Scrolling becomes an act of intimacy when glossing over Maimoun’s website. Splayed in front of us, images of angelic muses wearing garments made by extraordinary makers invite us into their homes to lounge on banisters and urge us to join them in taking the scenic route on rustic wanderings. Clicking the play button on the bottom right hand of the screen, all of a sudden, heaven has a soundtrack. Yet god’s voice does not boom from a cloud shrouded throne or our computer’s half-blown-out speakers. Instead at this Brooklyn based e-shop, the role of stalwart creator is supplanted by the artful curator as Mina Alyeshmerni, its founder, reigns supreme over the exceptional selection of clothing and home goods. Mina weaves storytelling into every aspect of the shop’s personality so that shopping (let alone online shopping) becomes something experiential rather than simply transactional.
Translating from Persian to mean “the company of guests invited into the home for a gathering”, Maimoun manifests as both fantasy and as an anchor to Mina’s childhood growing up in Long Island. As one of two daughters born to Persian parents, she fondly recalls the nights spent under a candlelit glow as her parents hosted friends in their family living room. The importance of perpetuating tradition flickered as an array of characters breezed fluidly in and out of the the front door and in turn, her memory. Thus, through the shop and her vivid career working in a hot sprawl of roles in the fashion industry (ranging from merchandising, to personal shopping, to costume design), Mina has cultivated a maimoun of her own comprised of designers and friends turned family. Though Maimoun exists online, its presence retains a certain physiciality because Mina empathizes with the inherent multidimensionality of her customers. She focuses on their creating a conversation with them through interviews in the Dialogue section of the website and strives to create intimacy through education and knowledge. Here we dive into the world of Maimoun and take a seat at her table.
Lindsey: I always thought you guys were actually a brick and mortar so as I was digging deeper, I was so surprised to find out that Maimoun was just an e-commerce platform because its willful presentation and curation gave it such physicality. I’m wondering what your own personal definition of curation is given your diverse background working in the fashion industry?
Mina Alyeshmerni: For me curation is bringing to market some things that my customers aren’t coming into contact with much, it’s giving them something they might not expect and then growing them with me. I like to throw some challenges their way aesthetically, for instance say they like a market tote bag, but what about a market tote bag with a fish print or in a vinyl fabrication? Another thing I try to focus on is the aspect of educating the customer as well; whether it’s about how long it takes for some items to be made, what the inspiration for the collection was etc. this exchange is very important to me. With Maimoun, curation also comes with the photoshoots as well where we’re diving into the homes of these amazing women and understanding their worlds while featuring them in our Dialogue section on the site. While everything happens rather organically, it really is a multi-level, multi-facilitated kind of journey through it all.
Lindsey: Right, and I love this idea of dimensionality because the intimacy that you want your customers to feel when shopping online is tied directly to this act of sharing, conversing and the passing of knowledge. I know Maimoun also started as a conversation between friends that grew out of a desire to fill a void, to add something to the retail experience which was purely transactional when it could be very experiential.
Mina Alyeshmerni: Right yeah, the background behind the word Maimoun comes from the Farsi word that means “to host guests or company in your home” and I very much grew up around that concept, sharing in this intimacy. As far as growing out the store more, the Dialogue features have allowed us to immerse the customers into the physical setting of a space -- that is not actually the store -- through conversation. Yet, we found that we were limited a bit with this because we could only feature girls in New York and LA because that’s where I am present. So with that came the idea of how we could tie in women from all over the world while also adding to this ongoing conversation of what the store represents. Our answer was through a cooking series. We are going to be tapping woman all around the world on the shoulder and asking them to pick a recipe that they have known for a long time, either engineered on their own or held close within their own families, and to share that recipe with us along with a memory that is associated with the dish. It’s really meant to open up that conversation of heritage and ritual, which is again very much close to my heart. This will take us past that mainframe of what an e-commerce store actually is while filling in the areas of conversation, feeding yourself and feeding others literally, through this cookbook series but also through the Dialogue features as well. It always will continue to evolve for me, I’m not someone who thinks that we reached exactly where we wanted to be so let’s just keep this formula in place, it’s never been that way for me.
