Sustainable fashion designer, Miranda Bennett reminds me of earthly elements: soft sunshine, a gentle breeze, and a fresh bouquet of delicate flowers. I couldn’t help but notice that even though we met at 3 pm, it felt like a slow, indulgent Sunday morning. She greeted me in her brand new Bundle Dyed Robe in Jalisco Silk Charmeuse (swoon) having just had her usual cup of very strong black tea. Our conversations are the kind that leaves you remembering so many golden nuggets and yet, nothing at all. The experience of Miranda’s aura rises to the surface of my memory.
Her nurturing presence and sing song voice led to an honest, candid conversation that illuminated a poetic perspective on present day life, career, and childhood.
Integrity is at the core of everything Miranda touches. A graduate of Parson’s School of Design and Eugene Lang College, her thesis—rooted in local, ethical, maker economies—led to her very first collection which sold out overnight. (Every piece was made by her own sewing machine in her apartment.) Miranda Bennett Studio, born in 2013, is centered around plant dyed, zero waste women’s apparel made under one roof in Austin, Texas. But the essence of Miranda’s brand is what leaves many of us enthralled. Though she produces plant-dyed design and materials, it is her transparent passion, thoughtfulness, and will to unify the community, uplift women, and support Mother Earth that continuously enhances any life that comes in contact with her work.
Dive in below, visit Miranda Bennett Studio’s flagship in Austin and check out my podcast interview with her on Woke Beauty, coming soon. You’re sure to leave a little brighter.
Where were you born and how do you identify with that place?
I was actually born in Austin, Texas; but we moved around in my formative years until I was 12. We lived in Southeast Asia and the Bay Area in California. After we came back, my dad stayed out on the west coast. I would go back there and I always kind of felt a duality around my place of origin because of that. People are so hardcore about claiming Texas as their legacy. I feel like I can skate by with that because I was born here but I also feel the parts of myself that were formed from movement.
Living in different places forces you to create space and a home within yourself. You’re tested when you move. You have to redefine yourself in your surroundings and reintegrate into them. That can be really hard and really lonely. I think oftentimes, through loneliness, I find my creativity.
It doesn’t always feel like the key to creativity when it’s happening. But when I look back on periods of production in terms of my creative work, my sense of centering as a person really required a certain amount of being alone. Without the opportunity to recharge and just inhale I can get really off balance. So, I’ve had to re-negotiate my understanding of what loneliness is as an adult and to understand that it is a tool for me. Because as a kid, I definitely felt it a lot; and at that time my relationship with it wasn’t jelled yet. I think, then, I realized that creativity was a way for me to warm up the space of loneliness.
You are really good at carving out time for yourself. How do you tell people that you can’t spend time with them… even if it’s just because you don’t want to?
It’s one of the hardest things in the world for me to do. I have to have my morning cocoon because that is a sacred space that I get to define. When I plunge into the day, it does get harder for me to assert those limits; I think in particular because of the role that I have with work. I’ve been trying to set better boundaries around balance in my life. I need to stop expecting myself to be the catchall, which I think, as an entrepreneur (and someone who started as a solopreneur) is a reflex to solving issues.
Throwing myself all in is still ingrained in me. I’ve realized how detrimental it can be when you constantly offer yourself as the solution; because you don’t create space for those around you to show up as well and to put their own offerings forward. I realized my burn out was in direct correlation to me constantly existing in a problem-solving mode. It was taking all my creative energy. Simultaneously, those around me couldn’t rise up to the occasion in the way that they wanted to.
Saying no is really hard. I recently heard something like: “to exhale—which is to be with others, to speak, to be engaged with work—you have to inhale first.” That really resonated.
I’m trying to be better about having the time and space to inhale. And, you know, I think I get depleted really quickly with communication sometimes because I can’t BS. I connect from the heart. There’s only so much of that energy I have to give. But stay tuned. I’m still working on it.
How do you nourish yourself in the mornings?
I go to my kitchen and have my Bach flower remedies with a big glass of water. I have an assortment of supplements—all kinds of things like ashwagandha and acidophilus. It’s like a 20-minute process so that is when I inevitably get on my phone. Unfortunately, I still do our social media for the most part, so I usually dive into that. But I don’t really get into email until I’ve actually gotten up and gone into my office.
It’s been really important for me to boundary that off because I’ve had the experience far too many times where I read something first thing and it sends the whole day into a tailspin. And of course, there’s caffeine. While I’m waiting for my supplements to do their thing, I have a very strong cup of tea brewing. I hate weak coffee or tea. I think it comes from our time in India. I had the most incredible, strong black tea there. It could stand up to cream. I’ll steep two or three bags, depending on the brand.
