When il-lokal asked Saz Mifsud to describe her fashion brand as if it were a real person, she immediately conjured the image of an individual defined by ageless grace, eagerness to live freely and who likes to express their individuality through their clothing style.
Saz Mifsud's fashion brand, named after its founder, comes forward with a clear message and an instantly recognisable bold aesthetic made up of vivid colours and nature-inspired patterns. In 2019, Saz expanded her range of products, adding a collection of leather bags, purses and vibrant silk jackets to her core collection of silk scarfs and neckerchiefs. Early 2020 saw the opening of the first Saz Mifsud boutique in Sliema. In conversation with Saz herself, il-lokal found out how the young designer and entrepreneur combined her artistic background with a feel for business to create one of Malta’s most promising and well-known designer brands.
il-lokal: What led you to start a brand under your name and what's the story behind Saz Mifsud?
Saz: Starting out as a painter, I longed to see the rich colours from my artworks on the clothes I wore. This desire inspired me and led me to the next step. I started creating digital collages using my own paintings and photographs. I then digitally printed my designs onto pure silk and was blown away by the richness of the colourful silks. A few years down the line, I still design each and every piece of the fabrics myself as this process is where my brand identity lies. Once the designs are printed, the silks are handcrafted into colourful range of scarves, clutch bags and headbands.
il-lokal: What was the biggest challenge you faced when you were first starting up?
Saz: Anticipating what quantities I would need. It was tricky to know what would sell and what wouldn’t, so this involved experimentation and with time it became clearer. You never know how people are going to react to a new product. I tried to minimise risks at the beginning; not to put all my eggs in one basket. We’d launch a product in small quantities, then if it proved successful we’d produce larger quantities at one go the next time round.
il-lokal: How does being an artist and designer impact your outlook on business and entrepreneurship, if at all?
Saz: Being both a designer and an entrepreneur can sometimes be the biggest challenge. I want to develop my artistic skills, however, at the same time I need to think about what will sell and allow the business to grow. I find that being an artist in business is a bit like a game of tug of war - business on one side, artistry on the other. I want to produce items that are true to my artistic vision without compromising sales and this can be tricky. However, I have found that sometimes you might think that you need to go for more conservative, commercial items in order to sell when in fact people are really interested in the brand because it's unique and different. Many times I have to trust my artistic instincts and take the plunge.
il-lokal: How do you prototype new products? Could you let us into your creative process?
Saz: More often than not, prototyping starts more than half a year before the product is launched. Once a design is ready, we can go back and forth with our suppliers until every element of the product has been thought-out and assessed. Most times we create several different samples before we decide on the final design details. We then create the products in their actual fabrics and show them to a small group of people who can have their say as to what they like or what they feel could be improved. We then go back to the supplier with the final notes, ready for production to begin! It’s a lengthy process, but doing this helps us understand how people might react to and use our products.
il-lokal: This year you opened your first boutique. Can you share some of the unexpected challenges you faced when moving into a physical shop?
Saz: Running an online shop is much less costly than running a physical shop. Running a physical store means that you have to pay monthly rent, staff and several other expenses. Therefore sales need to not only cover the product cost but have to cover these costs too. It's riskier, but if successful, it can generate more revenue by spring-boarding the business onto a new platform.
il-lokal: Before having a physical location, your main sales channel was e-commerce? What are your thoughts on online shopping in Malta?
Saz: The popularity of online shopping is growing in Malta. It takes the first online shopping experience to realise just how easy and efficient it can be (of course, only if it’s a good online shopping experience!). My online shop was an invaluable business portal to me and the sooner other retailers do the same, the more efficient we can all be together. Many retailers haven’t focused on their online shops until now. However, due to the current situation, retailers have been forced to close - leaving them with online shopping as their only means of selling.
Whereas before you’d spend an hour getting to and from a fabric shop and at least another half an hour in it, now with a simple Facebook message, email or via an online shop, your fabric is prepared for you and delivered straight to your door. For the client, this means a huge amount of time and effort saved. I’m not discounting the importance of keeping a physical shop - it can be indispensable when people want to see the quality of the products first-hand, however, I really believe that taking a business online will propel it into the future and ensure further growth.
il-lokal: Could you tell us more about the origins of Your Scarf, Her Scarf initiative?
Saz: We cannot always control what happens to us and our loved ones. Unfortunately, most of us know someone who has, or has had a serious illness and part of their treatment involved losing their hair. This is so tough for most women to process and experience. With the Your Scarf, Her Scarf campaign I want to help the beautiful women around us feel glamorous – not just in joyous times but in tough times too. This is why for every 20 scarves we sell, we’re donating a headscarf to a woman undergoing treatment.
il-lokal: Do you have one piece of advice for someone wanting to open their own business?
Saz: The product starts with you. If you create something you believe in, something that comes from the heart, people feel this when experiencing your work. The passion lies in the detail - making sure all the pieces of the puzzle fit perfectly together to give your clients a great experience all round. This starts the moment the customer walks into the shop or visits your online store and continues even after the customer has opened and used your products. The customer experience never ends.
One book every aspiring entrepreneur should read?
Start Something that Matters by Blake Mycoskie
Which are your 3 favorite independent businesses in Malta and why?
Eclecticist - Owner Enrika puts such thought into every piece in the shop. It is curated to perfection. Go there for unique gifts and good quality, eclectic furnishings.
Coach and I - A boutique focused on some of the most beautiful sustainable and ethical clothing and cosmetics brands.
Fly the Fly Vintage - A super chic vintage shop in Sliema selling both vintage and vintage-inspired clothing.
You’ve asked for 3 but there are tons more and I feel guilty about having to choose! Shopping local has never been easier or nicer.
Why is it important to support local businesses?
Because of the passion that goes into the business. Local businesses work with gusto. Many sell products they truly believe in. They want to inject the market with what they believe will elevate and beautify it. I like to shop local to understand the story behind the products I’m buying. When a boutique has curated each and every piece in the store it becomes a truly special place.
55 Triq il-Kbira, Sliema
Edited by Manuela Zammit.