Scrolling becomes an act of intimacy when clicking through Maimoun’s website. Splayed in front of us are images of women wearing garments made by extraordinary makers. The play button on the bottom right of the screen offers up a heavenly soundtrack. At this Brooklyn based e-shop, the role of stalwart creator is supplanted by its founder, artful curator Mina Alyeshmerni. With an eye for clothing and home goods, Alyeshmerni weaves storytelling into every aspect of her shop’s personality, allowing the act of buying something to feel less transactional and more experiential.
Translating from Persian to mean “the company of guests invited into the home for a gathering,” Maimoun manifests as both fantasy and as an anchor to Mina’s childhood growing up on Long Island. As one of two daughters born to Persian parents, she fondly recalls the nights spent under a candlelit glow as her mother and father hosted friends in their living room. Through the shop—and her career working in the fashion industry in everything from merchandising to personal shopping to costume design)—Alyeshmerni has cultivated a maimoun of her own, comprised of designers and friends turned family.
Here, we dive into the world of Maimoun and take a seat at Alyeshmerni’s table.
I always thought Maimoun was a brick-and-mortar shop, so as I was digging deeper I was surprised to find that you’re only an e-commerce platform. Your willful presentation and curation gave your store such physicality. I’m wondering, what is your own personal definition of curation given your background working in the fashion industry?
“For me, curation is bringing things to market that my customers aren’t coming into contact with much; it’s giving them something they might not expect. I like to throw challenges their way aesthetically. Say they like a market tote bag, but what about a market tote bag with a fish print or in a vinyl fabrication?
“Another thing I try to focus on is educating the customer; whether it’s how long an item takes to be made, what the inspiration for the collection was, etc. This exchange is very important to me. With Maimoun, curation also comes with the photoshoots, where we’re diving into the homes of these amazing women and understanding their worlds. While everything happens rather organically, it really is a multi-level, multi-facilitated journey.”
I love this idea of dimensionality, because the intimacy you want your customers to feel when shopping online is tied directly to this act of sharing, conversing, and the passing of knowledge.
“The background behind Maimoun comes from the Farsi word that means “to host guests or company in your home,” and I very much grew up around that concept.
As far as growing out the store more, the Dialogue features have allowed us to immerse the customers into the physical setting of a space, that is not actually the store, through conversation. Yet, we found that we were limited a bit with this because we could only feature girls in New York and LA, because that’s where I am present. So with that came the question of how we could tie in women from all over the world. Our answer was through a cooking series. We are going to be tapping woman all around the world, asking them to pick a recipe they have known for a long time, either engineered on their own or held close within their own families, and to share that with us along with a memory associated with the dish. It’s really meant to open up that conversation about heritage and ritual, which is very close to my heart.”
When you say the words “heritage” and “rituals” those obviously mean so much to so many different people. Specifically for you, your grandmother was the first person to expose you to clothing, and I really do feel like it does really start with those maternal levels of care.
“It definitely started with my grandmother. My sister and I grew up as a package duo of flower girls. We’re one year apart, so we were a pretty hot commodity growing up in the Iranian wedding scene [Laughs]. But with that came a big exploration for me as I watched my grandmother sew all the dresses we would wear. We would go to the fabric store, go through a bunch of magazines, shape the sleeve the way I wanted…I remember that even at such a young age I was so specific in my directions. But it was such a collaboration with her, too.
“As far as ritual and heritage go, I grew up in a home where my parents loved to host—they loved to have parties and go to parties. From time to time, there were these events called Shebeh Sher, which translates to “Night of Song;” it was a celebration of Iranian arts. There was dancing, music, poetry, and food, and they set up the seats in people’s homes like you are at a concert. It specifically ties back to my parents leaving Iran in 1979 and wanting to feel connected to their culture while sharing it with their children. When I was a kid, I just didn’t get it; I didn’t like being different. But over time you come back to those roots.”
Going back a little to what you were telling me about Shebeh Sher, I feel like these life events, along with costume designing, played into your love of characters, which in turn informs your buying process for Maimoun. Those who are coming to you for their purchases are seemingly looking for something more than just a functional white shirt.
“I grew up purchasing things that I never needed. They were always sparkly, wild-colored things that didn’t make complete sense. For my basics, I would steal them from my sister or my mother.
“By creating a world of curation, I’ve realized Maimoun is an extension of who I was when I was younger. I don’t think anything has changed. It’s about me pushing [my customers’] imaginations.
As far as the costume aspect of it, there is something real about putting on a pair of thigh-high boots or a jacket embroidered with roses or Gauntlett Cheng’s “Gobby Bomber,” that’s printed with drunken stars and puppies and things like that—it transforms you a bit. That is a feeling I have always chased when shopping.”
When I’m at Dover Street Market, I always wonder who’s going to pick up that giant, structured Junya Watanabe puffer. I want to know who that person is and I want to hear their story. Do you feel like that is a part of the process you don’t get to experience because your store is only online?
“Yeah I do. I try to have as many conversations with my customers as possible. Generally, it’s them reaching out to ask about sizing or with a specific question about an item, and in those interactions I really try to have a dialogue with them versus it being like *heart emoji,* thank you!
“Because I have felt cheated out of this experience a bit, I have to find ways to make this interaction tangible on both ends; I’ve done so through pop-ups and even with the Dialogue series, getting to meet some of the women we feature. I’m definitely continuing to explore different avenues, maybe even with a physical space down the line. We’ll see!”
For so many of the brands you carry, especially those produced by emerging designers, having a physical space seems like such a luxury solely based on cost itself. I’m wondering as you are talking to designers about wanting to carry them, how do they feel about being a part of the diverse mix you’ve curated?
“I think as far as the curation of brands, when I first opened the store I felt like I had to set a standard for what people could expect quality-wise. Bigger designers like Maryam Nassir Zadeh entered the equation and set the standard for customers coming into contact with a lot of unknown designers. From there, building that community with the designers began, making sure I was honoring their work. The conversations I have with some of my designers are incredibly personal, especially the ones that are in New York and Los Angeles. For me it’s about being able to offer feedback to those emerging designers about sell-through and what worked well.”
It’s almost like you are a consultant and an editor to this larger narrative of Maimoun as whole, with each designer as a chapter in its story. From having your customers grow with you to supporting each brand, how important is it to you to feel like all components involved are telling the same story?
“Like I was saying before, talking about the inspiration behind the collections and educating the customer is important. The customers should know that Priscavera’s collection was inspired by Mortal Kombat or J. Kim’s collection was inspired by a small island in South Korea where the last women are practicing the art of free-diving called Haenyeo—these are the details that inform the designers are creating for, so to speak.”
Do you consider Maimoun to have a specific customer? You’re bringing these really special pieces into the shop, and it probably takes a certain person to have that level of appreciation for them.
“Honestly, the customer that I shop for is a character I have made up in my mind. She’s changing a bit from season-to-season but she still holds true enough for me to know exactly what to purchase when I go on appointments. Every season it’s become easier to shop for her because I think I am understanding her more.”
I love that! As you are buying pieces that are a bit more out there, how do you convince yourself of the risk?
“I would say the risk was more real in the very beginning. Since then, it’s become very intuitive. I feel strong sending in purchase orders and adding specific elements and categories to the store that maybe I didn’t tap into before. Of course, with anything you are exploring, there is that inherent risk involved, but you do get to a place where you just know it will work out.
“As the store has grown and evolved, the customer and the core audience has really stayed with us from season-to-season. In turn, I feel that connection and sense of comfort in being able to say something is a bit outlandish and risky, but I’m confident in it.”