Many Marin parents may remember Mimi the Sardine, Swedish native Pia Andersson’s colorful, Scandinavian-inspired eco-friendly company in Corte Madera that designed and manufactured everything from aprons to lunch bags to bibs. While the Novato resident loved being able to bring her creativity to life for around 20 years, inspired in part by her children, she hoped she’d find a way to return to her first love — teaching.
The opportunity came in 2014 when she closed her business. A year later, she started San Rafael’s Marin Sewing Lab, where she teaches classes for all ages in garment construction and embroidery techniques. Since then, the lab, a member of Fibershed, a nonprofit organization founded by West Marin’s Rebecca Burgess, has seen an interest in people interested in knowing how and where their clothing is made and wanting to avoid “fast fashion.”
Q When did you learn how to sew?
A As a young person in Sweden in the 1960s and ’70s, we had textile shop in public school, which was obligatory to do for like two hours a week. We had phenomenal, beautiful classrooms with fabrics, sewing machines, looms, so that’s the foundation. I was good with my hands and had an eye for design and I loved it, and then I continued through college. I got my textile arts degrees in Sweden, one in textile engineering and one in textile art. I moved to the United States in my 20s, and then after a few years I started a manufacturing company.
Q What drew you to children’s products?
A I had two kids in the 1980s and I was influenced by my kids. In that era, we were called mompreneurs. In the 1980s, 1990s and early 2000s, the Bay Area had a lot of clothing manufacturers. I made a bib on my dining room table when we were living in San Francisco, sent it to a company and they accepted it right off the bat. That’s how I got started. We sold to many companies like Hanna Andersson, Garnet Hill and Whole Foods. But once I retired from that, I started Marin Sewing Lab and returned to my first love, which is teaching textile arts and primarily making your own clothing and home textiles.
Q Were your kids your inspiration?
A Totally. My kids were my models. I have good pictures of my kids in my outfits and accessories.
Q Did you always have an interest in fashion?
A I was never in fashion as a young person, but I dressed really well and I developed my own style. I wore quality clothing and I remember how much fun that was. Later in life, I took fashion classes from Santa Rosa Junior College and now I teach a fashion studies class for teens and tweens.
Q Has teaching others reinvigorated your passion?
A It has. When I was a young mother of two and ran my manufacturing business, I had only time to make Halloween costumes for the kids and some clothing. It reignited my love of garment construction, textile art and embroidery. It is always exciting to be part of this creative process of making things and as a teacher, I get to experience that with others and be inspired by their textile artistry. In the classroom, we often say “good enough,” because perfection is elusive and once you accept that and that mantra, that brings out a joyous approach. I am a strong believer that it creates a lot of good, happy energy.
Q What have you seen people interested in these days?
A Many students come to sew to step off the fast fashion thread mill. Most of the people come because they want to make their own clothing. They can’t find what they want, it’s too expensive or they would rather learn. Working with textiles is such a profound thing. We are surrounded in it our lives, what we wear and in our home: curtains, blankets, pillows, many things. And lately, people come to mend things. There’s this surge in people who want to reuse and repurpose.
Q What’s a memorable thing you’ve made?
A I’m a member of Fibershed and what they are doing is right up my alley of thinking. A few years back, one of its members produced the first locally milled (in California) wool twill cloth in almost 100 years. I made a tunic from that cloth.