When Maria Karimi decided to step into fashion, she knew that creating bespoke pieces was her calling. After working at a high-end clothing store as a teenager, the Afghanistan-born, Montreal-based designer opted to study haute-couture techniques, inspired by the challenge of crafting beautiful, luxurious one-of-a-kind garments. Nearly two decades later—and now with an atelier that’s grown to six times its original size—Karimi is still putting her unique touch on expertly tailored contemporary womenswear and menswear classics through her brand, MAR. Karimi does it all—from custom cashmere sweaters to full suits—often without stopping to sketch out a design. (She prefers to get right to cutting the pattern and perfecting the silhouette.) But when the pandemic slowed the demand for new clothes, she quickly pivoted. “Option one was to take a break, which is very dangerous,” she says. “Or there was option two, which was to do things that I’d always wanted to do but never had the time for.” Choosing the latter, Karimi created her first ready-to-wear collection, produced her first fashion film and even launched a second brand, Mindful Pigs, a genderless and cruelty-free clothing and accessories line that’s an ode to her veganism, love for animals and sustainable ethos. While Mindful Pigs’ bright palette and graphic prints are a sharp contrast to the timeless and refined aesthetic of MAR, both lines are authentic extensions of Karimi’s personality and style. As she caps off a momentous year with her first-ever Canadian Arts & Fashion Awards nomination—in the Emerging Talent category—Karimi has no plans to stop growing. “At the end of the day, it comes down to working hard and making mistakes,” she says. “There’s no better way to learn.”



“One of the best compliments I get from my clients is that I’m a really good listener. I think I could have been a detective in a past life. When I’m meeting clients, I observe everything. Each moment tells me something about a person, from their personality to their professional life. In a very short period, I can learn a lot about who a person is and how they wear their clothing.”


“I’ve never been focused on gaining recognition. When I first opened my atelier, I just wanted to make sure that I had a great product and an established clientele and that I was proud of what I do. Then I would see where that took me. In the beginning, I felt discouraged because I kept being told that there was no market for the kind of clothes I wanted to make. So it feels good that people now see and believe in my work in a field where there are so many other talented designers.”


“Sometimes I think ‘Why do I do all this?’ I was born in Afghanistan. With everything that’s going on there right now, I hope to be able to inspire women to keep dreaming and having hope through all the trauma. I’ve lived there during wartime, with bombs exploding and soldiers walking around. At the end of the day, one of my life’s purposes is to help others, and that’s what keeps me pushing.”