Established in 2016 and based in New York City, MWR Collection is a luxury lifestyle label specializing in leather craftsmanship. Creative Director Mia Wright-Ross collaborates with artisans to create a collection of human kinship within each customizable work. Besides having ten years of work experience designing footwear for Tibi, Philip Lim and Calvin Klein, she is the founder of her own label, a consultant for various contemporary designer brands, a professor at Parsons School for Design, and the newly appointed 2020 Artist Fellow at the Museum of Art & Design in New York City. FashionUnited recently spoke to Wright-Ross by phone on what a day in her life is like and how she overcomes the challenges she encounters as a founder.
As the founder and Creative Director of MWR Collection, what does a workday look like for you?
The first thing I do in the morning when I wake up is to meditate and say my mantra aloud which is, “I commit to this practice. I commit to this practice as a commitment to myself, I commit to the practice for the benefit of myself. I commit to the skills and knowledge growing within myself. I commit myself to this practice”. This helps me align my mindset for the day. I actually make my students repeat this mantra before any of my classes as well. Around 9 am, I’ll make breakfast, start answering emails, and write up a to-do list for the day.
Noon and the afternoon are allocated for calls, meetings, errands, or focusing on any requests from custom orders. Once most of that is handled, I go to the gym and make sure I eat lunch. I have the tendency to forget to nourish myself when I am working. So I literally have to schedule it in.
By the evening, I have to make myself stop working. It is difficult for me to turn it off because my studio is in my home. But in order to unwind, I usually cook myself a good meal or meet up with a friend to get out of my design space.
What made you want to specialize in leather craftsmanship?
Around 2008, I took some speciality classes while studying at Parsons. Before that, I had no idea classes in shoemaking and handbag design existed. The control and commitment that comes along with designing with leather immediately spoke to me. Unlike designing with fabric, one must commit to the design because there is no going back once you sew leather. Once the stitch is made, there is a permanent hole in the leather. On top of that, I met professor Howard Davis who took me under his wing and eventually became my mentor.
What challenges do you face as a founder in the fashion business?
It’s been a year since I’ve been dedicated to my business full time. A challenge that all founders face is the reality of funding. This has forced me to look at running MWR Collection in a creative way. I approach it as solving a problem and have branched out to incorporate roles such as consulting or collaborating on developing products with other brands.
As the founder of my own label, I’ve learned to become comfortable with failing, using my network to its full potential and lastly, letting go of my ego. I feel that it is important to communicate the brand’s value to employees and to be transparent. No matter what, the passion and support needs to be there for the purpose of a company or brand.
Can you share any memorable moments from working in fashion?
To me, that has to be working with the shoe factories in Florence and its surroundings. While I was designing a particular shoe for a brand, I went back and forth many times meeting with the main technician who had to execute my designs. This made me realize that there needs to be an understanding between concept and crafting. In theory, a design drawn on paper might seem to work, but it was while the technician told me to try it in person that I realized my idea could not translate into reality. This was a bit of an enlightenment and to this day I teach my students at Parsons that there should be a balance between concept and crafting.
What have you learned from working in fashion?
Having worked in the fashion industry for more than ten years, I found that the industry calendar doesn’t support the spirit of the designer. Recently, it seems this type of fashion structure is breaking down. As a creator, you need time to reorganize, re-acquaint and understand yourself. The art space and downtime for a designer is vital for creativity and to stay inspired.
You recently collaborated on the Ultimate Musician Travel Backpack with Grammy Award Winning Musician, Robert Glasper, how did this happen?
I was already a fan of Robert Glasper before we met. It just happened that I was showing at the Liberty Fairs trade show in New York City, and he attended the show. His PR manager was a friend of mine and pointed him out to me. We naturally struck up a conversation when he showed interest in the collection and stayed in touch. Since as a musician, Robert is always touring and on the road, it was easy for me to get inspiration from that kind of lifestyle and design the Ultimate Musician Travel Backpack for him.
The MWR Studio is based in Washington Heights, New York City. Why did you choose this location?
After going to school and working in New York City, I naturally stayed in the City. However, I chose to be based in Washington Heights because I was searching for a true community that hasn’t been gentrified yet. Also, I wanted to still be close to Downtown Manhattan yet be able to retreat from it.
Do you have any advice you’d like to give to your younger self?
I’d tell my younger self to slow down. You don’t have to know everything and remain a consistent student, always learning.
What is your must-have fashion item?
Of course it is anything leather! Recently, I’ve been researching the concept of being hands-free, focusing on utilitarian attire. So leather pockets are my new obsession!
Photos: courtesy of MWR Collection, credited to Matthew Pandolfe and Tyler-Andrew