For those of us who work for ourselves, well, it can get confusing. We can get lost in our work… especially when it’s so close to our hearts. It can feel like it defines us. But, at the end of the day, identity is so much more than that. So, when you separate yourself from your job title and the bells and whistles of your career, who are you?
I’m super goofy and sensitive, I’m loving, I enjoy laughter. I can’t really put up a façade or a front like I’m something that I’m not. I feel most like myself when I’m with my husband and we’re being really silly together or quiet on a walk together. I really do enjoy problem-solving. I think that was a tool for self-care that I cultivated at a very young age within that sphere of loneliness. I felt empowered when I could figure things out for myself and provide what I needed for myself by being resourceful.
I also have a really insane recollection of movies and quotes. It’s a strange rain man type of skill I have, which is also a movie reference. I really enjoy analogies and having access to things that I know can help translate a thought, an emotion, or an experience. I grew up watching so many movies. I think that’s part of just being a latchkey kid.
How did you make your first dollar and what did that job teach you that still applies today?
I made my first dollar working at Fresh Plus Grocery in Hyde Park when I was 15. I loved that job. It was so much fun because all of my friends worked there. I worked at the register, but I also worked in the deli, which was my favorite because I got to work alone. This ages me significantly but I could bring my boom box and play Björk while making sandwiches and baked goods. Sometimes I’d leave my post at the register and go back there and just cook dinner for all of my friends that were at work. We had a really good time and that’s what it taught me: to have fun at work.
Work is such a big chunk of the real estate of your life. And for me, it’s so essential that I can do that in a way that allows me to be who I authentically am; to connect with the people I’m working with; to feel comfortable with them, to feel laughter. Laughter has always been such a significant tool because levity helps to keep things in perspective, you know? There is always this potential to lose the proportion of what the impact really is. If you have a challenge or something goes wrong, it can feel like suddenly you’re in this life or death mind space. It’s so helpful to have that tool at those times to step back and realize that it’s not the end of the world. Bad things have happened a million times over. But yeah, Fresh Plus Grocery. Plus, I blew my first paycheck at what was then Highland Mall. I think it was at Hot Topic on a pair of Skechers.
Oh my gosh, yes. I was all about my Skechers and Baby-G watch. It makes me think of my first job stringing tennis racquets. If I ever messed up or missed a pattern, I had to start all over again. I learned that in order to do something really well I had to focus. People really value efficiency. That can get lost today because we’re doing so many things. We’re easily distracted.
Yes. It’s interesting: any time you have a task that you have to perform by hand, the outcome is either correct or incorrect. When I switched from liberal arts college to design school, that was the biggest wake-up call because I was like, Oh, I can BS my way through a paper. But I either made the pattern correctly or sewed the garment correctly or I didn’t. You can’t cut corners or accelerate any part of it. It just takes the time that it takes. I think that is such a grounding lesson and another really beneficial thing for everyone to experience, even if just in gardening or making a meal. To engage with something that’s outside of yourself, that has an actual, physical product, is a really powerful exercise.
How do you feel about receiving criticism?
I’m such a sensitive person. I think there is this human tendency to focus on one scathing criticism even if you’ve received ten compliments before it. It’s important to keep stuff in proportion. The gift of it is that it’s really an offering of critical thought on your work that you can be better for. Granted, there are exceptions. Haters gonna hate. But, I think there are morsels of really incredible insight that are priceless—sometimes in that critical feedback—that will bring up stuff that a compliment couldn’t have. It’s important to note that one voice can’t have the final say over whether something is good or not. That’s why it’s so important to have a support system in place and to remember that there will be more output from you.
One thing is not the final word on what your ability is as a maker or creative artist. Having put work out there in that way alone is one of the more humbling and eye-opening experiences anyone can encounter. And, if it were easy, everyone would do it. I always think of that movie, A League of Their Own, when Tom Hanks (here I go with the movie reference) is yelling at Gina Davis like, “Hard? Of course, it’s hard! If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it!” There is truth to that with these endeavors. If they weren’t so dang hard it would look a whole lot different. And there is value in the challenge, you know?
I think a lot of people are discouraged about embarking on a dream because they’re worried that the industry is saturated. There’s no chance. There’s no space. What would you tell those people?
Well, I think there can be a lot of fear. Some people might think they can’t put anything out there until it’s absolutely perfect. I really don’t agree with that because I think that essential feedback will only happen once the thing is out there. And until it is, it’s an echo chamber. I know a lot of people who act as the gatekeepers to themselves before taking that first step. It can be so paralyzing and it can really cost a lot of time. It’s particularly a phenomenon amongst women, and I think ultimately it comes from trauma and a sense of always being evaluated or having our worth up for consideration. I just wish I could give them permission. It’s okay if you don’t stick the landing the very first time.
