Set big goals. If you have a big dream, then you have to have a path to get there. Setting real goals that you want to achieve helps you focus. Setting big goals helps you go further.
As part of my series about young people who are making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Ariella Maizner.
At 11 years old, Ariella Maizner is one of the the youngest designers in the fashion industry. She launched T H E M E, a limited edition clothing collection, for style lovers and big dreamers at the age of 9. T H E M E stands for “The Me”.
Ariella always knew she wanted to be a designer and it didn’t take long for her to put her plan into action when she started sewing at 6 years old and soon after launched T H E M E for “The (dreamer in) me.” She hopes her collection and journey will inspire girls to be The (best) me they can be. She names each piece after a person that inspired her. She gives back a portion of her sales to non-profit organizations that help girls with the skills they need to go after their goals.
Ariella was the youngest designer presented at New York Fashion Week 2019. She has quickly won the hearts of major fashion influencers, designers, Hollywood & social media stars and most importantly teens, tweens, young girls and their moms. As Ariella is learning the business, she is sharing her journey with her community and encouraging them to follow their dreams too.
Follow her journey @theme_nyc
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit how you grew up?
I was born in New York City. I am a city kid and have always lived downtown. I also love visits to the country and the beach. I have always loved fashion and have had a strong sense of my own style. My mom says I dressed myself at 2 years old. The pieces I make reflect all sides of me. From going out and hanging out, to going to school. I started sewing when I was 6 years old. From the beginning, I loved to make, share and wear my pieces. People used to ask me what I want to be when I grow up, but I didn’t want to wait to be me.
I am the oldest of three kids in my family and we are all really close. They are very supportive of
T H E M E which means everything to me. After school I am typically hanging with friends, playing soccer, learning guitar, or sewing of course. I just started to learn digital design too. I have been fortunate to travel to really inspiring places and given the opportunity to experience all different types of cultures.
You are currently leading an organization that aims to make a social impact. Can you tell us a bit about what you and your organization are trying to change in our world today?
When I launched T H E M E, girls from across the country and around the world started to DM me all the time. They were encouraged to start their own business and go after their own passion, because of me! That felt really amazing and I wanted to help them and reach more girls that might not have the access to great mentors, family or teachers to do what I have done. Usually the girls want advice on how to get started and how to “go big.” I am lucky to have a supportive family and many amazing mentors that have taught me about business and fashion. I want to help other girls follow their dreams too.
Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?
Living in NYC, I am very lucky to have had incredible access to some of the best designers and entrepreneurs in the world. When I started THEME, I did it because I loved design. But when it started to grow, I knew I needed to learn more about the business side. Meeting with mentors has helped me learn how to thoughtfully grow T H E M E and how to give back too.
I learned about the non-profit, Gyrl Wonder this Spring. It felt like a perfect cause to support as it equips young women of color with the toolkit necessary to turn passions into a career, just like I have.
Many of us have ideas, dreams, and passions, but never manifest it. They don’t get up and just do it. But you did. Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were actually going to step up and do it? What was that final trigger?
When I was 7 I was determined to make my own dress to wear as a Flower Girl in a wedding. I wanted to wear something that reflected me and my style. I felt so confident walking down the aisle in something I made myself. The reaction I got from the guests at the wedding made me feel really good. I knew I wanted to make an entire collection of pieces to wear to school, special events or just to hang out in. And, I wanted other girls to be able to wear my pieces too!
Many young people don’t know the steps to take to start a new organization. But you did. What are some of the things or steps you took to get your project started?
I would say first make sure you do something you really love. Starting a business is a lot of fun, but it is also a lot of work. So make sure you do something you are passionate about. Second, ask for advice and be open to learning. I have learned so much since launching T H E M E. Third, be kind and be you. Don’t try to be something you aren’t. Finally, have purpose and be thankful. I think it’s so cool to know I am inspiring people of all ages. And, I really want to reach more people and help others follow their dreams too.
