m.i.a. talks exclusively about her first ever merch collection

Following last week’s launch, the rapper, singer-songwriter, record producer, and activist invites us into the world of OHMNI.

by Steve Salter; photos by Regina Lemaire-Costa
17 August 2017, 11:03am

Now, fans will remember that back in November, the leader of the Fly Pirates encouraged a DIY approach to album merchandise by opting to share AIM's logos with her followers on social media. "Can't even being myself to make merch -- destroying environment and enslaving peeps can I just give u a vector and you print on ur T/hoodie," Maya Arulpragasam posted on Twitter, before sharing them just days later. 11 months after the album's release and nine after she encouraged DIY designs, Maya has teamed up with Astrid Andersen to collaborate on her first full collection of accessible and sustainable merchandise. Uniting her own genre defying, border breaking craft with that of the Danish-born, London-showing designer's, the pair dreamt up the first collection of OHMNI in 24 hours. Consisting of T-shirts, tracksuits and anoraks -- the latter of which is made from 100% recycled plastics -- to complement her 2016 album, AIM. With prices ranging from £50 to £120, OHMNI, which means everywhere, is for everyone.

As she shares the Regina Lemaire-Costa shot look book, Maya talks us through the fan pressure to release the collection, her family's ties to fashion, her desire to create an accessible and ethical line and her hopes and dreams for OHMNI's future.

What was the catalyst for Ohmni?
People have been asking for merch for about 4 years. Even with the roll out of the album and when the videos are released, I've tried to avoid timelines, it has to feel organic. The pressure from my fans was building up and I'm not able to sell the stuff at festivals and that was frustrating -- If I try to put merch at the stand in a festival then I've got to go through all this corporate red tape. The idea and the message [behind it] is that it's just another component of me as an artist and the whole 'fly pirate', the whole uniting people thing has got a confident aesthetic to it.

Did fans give you an idea of what they wanted?
They want the 'Fly Pirate' thing because they're all pirates but there are complications with that which we are working through. It's so exciting that we've got this together so quickly -- I haven't really dealt with fashion for a long time. It's opened a whole door in my brain! I feel like I want to put everything on the website, just everything in my house.

What drew you to Astrid Andersen specifically? How closely did the two collaborate?
I got in touch with Astrid because I liked her recent collection and we decided to do something really spontaneous, it took 24 hours. We have mutual appreciation and she's 'no bullshit' and works really fast, which is really exciting. Everything reminded me of the work I did around the AIM album; it's like if you squashed all the videos together you kind of get the aesthetic of the collection she made. The fabric reminded me of flags and the fabric I wore in the P.O.W.A video.

Does it kind of take you back to your DIY days?
It does. I literally thought about having my mom on the sofa on the sewing machine, in the next room.

Is your house inundated with boxes at the moment?
Yeah! I'm going to go through them one by one and starting to put them on the web store. I have to go through the archive because there's some amazing things in there, and I don't get why I'm not using it or wearing it. Maybe it's better for the soul to just recycle things -- that's part of the ethos too. Ohmni means everywhere, so it's the opposite of M.I.A. I like that it's always in contradiction so I can be both M.I.A. and Ohmni at the same time, haha.

It's a powerful thing as well. What does OHMNI mean to you?
Well, 'ni' or 'nee' means you in Tamil and 'OHM' is a vibration in Vedic. But it's also the way we say yes to everything, so it could just mean yes you, or it can mean Ohm you. It's bringing something nice and positive to people. And also the other meaning of Ohm can be, you know the symbol of resistance, the electric current.

You really went deep, we love that. It sounds like you went full circle in a way, from M.I.A. to the opposite...
Everywhere. It feels like it's like a new phase.

Can you tell us a little about your family's relationship with fashion?
Mum has five brothers, and three of them went into fashion. My uncle was the first ever brown person to have a market stall at Petticoat Lane Market in the mid 60s and he became a millionaire. He was the first Sri Lankan success story in the creative industry -- a legend in Sri Lanka and he's the one who helped us to come over as refugees. I guess fashion has always been a part of who I am because of him.

With prices ranging from £50 to £120, the price point for a designer collaboration is reasonable. How important was it for the merch to be attainable as well as sustainable?
I've always encouraged my fans not to be into money or status symbols. It isn't part of my philosophy to sell something so expensive. I think considering it's Astrid Andersen and it is a one off collection, it's really reasonable. I've previously put the designs out so my fans can make it themselves and as we developed this idea, I felt cornered about how to do merch ethically and continuously. I didn't know where to go with it, and then Parley for the Oceans asked if I wanted to work with them.

What's next for OHMNI? How would you like the line to grow?
I'm going to do more collaborations with different designers, but no matter who I'm working with, we'll use ethical fabrics. The recycled plastic bottle fabric from The Parley from the Oceans is a limited edition that I'm trying out. If anything, I'd like to expand that. I think it's nice to bridge the gap and be the person that brings ethical fabrics to designers who might not already be using them, and also be open to them introducing things to you, but yeah I'm always open to that, whichever way it works really.



Text Steve Salter
Interview and photography Regina Lemaire-Costa

Ethical fashion
Astrid Andersen
Regina Lemaire-Costa