Take us back to the beginning. Tell us the story behind your very first collection.
My first collection was the Thesis collection—I designed it right before I graduated from college. I took a strange route through college. I started in liberal arts. I then went to Parsons and did an associate’s in fashion design before I went back to Eugene Leigh which is under the same university umbrella. I was able to carve out this really cool curriculum that was a fusion of what I had done with my studio time in fashion and art history. I did a historical analysis of manufacturing and mass production and my collection was essentially an offering of an alternative to mass production. It was an argument for slowing the process down and bringing it back to the individual level.
While I was in school, I worked at this really cool boutique in the West Village. I would make my own clothing and my boss encouraged me to wear those pieces into the store and to bring them in on consignment and sell them. I started selling things before I graduated which was hugely empowering and eye-opening. It softened my transition out of school. This was 2005/2006, before what you might consider the maker movement or the slow fashion movement. This was still a time of big designers. My collection was all made from my apartment. My sewing machine was literally in my bedroom and it sold out. I got my first wholesale orders that night.
It changed everything for me because even though it wasn’t like a massive cash infusion (I was still going to be making this stuff from my apartment for a while) I assumed I would work in an entry-level position for a big name brand after graduating. But suddenly, I had an opportunity to strike out on my own and see what that could look like. That ended up coinciding with a really interesting wave of more boutiques that were stacking their racks with more undiscovered, smaller batch lines. It was also before we had social media in the way that we do now.
With your work, you’re addressing a global issue. Can you speak directly to carbon pollution, a result of fast fashion and overconsumption? I think a lot of us forget that clothing is having a harmful effect on the environment. Can you describe the problems you’re speaking to through your work? How are your clothes having an impact?
It’s hard to quantify the total carbon emission impact because it is so vast. That fact has to do with all of the complexity of supply chains that go into making even just a simple t-shirt; and then compounded by the fact that we all wear clothing, right? It’s one of those things that is completely universal. We’re all engaging with fashion, no matter our opinions about it, and no matter our concerns about how things are made or where they’re coming from. That alone gives the impact of this industry an astronomical weight.
In addition to that amongst the supply chain itself, we’re not just talking about one material that has been translated to one product. We’re talking about a whole host of raw materials: everything from natural to synthetic and of course regenerated natural materials. Then there’s the process, how they’re grown, the quality of items used, the chemical process by which it all happens, how things are dyed, and what happens to those wastewaters. And now, we haven’t even gotten into cutting, sewing, or shipping a garment. So, when you start to really look at it in that context, it’s huge. And I think it’s gone unchecked for so long. It’s funny because as sustainability and ethical fashion become more and more discussed, I’m brought back to the themes that I was writing about in my senior thesis in college. We went from apparel making as this sort of cottage industry—as something people were weaving in their homes—to mass production of clothing in an industrial context. It all happened alongside innovation so I think for many, it just felt like progress.
There really hasn’t been reckoning with all of the implications of fashion on the environmental and human level until very recently. Fast fashion has certainly accelerated things. People are shopping a lot more but keeping things for half as long. It’s illuminated the flaws of the system. And it’s not just environmental. It is human. Human lives are lost when factories collapse. Childhoods are stolen when people are working in these factories.
People might say: hey, it’s creating jobs. But the only way that this community can create these jobs is by offering the lowest possible wage in the global marketplace, and that again comes down to the human cost because for that to be possible, it means that people have to be paid less than they can live on. And that is the only situation by which a child would be in a position to work… survival, right?
Globalization is the other big piece of it. As we’re trading and doing business across borders, we have the potential to unite us in a really beautiful way. But instead, in certain contexts, it’s created this marketplace where the lowest bidder is rewarded and because of consumer demand for certain price points, the manufacturers are supplying to a tempo that consumers are demanding. The scale of carbon emission is truly astronomical. It’s challenging within the concern of greenwashing.
The biggest piece of cutting down carbon impact is in the supply chain and the frequency of how we’re purchasing. We need to consume fewer things and keep them longer. That is the best way we can address the carbon issue within the fashion industry.
There are so many voids to fill and you seem to speak to all of them through your work— creating jobs for our community to authentically diversifying those who represent MBS (without commodifying them) to the MBS Zero Waste Initiative. What drives you to manifest more inclusion and equality? How do you cogitate in your community?
I think every decision you make as a business is a choice that can be neutral or intentional and actually have an impact or ripples beyond what the surface level intention of the thing is. So, take a photoshoot for example. You need to have this dress shown on a person so you have to hire a model. Thus, you have an opportunity to step back and ask questions of yourself and of the position that you’re now being put in as a gatekeeper of who is going to be in those clothes and who do I now have the power to put in a position of representation? I think every step like that as a business, is an opportunity to do something with the highest impact possible.
