A Vision Of Empowerment With Maaike Luedenbach of LÖV
Maike Luedenbach does not only design beautifully quirky, comfy and consciously made underwear. She also has an important mission that she is incredibly passionate about - to empower women, to free us from the pressure and mind control of social body norms that all too often hinder us from turning into the best versions of ourselves.
Could you tell me a bit about your background - what was your path into fashion design?
Well, I have loved fashion for as long as I can remember. My walls as a teen weren’t covered with pop stars or movie actors but with fashion and perfume campaigns. I started modelling at the age of fourteen and came by it as kind of a „mistake“. I had my mind set on interning for the Spanish fashion designer Lydia Delgado, during my summer vacation when I was fourteen. But I had just got through a big growth spurt and all my many arms and legs were very clumsy. So after a few days, they decided I would be of more help as a fitting model. As a reward for my work, I was allowed to walk the catwalk for the fashion show at the end of the summer. One thing led to another and I started modelling.
I took a break for a couple of years because my parents didn’t like the idea but I started again at age 22. Working as a model and being passionate about the creative team you are involved with, trying on so many different clothes, getting to touch so many different fabrics and being immersed in this fantasy world was as fascinating as it was disturbing. For the sake of my health, I quit modelling but I was still very passionate about fashion. So I decided to put the money that I had saved and invested to good use and did a masters degree in fashion design.
What made you start up your own underwear label? Was there a transformative moment in your life?
A transformative moment in my life was when I realised that what was supposed to make me happy and what I had fought very hard for was not making me happy at all. From then on, it has been a long journey and I feel I have just started to comprehend the meaning of it all. I started my sustainable underwear label because I knew right from the beginning that I didn't want to create just another product to flood the already saturated fashion market. Because of my background, working in the fashion industry as a young girl, I experienced first hand what the pressure means of trying to be „perfect“, and how a certain standard set by our society affects the potential and character of all women who could lead us and new generations into the future. I realised that what I am most passionate about is being able to send a message and influence the images that are out there, even if it's only on a very small scale. I don’t want any more young girls and women to suffer in the same way that I did, as with most of my school friends, most the girls I met in models apartments and most of the women that surround me. Questioning one's worth because of not fitting into a certain size or stereotype. I thought that underwear was a good medium to communicate and share my intention as it is the item of clothing that we can least hide behind.
The Womanifesto became a fun yet powerful way to display our rules and morals to work and play by. The #LÖVYOURSELF project is a passion project that reinforces the initial inspiration for LÖV. It's been amazing being able to interview all these strong and beautiful women who are letting us into their homes and opening up to us for an hour. And I feel we all do it for the same reason - to be able to help and reach out to other women worldwide and to make them feel less alone. The most beautiful lesson I have learned from this experience and would like to share: The power of vulnerability. After the interviews were published, I got thank you messages from the interviewees because of the amazingly positive feedback that they received. The support and love that is shown throughout the community of women worldwide is amazing. And the rawer the interview the better the response. It's been such an enriching experience for all of us at LÖV.
Why do you think body positivity is so important for women?
I really believe that the negative thought patterns that we hold about ourselves and our bodies hinder us from becoming the best versions of ourselves. They limit our potential and our power and strength. There is this very interesting book that I read a little while ago called "The Beauty Myth“ by Naomi Wolf. It describes shockingly well how patriarchy as been manipulating, and not only in the workplace, the growth and strength of women through imagery and stigmatizing our appearance. I really recommend all women to have a go at this book. Some parts might be too dense and you might not finish it entirely, but the general understanding you can gain is eye opening.
Do you see yourself as part of a movement?
I feel that there has been a general rise in consciousness about these issues. Women are smarter and stronger than ever before thanks to all the brave women who came before us and have fought for our rights. We don’t believe just in everything we read and see anymore, and I guess that this helps us in finding the truth: Our rights and needs are different from what society wants us to believe.
Why is it important to you to produce sustainably?
In my opinion, producing sustainably shouldn’t even be a question for starting any kind of business. Honestly, it should be a given. And I mean, especially when it comes to underwear - I would never want to give anything to any woman in the world that could cause her harm in her most private parts.
In terms of working sustainably: What materials do you use for your collection?
