Phoenix-based fashion designer Misha Mendicino didn’t go to design school.
In fact, she spent the majority of her life in aviation. It wasn’t until 2013 that she decided to touch ground and take her creative side to new heights.
“I really wanted to create something that was totally me, that just speaks to my soul and I could outwardly project that in clothing that all women could wear and enjoy, and get the same feelings and inspiration,” she muses.
Mendicino says she spent years looking for the designs she had in her head. She scoured clothing racks and online stores to no avail. Eventually, after a fruitless search for the elusive garments she sought after, she decided to take matters into her own hands and design them herself.
Her time as a flight attendant, and eventually as a commercial pilot, influenced her immensely. Though she now calls the desert home, she says she is a “coastal, beach girl at heart.” Originally from Santa Barbara, she lived in Maui before she relocated to Phoenix for flight school.
“I always say that Hawaii is where I left my heart,” she reminisces.
This is a sentiment that she says translates through her clothing. Her designs feature striking color combinations, “simple, elegant tropical prints,” and comfortable, flowy fabric.
Mendicino says she draws inspiration from everywhere she has visited, including Europe, Asia and islands like Hawaii, Puerto Rico and the Bahamas.
In 2014, Mendicino reached out to Phoenix Fashion Week to be a part of the runway show. They informed her that to participate, she had to go through the Emerging Designer Boot Camp. The designer says she was initially turned off by the idea because it sounded too much like Project Runway. Mendicino says she took a leap of faith and submitted a last-minute application.
She was one of 14 designers selected for the Boot Camp. Every week for four months, she went through an intensive program that taught her and the other designers how to develop and maintain the backend of their fashion business, an experience Mendicino says she will always cherish.
“I learned a lot and it really just reinforced what I thought I knew, having never been in fashion before,” she says. “It did reinforce that I was doing things the right way and how to add to it and come up with different strategies to really maintain the business and make it profitable and sustainable.”
The skills she honed during her time in the program allowed her to win Phoenix Fashion Week as Designer of the Year in 2014.
Mendicino says her latest collection draws a lot of inspiration from South Africa and Bali, which is demonstrated through a mix of tropical and tribal prints. Her latest line, Evolution, came out at the end of August. The collection features a versatile combination of dresses, kaftans, rompers and ponchos.
“I am evolving with the brand, and taking more abstract prints and designs and just creating a different look,” she says. “I would say that we’re expanding, we’re broadening the brand to just create a lot of different pieces that I think a lot of different women will like.”
The designer says there is more to “feeling” a fabric than physically touching it.
“Fabric represents the mold,” she says. “Like an artist would see a piece of clay and they want to do sculpture out of it, I think the same way in fabric to bring out the style that’s meant to be with that fabric.”
Along with the colorful, tropical element of her designs, there is another component that remains consistent in her clothing.
Mendicino donates 5% of her revenue to the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust in Kenya. It is the world’s largest rescue and rehabilitation center for elephants.
“I’ve always loved elephants,” she says, “My mother collected them when I was growing up, so she was very instrumental in my love for elephants and I really associate the elephants with my mother…I have that tremendous love for the both of them.”
The elephant was a constant trope in many of Mendicino’s initial designs and has remained a permanent fixture ever since. In fact, her logo features an illustrated elephant with its trunk turned upward, a symbol of good luck.
“Each one of our pieces has always had an embroidered elephant at the nape of the neck or somewhere on the garment, sometimes you see it, sometimes you don’t, but just knowing that it’s always there signifies an authentic Misha Mendicino piece,” she explains.
In the beginning, Mendicino was also printing most of her own fabric. She says her latest collection features more sourced fabrics.
“It’s a big change from the last collection because I was printing all my own fabric and doing all my own prints,” she says. “It was labor intensive for sure and a lot goes into it, but I feel that this year is just the start of a whole new life for the brand.”
She describes designing as “the fun part,” a portion of her profession that is often glamorized. She says people tend to forget that fashion is a business. The majority of her time is spent marketing and driving sales. The recent launch of her app, Misha Mendicino Designs, has helped with that aspect.
Mendicino’s clothing is available in 65 stores worldwide, including boutiques in California, Florida, Michigan, Puerto Rico, the Bahamas and Arizona.
“In the next couple years I want to be in over 250 boutiques,” she says. “We just want to expand and keep growing…but we really want to build up Arizona because this is my hometown now, we really want to be that household name in Arizona so that’s what we’re working on doing this season.”