Documented By: Sami Miró
Although, the impact designer doesn’t initially present that way. Swooning over her designs, scrolling her socials, spotting her in paparazzi shots, hell, chatting to her for this article, she is the picture of cool girl ease.
Since founding her eco-conscious label SMV in 2016, Sami has collected fans and followers from across the fashion landscape. Heritage tastemakers Vogue, Council of Fashion Designers of America, Harper’s Bazaar and Elle have fallen for her sense of style – one that can only be pulled off if it’s innate. She’s shown at Paris Fashion Week and has collaborated with the likes of Nike and Levis. Olivia Rodrigo, Selena Gomez, Halsey, Christina Aguilera, Kaia Gerber, Dua Lipa and the Jenner and Hadid siblings number among her army of "it girl" fans.
That wide audience are all drawn to Sami’s uncanny skill for playing with dichotomies. SMV’s deconstructed garments feel tech and futuristic, but still manage to flatter multiple body shapes. Riffs on vintage menswear slashed with mesh and body con elements are sexy and wearable; instant classics like nothing you've seen before. Informed by the current obsession with the 2000s, her work is forward gazing and expertly referencial. She (seemingly) effortlessly introduces elements that shouldn’t gel and makes them feel perfectly aligned. Which brings us back to that outsider status.
Growing up in San Francisco, Sami was raised against the duelling backdrops of expansive nature and the booming tech industry – both of which would influence much of her life and work. But before she found comfort in opposites she admits, “I was always different”.
Raised with her brother by a single father, she was a high achiever from the jump. Sami attended an exclusive private school on scholarship, excelled academically and stood out with her unique style. Although, like many gifted kids, social and scholastic admission didn’t automatically mean acceptance. “I started school at age three, growing up from preschool through getting my upper masters degree, I was always the only person of colour. The only black person or one of a very, very small handful," Sami says.
Documented By: Sami Miró
While that feeling of displacement was awkward, it was as much a motivator as a pain point. “I have a big learning disability. It took me a lot longer to do my schoolwork, to take tests [but] I never really looked at it as an ailment,” she remembers. “Instead, I knew [my dyslexia was helping] me to ultimately become this very thorough, hard working, driven person. Because there was this thing inside of me that I always wanted to prove myself.
“I remember in middle school one of my teachers telling me that I will never amount to anything because of the colour of my skin. That enduring racism stuck with me from a motivating standpoint.”
Success came early for Sami, although it was different to the kind she’s enjoying now. Despite having a prodigious touch for fashion – she spent her teens reworking family hand-me-downs, scouring thrift stores and pulling together upcycled fits to outdress her richer class mates – she obtained a bachelor's degree in marketing and a master's degree in global entrepreneurship. Initially gravitating towards her hometown's tech start up culture she spent four years working in marketing for a global consumer electronic company.
Even during her corporate years Sami had stood out for her ability to source and flip preloved pieces. She didn’t imagine this could be more than a hobby, but she still felt drawn to explore it. Despite having no traditional design experience she made the choice to move to LA in 2014 and see if she could once again make her outsider status work for her. Not surprisingly, that sense of displacement proved to be a secret weapon. “In fashion there's a trajectory, a way of doing it,” Sami says.
Documented By: Sami Miró
Which is exactly what she did. Though she still had a job with her tech startup, once in LA, she started educating herself on the different career paths in fashion. She worked on weekends interning for or assisting stylists. On paper, she entered the fashion world as a nobody. But with a career-minded and driven personality, mixed with a standout style, she knew she could be taken seriously. And soon she was.
“I quickly found the confidence – as early as my second day on set – to style and produce shoots on my own, so I really only assisted about five times before I began finding my own clients and jobs,” Sami, though she could boast this fact, humbly explains.
“Having work experience in an industry far from fashion and growing up with zero fashion culture made my perspective very authentic and unique to just me. There was no trend influence, it all came from within. My venture in fashion was all about real world experience only and learning first-hand by doing it myself.”
That’s not to say it happened without challenges. This is, after all, a place where nepotism runs rife and where success is synonymous with who you know. A lot of creatives who aren’t from moneyed or privileged backgrounds face enormous disadvantages when they try to break into these spaces, whether its film or fashion. But again, Sami had the self-belief to face that reality head on and persevere, which would eventually mould her into a well-rounded business owner.
