conditions. Our customer is aware of the experience of the other, and wants to continue to learn more about the disability experience. And they should, as just over 1 in 4 of today's 20 year-olds will become disabled before they retire. When this world becomes a more accessible place, everyone wins. 
Why does representation matter to you?
Representation matters as long as it is understood that representation is just the first step to greater inclusivity and accessibility. By our brand’s existence, we are raising awareness and representation of the disability community. By designing inclusively, everyone (whether you have a disability or not) wins. For example, The Lydia is our most popular suit. It was designed inspired by [a woman named] Lydia, who has an ostomy bag. The suit is the favorite of many, aside from ostomates, from women who have diabetes equipment to women who have no medical equipment at all. Thus, our brand is not only for people with disabilities but for everyone. I think it is important to point out, however, that our brand is not for those who are ableist. If you believe that disability is something that must be overcome, then our brand is not for you.
*** Treat yourself to any one of MIGA Swimwear's inclusive, sustainable, and eye-catching products courtesy of Maria and her team! Use the code SLICKCHICKS20 during checkout to get 20% off their site for the whole month of October. 

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