Most importantly, you don’t have to wait till you are a grown up to start!
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?
So many interesting things have happened! One of the best moments so far was presenting my collection at New York Fashion Week in 2019. I loved seeing so many people come together from my community to support me. It was a magical night to see people of all ages inspired and wearing T H E M E, pieces I made by hand!
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson or take away you learned from that?
Actually, it is sort of what I am now known for. I started out by sewing every single piece by hand. Everything was one of a kind. And, when I posted the designs on Instagram my community wanted to buy them. But I didn’t have the access to a manufacturer to make them and I wasn’t able to make more than one of each because each piece took me so much time and care.
But back in December of 2018, I tie dyed t-shirts. When I posted these and my followers asked to buy them, I realized I could actually make more than one at a time myself. I started getting orders over DMs on instagram. So I started tie-dying on my roof in NYC or outside when I was upstate. I wasn’t an expert in tie dying. I just had fun with the dye and tried new things. My pieces came out really cool and different than any other tie dye out there. Soon I couldn’t keep the items in stock. And, that’s when I realized I had a business!
None of us can be successful without some help along the way. Did you have mentors or cheerleaders who helped you to succeed? Can you tell us a story about their influence?
Yes, I am so lucky to have several really incredible mentors including my mom and dad! I have been fortunate to have connected with successful and caring leaders in the fashion industry that have given me their time, friendship and advice. They encourage me and believe in me. As T H E M E has grown , I am getting to learn about the business side and all the logistics that go into it. It is pretty incredible to go from sewing something I like to seeing it at some of my favorite stores or shipped around the world to customers. I learned that you need smart people to help you if you want to succeed. You can’t do it all on your own!
Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?
Since I launched Theme I have seen so many girls launch their own business. Many who have reached out to tell me T H E M E was the reason they started! Launching a new idea on social media platforms in today’s world is sorta easy. Anyone can just make a new handle and post photos. But building a business, a community and a brand takes a lot of work. I think people dont always realize that. I get lots of questions about how I started, built my website, got into store etc. I wanted to help others learn how to do these things too!
I am lucky to have access and advice and I wanted to give back to others that don’t have that same access. So for International Women’s Day in March of 2020, I hosted an event with some incredibly successful women and gave advice to women of all ages about building business and believing in themselves.
Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?
I am more of a creative person and sort of soft spoken. I’ve had the opportunity to share my collection in board rooms with some of the biggest fashion executives, designers and founders. All of them have shown me compassion and honesty. They each have taken the time to teach me something from their journey, that has helped me with my own.
I am lucky to go to an incredible public school in NYC. But what building T H E M E has taught me is that there are certain skills you can’t learn in a book. You have to learn by doing and from mentors. I think it would be incredible for schools to launch mentorship programs and teach business and social impact at an early age. It would be so cool if more kids could have a chance to launch their own business.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
1. Be you and love what you do. Starting a business is fun but it is a lot of work, so make sure you love what you do and are passionate about it.
2. Set big goals. If you have a big dream, then you have to have a path to get there. Setting real goals that you want to achieve helps you focus. Setting big goals helps you go further.
3. Have fun. Make sure you find the fun in everything you do! And, to be with the people you love the most!
4. Be kind. You never know what someone may be going through. Be kind to everyone, help people out.
5. Ask for help. To get where you want to go, you will need the help of really smart and giving people. Learn from them!
If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?
Honestly it sounds selfish, but I personally get so much out of helping others.. it inspires me and makes me feel so good.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
Charli Damelio. This spring she posted a video wearing my T H E M E hoodie. Her video was a message about anti-bullying and how it hurt her feelings when people said hurtful things about her. It was such an important message and I admire her for being honest about her feelings in such a public way. I would love a chance to meet with her and talk about how we can all help to stop bullying and be more kind.
How can our readers follow you online?
on instagram & tik tok @theme_nyc and theme-nyc.com
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!