WHY I: MAKARA SWIMWEAR/MOTORBIKE BRAND CO-OWNER KRISTINA MACIUKAITE
If when I say women’s swimwear and female empowerment go together in the same business strategy, I can understand how you could have your doubts, raise an eyebrow and potentially utter a likely hmmmmm. But Kristina Maciukaite and Gerda Mickevicuite, owners of Bali/Cali -based swimwear brand Makara, are trying to turn the tables on the traditional narrative surrounding women’s swimwear quite frankly, on its head. The status quo of what we expect and by-default nearly always accept, perhaps such has been the sustained portrayal and prevalence by brands and the media of what a woman in swimwear “should” look like and is depicted as – is namely, "sexy" (in whichever media outlets subjective portrayal that is). Nothing wrong with being sexy, and heck, as women, what is funner than embracing when we feel and enjoy feeling sexy?
But there can be more to this, especially when we introduce the discourse of swimwear for sport. In recent years there has been a noted change in this narrative, as with increasing numbers of women taking to watersports and requiring kit that does more than simply look good aesthetically, but serves a functional purpose. Makara, born out of the founders’ needs of a functional, practical, stylish option for water-women who love to surf, has been looking to challenge the typical perceptions of women’s swimwear. With a clear-rooted passion for empowering women through its designs and overall brand ethos’ and ideologies, I spoke to co-owner Kristina Maciukaite about their manifesto for change, supporting women’s communities, and how not adding bra cups to swimwear is empowering.
Kristina Maciukaite and business partner Gerda Mickevicuite, both Lithuanian born, met whilst sharing waves in California, bonding over a burgeoning and shared love of the surf. Heading back to her home in Bali, Gerda’s stoke for surf was duly ignited, but on her return, found it difficult to find a suit to surf in that served with a more functional purpose. Kristina expresses that “she really couldn’t find a...suit to surf in where your breasts stay in place, and you feel elegant and look good, something that’s sporty and still looks good, (with) minimal design…".
So Gerda created a suit herself, with no thoughts of starting a swimwear company, just the desire to have a suit that fitted her needs and also looked stylish. Kristina adds “and this is how Makara was born. For comfort, for practicality, for elegance, for empowering women.”
With its clean lines and minimal designs, other women in the water were quick to spot the unique cuts and performance of Gerda’s suit, and began lining up to request an order. Kristina adds the brand aims to help women “be free in the water… (it is) definitely geared towards adventurous women because yeah, you could wear it at a pool party BUT it is created for women that are very active in the water. “The suits totally hug your body, we use very high quality materials for the purpose of it to not slip off and you feel entirely free...".
On exploring their platforms and content and the communities that they support Makara’s roots and passion in empowering women is unequivocal. Kristina attests that “our whole vision is for women to be strong… I’ll tell you a little bit about my partner and I. We both have very strong characters, we’re very independent, were very career driven, but as well we try to be involved in women communities as well, and try to empower women.”.
Makara actively work to support local women’s communities in Bali, including supporting local motorcycle ride-outs, where women join together to ride and explore the island. An organic-cotton t-shirt was born out of this, addressing the needs of the riders; “we also just started an organic cotton line... the first t-shirt was created for girls that ride motorbikes. We called it the motor t-shirt…".
With a vision that includes developing and fostering women’s communnitues, banding together like-minded women Kristina explores that “we try to build relationships, and we donate clothing to women that cannot afford it that surf”. The content on their channels also illustrates their mission particularly in empowering and supporting local Indonesian women I ask Kristina to elaborate on this, on how she views the current state of men and women in the typically western countries, versus Indonesia.
“I still feel like we live in a man’s world whether it’s the United States, or England, or Indonesia…yes its different levels entirely, but I do feel like there’s that glass ceiling of women earning less than men…"
"In Indonesia especially … this …division between men and women where the traditional rules are so so hard to break out from, whereas you know in the united states or Europe if you’re a rebel and you just want to do what you want there’s a lot of people that would understand you and support you…".
"In Indonesia we felt like the social pressures are still extremely high due to maybe religion, social constructions, family traditions…we try to inspire women to follow their dreams and to tell them that if you want to be active and you want to achieve something for yourself, follow your dreams…".
I am interested to find out more exactly about how swimwear itself, how a product, can be directly empowering. It’s all good and well to claim this from a marketing perspective, but it we dial it down to the nuts and bolts, I was intrigued to find out how, aside from their mission statement, the products truly play a role in this? Kristina highlights that within their suits they do not use breast cups at all;
“We refuse, because we’re really about the natural beauty of a woman, and feeling comfortable and confident in the way we look...
Yes, we may have cellulite, yes we’re aging, every single day and minute, but we are very much about making women understand that confidence is really the key to happiness and achieving something, and actually following your dreams, learning to stand up on that board…".
"It’s about you being confident, and we don’t want to put the cups for example because it’s beautiful to show the breast that you have, not necessarily show them, it’s part of the design, it’s part of our vision”.
I find this refreshing, as for sure, we are assailed daily, even more so our modern day with the explosion of social media, of “perfect” women across all digital channels. I personally am almost thankful that my formative teenage years, when we can be susceptible to feeling practically self-conscious and confused, didn’t have the extra burden of social media showing me it’s version of what a beautiful woman looks like. Kristina agrees, adding that “You have this media image of a perfect image of a perfect woman with breasts that are standing up straight almost, no cellulite...but that’s not reality, that’s not the reality of most of us, I think everything media is doing especially the magazine covers, is unrealistic expectations of women that are being built. Then you have all these women running to plastic surgeons, trying to be that perfect photo shopped version of themselves which is just not possible. I think that takes away a lot from daily happiness of themselves”.
In terms of their belief in how confidence is the key to empowerment, Kristina delves a little deeper, exploring how happy women can be key to elevating women’s confidence:
"I think the more the happy women and happy people we have in this world the easier life will be for everyone… when you have hobbies, when you follow your heart…you know, you’re a happy woman (me-thanks Kristina) that will help others than try to compete and hurt another woman because you feel insecure…
"I think promoting this confidence and just saying whatever you see in the latest magazine is not realistic and the cups you want they are unnecessary, your breasts are not perfect…they ARE perfect!"
With such a powerful manifesto whose narrative is relayed across its digital channels, and sown into it’s very products, it seems like Makara’s industry-shaking vision has great plans, including elevating the importance of their work with organic, sustainable cottons. And with an active call encouraging women to band together, to explore hobbies, and to embrace their natural beauty, it is industry-shakers, renegades, creative and entrepreneurial women like Kristina and Gerda who are leading this charge of change that so sets souls like mine on fire.
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