Lindsey: Right and in saying that I want to get a deeper understanding of what home means to you. When you say the words “heritage” and “rituals” those obviously mean so much to so many different people. Specifically for you, your grandmother was the first person to expose you to clothing and I really do feel like it does really start with those maternal levels of care, watching our mothers and grandmothers get dressed in the morning, to go out to dinner, whatever it is, it’s such a special thing.
Mina Alyeshmerni: Yes! For sure, it definitely started with my grandmother. Actually me and my sister grew up as a package duo for all these weddings as flower girls. We’re one year apart from each other so we were a pretty hot commodity growing up in the Iranian wedding scene [laughs] But with that came a real big exploration for me as I watched my grandmother sewing all these dresses we would wear. We would go to the fabric store, pick out the fabric, go through a bunch of magazines and I would shape the sleeve to the way I wanted and I remember that even at such a young age, I was so specific in my directions but it was such a collaboration with her too.
But as far as ritual and heritage and things like that, I grew up in a home where my parents loved to host, they loved to have parties, they loved to go to parties. From time to time there were these events called Shebeh Sher which translates to “Night of Song” which is a celebration of Iranian arts. There’s dancing, music, poetry, of course there’s food and they set up the seats in people’s homes like you are at a concert and everyone is performing, we even have a microphone [laughs] It draws a bigger and bigger crowd I’d say almost every year but it specifically ties back to my parents leaving Iran in 1979 and wanting to feel connected to their culture and the heritage there while sharing it with their children. When I was a kid though I just didn’t get it, didn’t like it, didn’t like being different but of course like over time you realize what actually is the purest thing, what’s real and feels natural and you come back to those roots and for me now it’s just completely enjoyable.
Lindsey: Right and going back a little to what you were telling me about Shebeh Sher, I feel like these life events, along with costume designing also played into your love of characters which in turn informs your buying process for Maimoun. Those who are coming to you for their purchases are seemingly looking for something more than just a functional white shirt or something because of this deeper understanding of clothing’s transformative nature don't you think?
Mina Alyeshmerni: Right, I grew up purchasing things that I never needed. I remember getting down on myself about that a bit because it was never like snow boots, utility wear, things that I actually required to live my life. They were always these sparkly, wild colored things or something that didn’t make complete sense. For my basics I would always steal them from my sister or from my mother and that’s how I made my outfits work. But as far as how I see Maimoun through building characters and creating a world of curation, I realize it’s totally an extension of who I was when I was younger. I don’t think anything has changed. Even when I go to market these days I think more so about what my customer will be enthralled by. It’s more so about me pushing their imagination and being able to say why wouldn’t you be interested in exploring something completely different? As far as the costume aspect of it, there is something real about putting on a pair of boots that maybe are thigh-high, or like putting on a jacket with roses embroidered all over it, or Gauntlett Cheng’s “Gobby Bomber” that has this print of drunken stars and puppies and things like that, it transforms you a bit. That for me is a feeling that I have always chased when shopping or when purchasing, just being a little bit thrilled by what I purchase. I always want to see the stranger pieces but within reason as well, I do keep in mind at the end of the day it is a business too but within the realm of possibility, I do play around as much as I can.
Lindsey: Right, yeah and when I’m at Dover Street Market, I always wonder who’s going to pick up that giant, structured Junya Watanabe puffer. I want to know who is this person and I want to talk to them and hear their story and as an e commerce retailer, do you feel like that is a part of the process you’re cheated out of a bit? How do you deal with that?
