The term “sustainability” can mean so many different things to people, and entrepreneur Maisa Mumtaz knows it. From eco-friendly to fair trade, the trailblazer has encapsulated every aspect of sustainable fashion in her fresh new marketplace platform, Consciously, where fast fashion is anything but welcome.
Bright, driven, and eager to make a change in the fashion industry, Maisa Mumtaz is proof that passion and power of will can really make a difference. Having grown up in a traditional South Asian household, fashion was never something she thought was in the cards for her. But after designing her own clothes at 16 and coming out with her first collection at 21, Mumtaz’s talent and “passion for fashion,” so to speak, was undeniable. Now, Mumtaz combines her experience in manufacturing and fashion design with her passion for sustainability to bring awareness to the Western fashion industry.
Mumtaz’s background in fashion is unique. At just 16 years old, she started designing South Asian wear for herself and some of her close family members, which quickly blossomed into designing pieces for her friends and community who showed interest as well. Though she loved designing clothes and knew she wanted to study fashion, her family wanted her to follow a different path. She ended up moving to the UK to finish her last year of high school and pursue a degree in Political Science, which she quickly realized was not for her.
“I hated it,” she says laughing. “I didn’t like living there, I was diagnosed with depression, and so two years into my degree I dropped out and moved back home.”
Back in Bangladesh, she jumped right into what she really loved doing, and at 21 years old, Mumtaz came out with her very first collection of Bengali ready-to-wear clothing. The positive response to her collection, paired with Mumtaz’s revitalized joy and enthusiasm, proved to her and her family that this was what she was called to do.
However, being immersed in the manufacturing sector of the fashion industry in Bangladesh over the next few years showed Mumtaz that fashion is not all sunshine and rainbows. Bangladesh, the second-largest garment exporter in the world, manufacturers for thousands of Western fast fashion companies, and the conditions Mumtaz witnessed first-hand shocked her.
“Working in the manufacturing industry back in Bangladesh really opened my eyes to exactly how little people really care about garment workers,” she says. “Seeing the way they were treated was really hard because I’m from Bangladesh, and it felt so unfair that these Western companies were coming into our country and exploiting our workers because they could.”
Witnessing the harm that fast fashion brings to communities in Bangladesh first-hand caused Mumtaz to completely shift her mindset, and she began to reconsider what she could do to create real, positive change.
About two years ago, Mumtaz set out into the American fashion world with a broad idea, little direction, and a determination to transform fast fashion. She immersed herself in the sustainable fashion community, doing a ton of research, talking to a bunch of people, and trying to figure out where she fits into all of it.
When she came across countless amazing brands in the community doing wonderful work that didn’t have the same reach that mega brands did and met so many people interested in shopping small and sustainable who didn’t know how to navigate the space that is sustainable fashion, she did what any business savvy, fashion “mogul” would do. She brought them all together.
On October 21, 2020, Mumtaz officially launched Consciously, an innovative marketplace based out of San Francisco meant to make sustainable fashion accessible, inclusive, and universal. Consciously works closely with their brand partners, each of which must match with at least two out of Consciously’s eight of their core values and sustainability criteria. These values include female-founded, fair trade, eco-friendly, BIPOC-founded, vegan, handwork, small-batch, and transparent. Because Mumtaz knows sustainability can mean different things to people, she makes sure to vet brands according to a diverse range of values which allows customers to shop based on what matters to them the most.
To her, Consciously is a platform that not only allows like-minded people to find the “elegant, elevated, timeless, and sustainable” styles they’re looking for but highlights like-minded brands that want to share their work with the industry.
“We really try to elevate our brand partners and share their work and their stories in ways that other retailers don’t,” she says.
Mumtaz smiles as she explains the supportive, collaborative environment she and her co-workers have created at Consciously. She works closely with her vendors, doing everything she can to support them in their missions the same way they support Consciously in their mission.
What’s more, the brands she works with actively support each other as well.
“If I post something about a certain brand, other brands will engage with it,” she says. “It definitely feels less competitive and more collaborative.”
Mumtaz also reflects on how Consciously acts as her avenue to get her voice heard in the conversation of sustainable fashion, a conversation which has become (or more accurately, has always been) a very whitewashed space in the United States. Having grown up in South Asia, where sustainable living is the natural way of life, Mumtaz has always felt frustrated that women of color are so often left out of the conversation of sustainability.
“Growing up I would see my grandma making pillowcases out of old clothes, not because she needed to but because it was the right thing to do, like ‘why would we waste this?”
Just like many other cultures of color across the world, Mumtaz grew up recycling plastic food containers, hand-washing clothing, and naturally turning to sustainable methods. So, entering the sustainable fashion community should have been just as natural for her. But women of color have been left out of and underrepresented in almost every area of Western society, including the fashion industry. For Mumtaz, however, that just gives her all the motivation she needs.
“I think the women of color in our generation are really trailblazers in all the industries that they’re stepping into,” she says. “I feel like I’m part of this community of South Asian women that are in this together and really rooting for each other to keep breaking glass ceilings.”
Mumtaz is one of the rare people who can so masterfully combine her lived experiences with her passion to create something that will inspire others to do the same. She continues to break glass ceilings, make her voice heard in the conversation of sustainable fashion, and bring awareness within the Western fashion industry about the damages of fast fashion. She shows no sign of stopping, thankfully, as she plans to relaunch Consciously in just a few short weeks with fresh new photoshoots, a website makeover, and even more brands.
Mumtaz’s personal awareness of how damaging fast fashion can be to communities around the world has given her the fire she needs to bring sustainability to the forefront of the fashion conversation. Her ability to collaborate so seamlessly with others, paired with the deep understanding of sustainability she developed throughout her childhood only adds fuel to that fire and pushes her to continue transforming the Western fashion industry.
To Mumtaz, sustainability is limitless. It encapsulates everything from recognizing marginalized creators, to limiting production waste, to fighting animal cruelty, and Consciously reflects that. She created Consciously for people like you, who may want to shop sustainably, but aren’t sure where to go or how to start. So, whatever sustainability may mean to you, I can guarantee Consciously has you covered. I know I’ll be turning to Consciously more often after hearing Mumtaz’s story, and I hope you’ll all join me.