MALL on building alternative spaces for independent designers

MALL on building alternative spaces for independent designers

The NYC atelier makes room for the weird & original

The most interesting fashion to surface in pop culture no longer comes from big-name designers. Arguably, in-looks have always originated from street culture and young artists making clothes for themselves and their friends— looks which swim up the ranks of influence to reach commercial, big brand, and high fashion labels to take prevalence in pop culture.  


The rise of social media over the past decade has given independent designers more credit where credit is due: more direct exposure, more eyes on original work. Celebrities wear and tag fits by smaller, more obscure artists; discovery platforms have become a fertile ground for fashion communities to coalesce and grow without as much industry pirating or gate-keeping.


Still, there remain huge issues within fashion of finding the original designers behind the most compelling  looks, and of artists’ ideas being plagiarized by brands with greater clout or influence. Coming out of lockdown, as we experience a revitalized longing for community and connection, spaces like MALL NYC are offering new, more artist-minded shopping experiences to those invested in experimental fashion circles. These alternative spaces (often run out of studios, communal workspaces, apartments, bedrooms) maintain the self-made spirit of Depop stores and Instagram communities with an added emphasis on building relationships: creating communities that are less chaotic than the wildlands of social media feeds and generating safe spaces for ingenuity and original design.  

Tótem talks with Laura Banas of MALL NYC below.   


Tótem: Why did you start MALL? 

Laura: I started MALL as a way to showcase the next wave of creatives. As someone who loves fashion and invests a lot in the culture around fashion, I felt like my options for accessing independent brands were so limited! I was also really craving community (especially during the pandemic) and I wanted to connect directly with the designers behind the pieces I was lusting after.


Tótem: Tell me about building relationships and networks with independent fashion designers, photographers, customers. 

Laura: MALL is a community-centered platform, and creative relationships are at the heart of the project. I pull so much inspiration from the designers, stylists, photographers, and other creatives I collaborate with. A lot of my relationships in fashion started on social media, and turned into IRL friendships. Natasha Bock was one of the first stylists I reached out to via Instagram, over a year ago. She’s been with me since day one, and we’ve both grown together through this project. It’s scary to put yourself out there creatively, but reaching out to new people opens up opportunities and can be so rewarding. I have so much love for the independent fashion community – it’s vibrant, beautiful, and welcoming. 


Tótem: What’s the importance of sustainability, inclusivity, and independence at MALL?

Laura: The designers I choose to work with incorporate progressive views of sustainability and self-expression into their work. I source pieces that are one-of-a-kind, made with vintage materials, or have a unique story behind them. 


Mila Sullivan is an LA based designer who sources really unique vintage textiles, like bedsheets and aprons. She creates by draping different fabrics directly over a form, which gives her pieces a really beautiful collage feel.


Krystal Deans is another sustainable designer with a zero-waste ethos. She created these stretchy patchwork tanks for MALL with offcut fabric so nothing would be wasted. I love seeing these styled on women, men, and non-binary folx. I look for pieces that can be styled in different ways, by all different people.


Tótem: What do you see as the future of fashion and retail spaces? 

Laura: Sustainable fashion (and what that actually means) will continue to evolve and progress rapidly over the next few years. Trends will still exist, but I think in terms of style we are moving towards an “anything goes” ethos. Be unique, and be weird if you want to! Retail spaces will be more transparent with consumers, and more connected to the design processes behind the pieces.


Tótem: Why was it important to you to put these designers in a common space? 

Laura: A common space increases discovery and visibility, and it allows us to share one another’s success. We can build each other up in that way. If one designer gets discovered, more will get discovered through association – it’s not a competition!


Tótem: What do you hope for MALL and other alternative fashion spaces coming out of the pandemic? 

Laura: I plan to continue growing and connecting with people through MALL as we emerge from quarantine. Without giving away too many surprises, I’m planning new collabs with designers that I am really excited about. I’m also starting to think about pop-ups, and what that looks like post-pandemic.

Check out Mall: &

Photo: Hedi Stanton @hedistantonphotography

Stylist: Natasha Bock @tashiejane

Models: Alishanee @alishaneee and Danielle Mareka @daniellemareka

By Alex Free

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