Mariah Gardner

Interview by: Heidi Baker
Photos: Alanna Hale

OZMA is a California-based label, a collaboration of longtime friends, Heidi Baker and Mariah Gardner. We launched OZMA in the summer of 2015, and continue to draw inspiration from the West Coast-lifestyle we both share and love. Our friendship has spanned almost 15 years, since we first met in San Francisco; Mariah continues to live in the city's Mission District while Heidi now resides in Topanga Canyon in L.A. All OZMA garments are designed and made in California.


You grew up in Laguna Beach. Tell us how you came to be a San Francisco local and how that move has shaped your life.

When I was growing up there we had a pretty tightly knit community up on Top of the World (that's actually what it's called, not just a 36-year-old's idealization of it) where all of us kids walked to school together, played in a vacant lot with huge eucalyptus trees and ran around the neighborhood in crazy costumes we'd fashion from a trunk of vintage stuff my mum collected for us and helped us sew. Teachers, parents, this whole little community set itself towards teaching us that not only should we be ourselves, that it was imperative that we be our best self. And everything that shaped me in my youth is still with me today. Skipping past the years of bad perms, apple-green Doc Martens and an obsession with Sassy magazine; I'd grown into a huge Noir fan, fostered in large part by my mother who fed me on a steady diet of Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett and classic 1940s films. We’d come up to visit SF and walk the alleyways of Chinatown and eat dinner at a tiny basque restaurant in North Beach and it was like I’d found the city of my dreams. When I graduated high school I came up here to go to college and 18 years later I’m still here. It’s definitely not the same city as when I first arrived, but then I’m not the same person I was then, either. Everything changes, it’s how we react to the change that’s important. I was lucky enough to find an incredible community up here and I hope that in my years here I’ve helped to foster it.


OZMA mentions California as a big influence. What is it about California that you find so special and inspiring personally?

Honestly, I’m not sure how to answer that because I’ve never lived anywhere else. California is who I am, so it only makes sense that the first brand I’d be a part of creating would be quintessentially Californian. Go with what you know, right? Plus, you’ve also got such a deep connection to it, it felt like we naturally gravitated towards designing clothing that reflected our lifestyles here. Connecting the people and places that we love to create the look and feel of the brand only seemed natural as well.

Ok, so maybe it's an exaggeration but I think your closet has almost nothing that dates after 1959. What drives your obsession with vintage?

Well, I do have pair of Levi’s reproduction 606s, does that count? There’s just something about vintage clothing that just gets me. It’s a combination of things: the styles and silhouettes that I find so flattering, the fabric and craftsmanship that allow these pieces to still exist almost 100 years later; the simplicity mixed with incredible design detail that went into everything. Just look at a plain white t-shirt from the 1930s; you’ve got this amazing weave to it and the perfect ringer neckline and an incredible little label with some rad font. And don’t even get me started on the couture stuff like Schiaparelli, or Claire McCardell’s incredible knit swimsuits. Another huge part of it is hunt, the thrill of going to an estate sale or thrift store and finding something beautiful all jammed in with everyday objects. The way that time has made them more special, the worn spots at the elbows patched during winter or the faded prints from sunny summer days on a clothesline. I like to think that my obsession with vintage gives those pieces a longer life, that hopefully someone like me will care for the things I leave behind. Especially our OZMA pieces, I have no doubt those can live for another hundred years and wind up looking more beautiful than ever.


Ok, so I know the answer to this question, but let's hear in your words how you & I became friends and eventual business partners.

I’m pretty sure you called me up one day and said “Babe! You want to start a super awesome women’s brand?” Knowing you for almost 10 years at that point and being totally confident in your ambition and ability, not to mention your excellent sense of style and fun, how could I say no?

The clothing industry is insane! Why in the world did you agree to enter it? As an outsider coming in, what advice do you have for someone in your shoes?

Um, possibly because you forgot to tell me that part when you called? Ha! But no, it's insane and insanely stressful but so very awesome to be a part of. I always wanted to sew, to design and create the things I visualize in my head, and now I get to do it not just for myself but for other rad ladies to wear. And I suppose since I have this sort of naive approach to why I do it, that would be my advice to anyone else: don't lose sight of why you're doing what you do. At the start you'll get overwhelmed with financial planning and website building and figuring out why 2-day shipping never takes 2 days when you need it to, and all the things that feel totally irrelevant to the creative side of your business, but if you can continuously give yourself time to do the thing that you love – whether that's sewing, sourcing fabric or getting out sharing your brand with people. You'll find that joy and be reminded of why you're doing it.

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Check out OZMA's California crafted threads here.