Mimi Shim is a one-woman design and sewing studio that provides various services, including alterations, custom sewing and product development. After a long career as a company designer in New York City, she created her own studio in Denver where she keeps sustainability at the forefront of design.
From Company Designer to Independent Creator
Shim is a Denver native who moved away to study fashion at the School of the Art Institute in Chicago. Growing up, she learned sewing basics from her mom and grandmother. Her skills advanced in high school as she learned fashion design, pattern drafting and sewing at local fashion education programs.
After college, Shim worked in L.A. and then New York City in the fashion design industry. She worked for Saja for 5 years before it downsized and rebranded into a bridal company. She continued to work for the company doing bridal alterations but found she had more time to indulge in personal projects.
“In conjunction with designing as a career, I started sewing at home, posting things online and doing markets there,” Shim said. “That was when I started the basis of what I do now, but I didn’t know that yet. I was just trying to survive and kill my time.”
Eventually, Shim transitioned to doing knitwear design for two sweater design companies in New York City. It’s rare for designers to cross over into new areas of design, but she was able to pick up on the ins and outs of knitwear design while on the job.
Shim’s experience as a designer in the heart of the American fashion industry opened her eyes to the consequences of mass production and overconsumption. She would work on pushing out numerous seasonal collections throughout the year, including spring, summer, transition, fall, winter and resort. Once designs were sent off to factories, she noted that products seldom came back right the first time, which would lead to even more production.
“I saw everything up close because I was in a small company where you’re involved in most of the process,” Shim said. “When we couldn’t sell the overstock, we ended up throwing away so much work and materials.”
Shim has always been an environmentally-conscious individual. Throughout her life, she’s practiced composting, as well as buying and driving less to minimize her carbon footprint. Therefore, it was difficult to work in an industry where ethical and sustainable practices weren’t the norm.
“It’s kind of like you just accept it as the way it is,” Shim said. “I honestly didn’t start thinking about it until starting my own fashion business. I like to live my life a certain way, so I thought, why don’t I apply that to my business too?”
Sustainability in the Studio
Shim harkened back to her Denver roots in 2015 after having her child. While working in production management for a children’s accessories company in Denver, Shim continued to make a name for herself as an adept sewer.
“My sewing skills have always been a common thread in my work. So when I knew I’d start my own business I wanted it to be sewing-based,” Shim said.
After posting on Instagram about a jacket she designed for herself, Shim’s social media blew up with requests for her design. Eventually, she was also asked to create custom garments and do alterations for personal stylists’ clients. Shim took this opportunity to implement sustainable practices into her work by only sourcing from companies whose ethics she felt comfortable with.
“I wanted to make sure I sourced from brands and fabric lines that had the same ethical principles as I did,” Shim said. “I paid attention to what they did to contribute less waste and have a smaller carbon footprint.”
Shim also tries to create patterns that use most of the fabric so she’s not wasting the material. The fabric scraps she doesn’t need are turned over to a company that uses them to create home insulation.
Now, Shim primarily works for local companies that are like-minded in their approach to sustainability and advocacy for slow fashion. She works as an in-house designer for The Oula Company, does small batch sewing production for Eli & Barry and works on design development and production with Meçlâ. She’s continuously inspired by the companies she works with and embraces new challenges in her craft.
“I’m proud whenever I feel like a project is a big challenge to create. There may be tears in the middle of it, but I see my progress,” Shim said. “Once it’s on its way to being finalized, it makes me feel more confident.”
In her spare time, Shim works on personal sewing projects like altering her old clothing to make it feel brand new. She also designs special pieces for herself from time to time.
“I’m inspired by not being able to find something to wear. If I can’t find something in a specific fabric or shape, then that’s a big motivation for me to create it myself,” Shim said.
Reconstructing an Industry
Due to her first-hand experience with the pitfalls of standard fashion industry practices, Shim is eager to see change sweep the fashion scene. Her biggest aspiration for the fashion world is to someday see ethical standards implemented in all aspects of clothing production. She’s also hopeful that companies will start to produce less and pay more attention to quality.
“I hope that the fashion industry standards change from always wanting more and wanting it as cheap as possible,” Shim said. “I think it’s important to design for longevity instead of short-term.”
Though Shim acknowledged it will take a long time to see an entire industry change its ways, she expressed hope for it moving forward.
“There’s a lot of light in the industry too,” Shim said. “I feel like a lot of the negative can overshadow the great things people are doing.”