“In all of the situations I've been in – whether it was only black person at school, a young woman of colour dressed crazy and weird in the tech world, or entering fashion as somebody who's has no education in it – [I’ve] just done it my own way.”
Safe to say, she’s long since done that. It didn’t take long for Sami’s original garments to attract the attention of LA stylists, creatives and celebs. One of whom was Selena Gomez. Sami and Selena had a mutual friend; they’d crossed paths a few times. The singer and actress called on Sami to design over 30 outfits for the Asia leg of her 2016 Revival tour. The order meant dressing the star on stage, as well as creating garments for her to travel in and wear during her downtime, alongside looks for her dancers. “[Selena] was ready for a big change and took a big risk in supporting such a newbie like myself on a global project,” Sami says, admitting – perhaps for both of them – that “it certainly paid off”.
Documented By: Sami Miró
Things snowballed from there. The designs for Selena’s tour put Sami’s work on an international level for celebrities and their stylists to see. Bella Hadid became another early supporter, wearing Sami’s designs within her first year. The flow of relationships and inquiries went “through the roof”. People started to see Sami’s vision – or at least believed enough in her to get behind it. “The biggest thing was that it gave me, a girl who cared about the planet and with an entirely new perspective on fashion, the confidence very early on that I was on the right path, that my approach was right and that my designs were sought after.” By 2020 this passion project that she’d entered into with no formal education or experience had become her full time job.
That’s the short story of how Sami Miró launched SMV. Like everything about her, the resulting brand was more thoughtful, accomplished and ambitious than your usual fashion-darling. As already demonstrated, Sami’s atypical, self-taught background did more than deliver a singular perspective. It offered skills that would allow her to set new standards of style, substance and impact.
Knowing Sami's background, it seems obvious she would build a business imbued with environmental values. She's been experimenting with upcycling garments since she was a kid, growing up in progressive and idealistic San Francisco where an individual's connection to, and impact on, the earth was hard to ignore. But when she launched SMV, the intersection of fashion and sustainability wasn't exactly a mainstream topic. So, again, she found herself needing to think beyond the normal ways of doing things.
From the outset, SMV has avoided contributing to the fashion industry's massive issues around textile waste and pollution by establishing its own supply chains for vintage, deadstock, eco-friendly and ethical materials. Its dying process uses minimal water and non-toxic products. Sami also makes sure she offers the people making her clothes at every level of the supply chain the same amount [of due] respect. All production is carried out locally by family owned businesses who are treated and paid well. Incredibly, in a world of mass, globalised production, the entire SMV supply chain exists within a 15-mile radius of the brand’s LA office.
Beyond the impact her manufacturing choices can have on the planet, Sami is aware of another valuable resource at her fingertips – attention. In particular how the love for her work can be channelled into new forms of communication, education and even activism.
Documented By: Sami Miró
Fans of SMV are drawn to the brand for its values – and because the clothes are great. Which is important to Sami because it means that everyone who interacts with her brand walks away with its message and a greater understanding of fashion's role in climate change. “Sometimes I’ll post something on my Instagram that has to do with eco consciousness and fashion. And people are like, ‘Oh, my gosh, I didn't know that fast fashion was bad. [That] it's ruining our planet. I didn't know.’”
A lifetime away from the gifted teenager who was told she'd never amount to anything, this perpetual outsider now finds herself in an interesting space, at the centre of everything. As a celebrated cult designer with innovative and inspiring production processes, brands, celebrities and tastemakers are desperate to step into her world.
But it's here – with a reach that is continuing to grow and widen – that Sami comes to the impasse that so many idealistic creatives face. “How can we continue to do what we do when we scale? What does that look like? And how do we continue to instil the ethos of the brand that I started with when I was able to survive just creating one off one's? That's the point we're at now because we have a lot higher demand.”
Sami's simple solution is control. Not just taking it, but maintaining it. “I'm 100 per cent the owner [of SMV]. I have no investors. It’s on me. I don't have anybody saying, ‘Hey, buy this fabric that isn't sustainable but is 80 percent cheaper than the eco fabric’.
That approach and resolve is working. Though, despite the individuals, publications and companies pushing to collaborate, Sami's not rushing to join the pack. “The number of jobs I decline are much higher than the jobs that I take. That’s really important to me … it's about discerning who is authentic and who isn't. Who is making strides [to be better] and who is not. And who is using me as a sprinkle of greenwashing.”
After all, if life has taught her anything, it’s that it pays to be an outsider.