It is easy to get caught up in the hype these days. Modern society’s relationship with social media is distorting our views and we often lose track of the truth. Spend too much time on an instagram feed and you might think the world is in a state of perpetual bliss. MLIU is here to cut the shit and remind us of reality. Australian designer Maria Liu weaves Asian influences through her life narrative to create pieces of art. Each collection and piece represents a chapter in her life... and just like life, not all chapters are positive. The brands iconic logo (which we love!) represents reality, not a romantised image. See the truth in front of you, welcome MLIU.
What is your personal background?
I was born and raised in Gold Coast, Australia. My father is Chinese, and my mother is Filipino. Both of my parents lived in Japan for a few years, and that’s where they met... I’ve been brought up with a lot of Japanese culture within my home. I lived in China for a year when I was younger, where I went to multiple boarding schools while living with my grandparents. I’d say that year had the most significant impact on me and my daily habits. My dad has always worked for luxury brands, so he was the one that taught me the most about style and quality. I followed his footsteps and worked for a luxury fashion house, where I learnt an incredible amount about the industry as a whole, retail and consumers as well as instilling in me a sense of family and tradition.
How did you get started in the fashion industry?
I learnt how to use a sewing machine during high school, and I liked how I got carried away and lost with time whenever I used it. After I graduated, I went to fashion college, however I eventually dropped out after a few months because learning in the classroom was difficult for me... I didn’t enjoy the traditional processes of design & creativity that were being taught; it just felt restraining.
I crave the feeling of getting lost sewing in my garage, and losing track of time while being in the ‘zone.’ I would be up until the next morning without even realizing it... in my opinion, that is the best feeling.
I loved the idea of having my own brand, (experiencing) the creative process from website design, to conceptualizing a store layout, how each hanger sits on a clothing rack, swing tags, logos, designs etc. I first started designing my intimate label, and it then turned into a swimwear label with one-off street style garments. This was when I began to learn how to network with people across Instagram. After losing a bit of motivation due to personal issues, I ended up going down a spiral with my mental health. It was then that I noticed - during tough times, I would habitually sew! I’m still not sure to this day if this was a distraction or form of meditation for me.
Where do you draw inspirations from?
Inspiration was always a difficult thing for me... It comes in waves. I usually have a burst of inspiration when I’m feeling an intense emotion, whether that being sadness, anger, anxiety etc. Usually never while being happy, though (Laughs). After experiencing a difficult time in my life, I write a chapter about it within my book - I then tend to use those chapters or (specific points within them) as inspiration for my collections. In terms of drive, reading/watching behind the scenes processes was always interesting to me. I find myself relating to the designers but usually only on a mentality basis. I guess you could call me stubborn, but I like to find inspiration in my own mind.
What is a typical Sunday night for you?
Every night is pretty much the same for me, whether it’s a weekend or weekday. I don’t differentiate... so a typical night for me would be something calming to end the night, as I’m a big advocate of starting and ending my day in the calmest way... because if I don’t, I tend to carry that emotion with me to the next day. Having said that, the most common Sunday night I’d have is working on my label, refreshing my space/rearranging my room and then preparing for the following day... and then maybe painting!
How did you start MLIU?
How did I start MLIU...? Have I even started? I rebranded MLIU with my partner earlier this year after not touching it for a year prior. I pretty much lost my motivation for the label because of spending time doing what my psychologist likes to say, “the habit of re-traumatizing myself.”
My biggest challenge is that my mental state and focus, drives the label forward, but it can also move it backwards... its Ying and Yang.
Some days I’ll wake up and feel like I am carrying so much (mental) weight that I really can’t do anything. But other days, I can carry that same amount of weight and fill up a wall with ideas, colours, cuts and storylines. It’s a constant battle of letting go and holding it in.
What is the concept behind your brand?