I think at the core of all of my decision making and the intention behind all of it is how do I create environments, products, situations where women feel of value? That is always what I go back to. I consider the Earth to be one of those women.
That’s where the Zero Waste Initiative comes in. I admit it makes our work harder. It takes a lot of time for my team to ideate about what products we’re going to make with these new sources or what channels can then process them through that will prevent them from being in landfills. That said, I just feel that although we don’t have unlimited monetary means, we have unlimited means to improve and do better. I always want to look at every aspect of what we do because there is always room for improvement. I think that’s true for all of those things that you called out about what we do. And I’m honored to be seen by you in those ways because, you know, it is very intentional. On the flip side, we could always do better. You start where you are and you just keep checking in. With our work, we’ve just never stopped checking in. I’ll know that I’m done when I no longer have the desire to check in and improve.
Within wanting to cast in a way that’s diverse and representative of our community, it’s also important not to tokenize and not to make anyone feel like they’re being utilized for the way they look. For me, it all goes back to the whole woman. That applies to the women on our team, the women modeling our clothing and the experience women have when they wear one of our pieces. It all goes back to reinforcing worth and value. I’ve had to really negotiate so much with growing up with diminished representations of female archetypes. My parents had a very abusive relationship that was physical and emotional, and I internalized so much of that shame around this woman that was my archetype, seeing her diminished all the time. That’s really my core motivation. The work I’m doing is meant to give worth to the women that are, in any way, exposed to it. I’ve never really shared that before.
Thank you for sharing. How meaningful and powerful that you could take something that had a traumatic impact on you and put it into a formula that subsequently makes people feel better. You took painful aspects of your life and translated them into beauty.
As an adult, today, how do you relate to your childhood?
It’s so complex and I don’t think I’m finished figuring it out. There was a lot of trauma and I think everyone, in their own way, has experienced some kind of trauma. I don’t present this as unique. On the other hand, I think what’s been challenging for me is that, from the get-go, amongst the abuse and other traumatic things that were happening, there was always an undertone of, we don’t talk about this outside of the house. That was the most damaging of all because it created a flawed understanding of myself in the world. I had to be on guard about what people could know or not know. It created a lot of internal instability.
When I connected with the loneliness that then led to the creativity that I touched on at the beginning of our conversation, I had to really create a space for myself that felt safe and comforting. I had to cultivate that capacity for self-soothing at a very young age. I did it through creative expression as much as possible. I think I’m still reconciling it. I’m still seeing and understanding things daily sometimes about understanding my parents and understanding the trauma that they came from. At the end of the day, they are children themselves. They both have their own unresolved childhood trauma as well and I think a lot of what I received was the by-product of that. It’s taught me that I want that cycle to end with me. And it is all one giant cycle. It’s important to have empathy for them as people, to not just say that they’re bad parents, but sometimes it’s hard for me to be in contact and then I have to pull back. I can feel guilty about that.
I think the biggest thing I have realized is: if I don’t have grace for them, I can’t have grace for myself because so much of what I grew up around is internalized in me. I don’t want my reaction to recognizing that in myself to be shame or recoil or disgust. I have to start there with that grace so I can meet myself there with the same grace. That’s the only way to heal.
Who in the world motivates you and has functioned as a guiding force in your life?
Alex Elle’s words soothe me. They have nursed me to the other side of burnout. She speaks so directly and purely from her heart. And she’s also so genuinely invested in the success of other women. I also love Glennon Doyle. I’ve been listening to Untamed when I go for walks on a track near my house. It feels like a really rich conversation with a good friend. And then there’s my dearest friend. She lives in LA but pre-pandemic we would see each other once a quarter. We do the virtual full moon and new moon rituals now (twice a month) with our alters set up with candles, cards, and oils diffusing. It feels like my church.
What is your most recommended book?
After the rain by Alex Elle. It’s biographical but there are also journal prompts and meditation prompts. It’s like a 360 experience for the reader, and it has elements to it that consider the communal trauma that we’re all going through. It’s a really excellent tool and companion that can help you get to the bottom of what you’re feeling. It’s important to know that we’re all going through a fresh and communal trauma that can speak to prior trauma and kind of reinvigorate different threads of stuff. It can get pretty heavy pretty fast. We’re not always registering that as a society.
If you could speak to yourself a decade ago, what advice would you give yourself?
I would tell her to value herself more. She is a really precious thing and there is nothing wrong with her. Her ideas, thoughts, and feelings are legitimate. It’s what I still need to tell myself now. That is the journey: really believing that in my bones. It starts here, with speaking it to myself.