We use OEKO-TEX certified organic cotton as our main fabric. All our accessories come from a German supplier that specialises in orthopedic wear, to ensure that we offer the highest quality and durability. They are tested for their breaking and tear strength and are boil and break resistant. We use skin friendly materials that are nickel free. Our rubber bands are made in Italy, and so are our eyelets which are also nickel free.
What kind of obstacles have you encountered with sourcing sustainable fabrics?
The beginning was the hardest. Being a small company and wanting to do things in a simple and mindful way was the most difficult thing to see through. In a way, our own ideals were our biggest obstacles. Finding organic fabrics was difficult too. Many colors and textures felt outdated and not very fashionable. I remember visiting the biggest German fabric fair and finding one certified organic fabric supplier who offered beautiful textures and colors. But their minimum order was of 5.000 meters per color. This is unattainable for a small brand like us. We encountered the same issues when we were looking for a producer. No producer wanted our orders because they were small and we didn’t want big quantities. Our pieces are designed to be more like 'limited edition' rather than 'one for all'. But these values, even though in the beginning they made everything harder, became our biggest assets when it comes to mindfulness. They made us search for a small business that is family owned. And now we work with three fantastic women that own a small production site.
Where do the different stages of your production take place?
The first stage is coming up with a design. This takes place anywhere I go really. When I travel or go to an exhibition, shapes, forms and colors might inspire me to draw something for LÖV. Sometimes it is more practical. I find myself looking for something that I can’t find anywhere and so I decide to make it myself. I can draw many times over until I finally find what I was looking for or I can find something quite quickly. It always depends. Sketches might be made over breakfast at a hotel or late at night at my office or desk at home.
The pattern cutting and what we call the „development“ of the piece is made in Vienna, Austria. Vienna is a city which still honors and values their tradition in handcrafting garments. I work with a very talented woman called Miska Königshofer who has an open workspace. She rents out little studios to other designers and offers her machines to people who just pop in for a small DIY project or personal project they are working on. With her I develop my designs, which is absolutely fantastic to do in such a communal space. We figure out the best shape for the best fit and iron out the nooks and cracks. And if there is a moment when we feel stuck, there is always a creative mind, crossing the room to get some fair trade coffee, who will stop and help us to find a solution. It is a beautiful space to be a creative in and the support of our peers feels really special. Julia Huber who makes the patterns is a young firecracker with loads of ambition and a great laugh. Not only do I value her professionally but she has become a close personal friend who I admire. Another great „side effect“ to working in a space were loads of creatives pop in and out is that we always let every woman who passes through the door slip into some LÖV undies. This way we figure out how different sizes and shapes fit and this has been a positively surprising experiment.
We manufacture in Bratislava, Slovakia, around 40 minutes drive away from where we develop and cut the patterns. Mishka is originally from Slovakia (but she has lived for over 22 years in Austria) and she facilitates the production process with her language skills and a general understanding of the country. We work with a small family-owned production site who follow the European Employment Law and have regulated working hours.
How do you envision the future of your own brand and what does success mean to you personally?
All I can say right now is that our priority is to become more beautiful, more comfortable and more mindful. We really want to work on finding more stockists and on trying to expand and to get the attention of a broader audience. I have loads of ideas and am naturally a big dreamer. The most amazing experience for me is receiving emails from our clients, saying that our underwear made them feel confident. Being able to contribute to the well-being of my community and to support other women is something that fulfills me. Success for me personally is being able to do whatever I want (which might sound easier than it is).
What is your vision for the fashion industry: Do you have any ideas on how to turn mindful fashion into the new standard?
I believe that the general consciousness will grow and that more people will understand the necessity of fashion taking a mindful approach. This new challenge can be interesting for all brands to push themselves in terms of technology and creativity. For instance, the way Stella McCartney started her label and the huge success it has. For me, she is one of the fashion brands to really look at when entertaining the idea of mindful fashion becoming the new standard. Stella McCartney is doing it in a quietly elegant way. And if we look at Vivien Westwood - she is doing it the loud way. I think there is no right or wrong. Just the passion and pursuit to fight and to believe in what you know in your heart is right. In my experience, there is no bigger satisfaction than working with a purpose.
Thank you so much for the interview, Maike!