"How this all started was about three years ago," Designer Monika Rathnayake says. "We didn’t want to just launch anything." She and best friend Arlene Aranzamendez are the founders of the MARA lingerie line, which had an inaugural fashion show in mid-October.
"We wanted to do clothes right," Aranzamendez says. "How we started was with designing a camisole that you can wear during the day underneath a jacket and then wear it at night." So design elements include bright colors, lace and high quality materials.
Rathnayake and Aranzamendez are both transplants to Cincinnati. Rathnayake emigrated from Sri Lanka, Aranzamendez from the Philippines. Both still have a number of connections in Asia and wanted to use that to help create MARA. MARA’s line is headquartered in Cincinnati, designed in the Philippines, and manufactured in Sri Lanka, Rathnayake says.
"It’s always been in our blood," says Aranzamendez, who has a background in jewelry design while Rathnayake has a background in business. Aranzamendez and Rathnayake say they took time on Fridays and Saturdays to build the line, creating it slowly as they determined the pros and cons of starting the business during the recession.
Things really heated up this year for the two friends. In October, MARA partnered with Pros for Africa for a special showing of the lingerie designs that benefitted the charity. The two chose The Ascent for the fashion show, and models unveiled the looks to a sold-out crowd.
The two friends have plans to sell pieces to boutiques in Chicago, Miami, Las Vegas, NYC and Dubai. And as MARA grows, they hope to create a charitable foundation that will give money back to women in rural areas and third world countries, Rathnayake says.
"That would be our way of giving back," Aranzamendez says. The cost of every panty sold on those areas would go back to the foundation.
"We’re just two young people in Cincinnati trying to make a difference," Rathnayake says. The spring collection is currently being designed.
Photographer: Ashley Sohngen
Models: Arlene Aranzamendez and Monika Rathnayake
Location: BOOST…for meeting’s sake