Mina Alyeshmerni: Yeah so I do. I tend to try to have as many conversations with my customers as possible. Generally it’s them reaching out either to ask about sizing on an item, or a specific question about an item or through an Instagram direct message, and in those interactions I really try to have that dialogue with them versus it being like heart emoji, thank you. Anytime a customer does reach out, I am so appreciative of it and typically those are the first emails that I write back to in the day.. Because I have felt cheated out of this experience a bit, I have to find ways to make this interaction tangible on both ends and I’ve done so through pop-ups and even with the Dialogue series and getting to meet some of the women we feature. I’m definitely continuing to explore different avenues of getting to know the extensions of the people representing the store, or the people interested and intrigued by the store and again, the cookbook series is going to be huge for that reason and maybe even a physical space is the answer to that down the line, we’ll see.
Lindsey: Totally and for so many of the brands you carry, especially those produced by emerging designers, having a physical space seems like such a luxury solely based on cost itself. I’m wondering as you are talking to designers about wanting to carry them, how do they feel about being a part of the diverse mix you’ve curated?
Mina Alyeshmerni: I think as far as the curation of brands, when I first opened the store I felt like I had to set a standard for what people could expect quality wise, which is where bigger designers like Maryam Nassir Zadeh entered the equation and gave an understanding for younger designers that this was the level of construction, attention to detail and quality that I intended to offer and this is the company they’d be amongst. I think it also set the standard for the customers because as they are coming into contact with a lot of unknown designers, they didn’t really know what they were paying for, especially through the guise of e commerce. From there building that community began with going through the designers and making sure I was honouring their work, and putting them in a setting where they felt that they had something unique to offer.. The conversations I have with some of my designers are incredibly personal, especially the ones that are in New York and Los Angeles and for me it’s more so about being able to offer feedback to those emerging designers regarding sell through and what worked well and all of that.
Lindsey: It’s almost like you are a consultant and an editor to this larger narrative of Maimoun as whole with each designer as a chapter in its story. From having your customers grow with you, to supporting each brand, to the Dialogue features, how important is it to you to feel like all components involved are telling the same story?
Mina Alyeshmerni: Right, so like I was saying before talking about the inspiration behind the collections and really taking the measures of educating the customer, this is important to me because as far as my shopping experience goes, I don’t feel like I go into a physical store and that level of education is there about where a certain piece came from, what the inspiration behind this print or collection was. I feel like that chunk of information reaches the buyer and then it doesn’t go beyond that. But to me it’s like how could it not? The customers should know that Priscavera’s collection was inspired by mortal kombat or J. Kim’s collection was inspired by a small island in South Korea where the last women are practicing the art of free-diving named Haenyeo -- these are the details that inform who it is that the designers are building a costume for.. so to speak.
Lindsey: Yeah totally. And as you’re collaboratively telling Maimoun’s story, I imagine a big part of it is also the customers. I’m wondering if you consider Maimoun to have a specific customer or if you don’t like to think of it that way? You’re bringing these really special pieces into the shop and it probably takes a certain person to have that level of appreciation for them in order to spend the money.
Mina Alyeshmerni: Honestly the customer that I shop for at market isa character I have made up in my mind and she evolves from season to season. So as far as fully describing her I don't think I can do that, but it is more like a gut feeling of specifically shopping for someone. It’s not as though I’m shopping for a group of people or a ton of individual customers, it’s really for this phantom character and she’s changing a bit from season to season but she still holds true enough for me to know exactly what to purchase when I go to those appointments. And every season it’s become easier to shop for her because I think I am understanding her more as well.
Lindsey: I love that! And as you’re buying these pieces that are a bit more out there, where does faith come in to interpose the inherent risk?
Mina Alyeshmerni: I would say the word risk was more real in the very beginning. Since then it has been more like going with my gut and now it’s been very intuitive. I feel strong sending in purchase orders and adding specific elements and categories to the store that maybe I didn’t tap into before. Of course with anything you are exploring and with bringing in so many new items into the store every single season there is that inherent risk involved but you do get to a place where you know it will work out. As the store has grown and evolved, the customer and the core audience has really stayed with the store from season to season and I in turn feel that connection and sense of comfort in being able to be like okay, that is a bit outlandish and a bit risky but I’m confident about it.