Let’s start with The Heart. The Heart is what gets impacted when something happens in your life, whether it be a heartbreak or infatuation with someone. I chose the real human heart, not the love heart you see on Valentines - because love isn’t all just happiness and rainbows (as much as I wish that were true). It’s also the bad things that make you feel more grateful for the good. So, my perception of The Heart is what is real. The real shit that makes you fall onto your knees in the middle of a forest because you saw your partner kiss another girl. The real shit is what every story contains, every heart has experienced, and every person has felt. While all those events happen in your life, you probably still focus on the good. The Heart isn’t all about relationships though, it is about family, careers, reflecting on being present at a particular time. I first started writing a diary, which is slowly turning into a book, and now a brand. So the concept would be like I said, what is real. No sugar-coating.
I want people to relate, not feel like they have to put on a facade. It’s great to be positive, but it sometimes gets to a point where everything seems perfect and that can seriously become harmful, not just to your audience but also to yourself. Be real, and just keep going. Feel the weight of the coat, feel how heavy I felt at the time I designed it... but I hope you feel good wearing it and I hope when you look at that heart, it at least lets you reflect on your own.
What is your favourite part of your job?
I can’t say it’s a job, but my favourite part is when the chapter is ready to be released. As any designer or artist, it’s both exciting and daunting to release a piece of art. For me, it would be a release of something in the past, letting go. Closing that chapter in my life and being ready to move on. Although lately, I’ve noticed I feel quite soft, when I receive messages from people around the world noticing what MLIU is really about.
Who do you design for? Who is your customer?
I dislike the idea of targeting a particular group. In a business manner, I understand why you need to. But to me, as stubborn as it sounds, I’d like everyone to go through some days where they just want to wear my pieces whether it is because of the meaning behind it or they just like the look. If the shoe fits, wear it. I think this question is something my partner would answer in a much better way as that is more so his side of MLIU.
Can you share more about the production aspect?
I begin with a storyline. I first ask, what is the story I want to put into this chapter? And then I choose the colours... for example, my new collection will be based on a Merlot red, because I’ve recently drank a lot of that wine!
Then I move onto materials. I don’t like to draw and then choose the material, because what if I don’t find the ‘right’ material? Do I just have to change the whole design and settle for less? I find beauty in imperfections. I’m not really a go-getter as in “I must find this material.” I’m sure in the future when I have fewer restrictions I’ll be more precise. Still, right now I’ll be happy with what is available to me, while, of course, trying to find the highest quality of whatever that is. I really like the feeling of walking into a fabric store and touching everything.
The fun part is the patterns - being self-taught and going with trial and error a few times is always fun... I get lost within that atmosphere, so the outcome is still rewarding. I often find that the “mistakes” within sewing the patterns, end up being the final design. I love my mistakes. But seeing the rack filled with a complete collection - now that’s even better. Once the collection is ready to be released, you just know it’s time to expose that story from my diary.
What is your vision for the future of the brand?
I have a very clear vision with what I want our boutiques to look like, but I can’t let you know that (Laughs). I’d like it to be unexpected when it happens. But let’s take baby steps... There will be no restrictions for MLIU and the stories I want to tell, as you never know what The Heart will bring you and as I grow, the label will of course change. I’d like to continue to design clothing but also homewares, and I really want my own MLIU espresso cup. MLIU will also work alongside mental health organizations. Maybe even have a team with certified practitioner within the field speaking to people online? Perhaps a getaway MLIU resort to cleanse the mind and the heart, self-sustainable, freshly picked food from the garden, yoga and meditation classes, a stacked library, mental health professionals on-site. Ahh, what a dream. I want more than what my mind can be, what a challenge...
Why do we only share the highlight reels of life, when it's the difficult moments that mold us into who we are? What's Real?
Maria’s story is one we can all relate to and draw inspiration from. Her raw, unfiltered view of the world is a refreshing take, and it is this passion which flows into her clothes. Unique pieces, bold, crafted in Portugal to the highest of standards. In a world where transparency is rare and truths hard to come by, MLIU stands out as a beacon and reminder for us all – cut the shit and see the bigger picture.
Shop the collection here.
By Juliette Eleuterio