Melda Moda is a Black woman-owned fashion brand based in New York City, founded by Melissa Lockhart. Inspired by Lockhart’s Caribbean heritage and millennial experiences, the brand offers a range of sleepwear that blends culture, comfort, and style. With an emphasis on inclusivity and sustainability, Melda Moda aims to inspire a sense of relaxation, self-care, and cultural connection through its designs.
We had the amazing opportunity of sitting down with Melissa Lockhart to discuss her passion for fashion and the mission behind her brand.
What inspired you to become a fashion designer?
I hesitate to call myself a designer because I’m not trained in this but I’ve always loved clothes. Growing up, I’d spend a lot of time at fabric shops with my babysitter and the brand’s namesake, Melda. I’d watch her pick out printed fabrics, bright zippers, and buttons, and watch her cut the pattern and sew items when we got home. Getting dressed was the way I expressed myself. During quarantine, I found that I missed the brightly colored outfits I’d wear to work or events. But it made no sense to wear my going-out clothes to sit at home so I spent a lot of time in black leggings, gray sweats, and graphic tees that I got as free swag. I realized that I had put a lot of care into my going-out wardrobe and absolutely no care into my home clothes. I decided that I should have some cute home clothes and started looking for pajamas. I couldn’t find any of the prints I wanted – ones that reflected my culture as a Black millennial New Yorker with Caribbean heritage – so I decided to create it.
How would you describe your design aesthetic and signature style?
It’s bright colors and bold prints. The sleepwear has a generous cut so you feel comfortable and cozy as you move around your home. The fabrics are soft and silky. I called the pieces slumber suits and relax wraps because I want you to think of them as statement pieces for your home wardrobe. There is just as much intention put into the design for these items as I would put into an outfit that I would wear out to an event. In fact, some people have told me that they’ve worn our pieces out during the daytime.
How did you approach the design process from the initial concept to final product?
Whew! There was so much. Again, I’m not trained in design neither technical fashion design nor graphic nor surface pattern design. So I came up with the concepts and created moodboards. When it came to the pattern, I knew what elements I wanted whether that was an elasticized waist or a flat panel, I wanted a hidden button placket, pockets, etc. So I found pictures of those different elements and created a mood board. I gathered items from my closet and then I worked with a designer who knew the language and could translate that into a technical file and then we got a pattern maker to make the pattern.
It was a similar process when it came to the prints. I created the mood boards that included the different elements I wanted reflected. Whether that was a sorrel blossom or a panther, or a leaf shaped like a heart. Then I told the stories behind those boards to some amazing graphic designers and surface pattern designers who put them altogether.
What do you consider to be the most important elements of a successful fashion collection?
I’d say thoughtful design and good construction are probably the most important. How do people feel when they put your pieces on? My mom, who is an amazing cook, always says that her food is so great because she puts love into it. I think there needs to be an element of love put into the collection too.
Can you share any behind-the-scenes stories or challenges you faced while creating a specific collection?
The whole thing felt like a challenge. It took forever to get our first tech pack. A lot of the factories had high minimum order quantities which meant that we couldn’t work with them. Then a factory we settled on tried to increase our minimum order quantity by 600% This brand is self funded so that was not possible AT ALL. Then, our product delivery dates got pushed back a few times. We completely missed the launch date. In the final weeks, I found out that care tags had been printed with the wrong information on them. There were lots of tears and essay about my frustration sent to the group chat. Thank God for those girls. They listened and encouraged me to keep going.
How do you balance creativity and innovation with meeting market demands and customer preferences?
I heard some good advice that said something like don’t introduce another thing until you have hit a certain amount of revenue in the first thing. So people want mumus, and long nightgowns, and lingerie. And I want to do all of that. I’m taking notes and filing them away for later but we need to prove out our thesis with these slumber suits and relax wraps because those patterns are already made. Every new pattern we’d introduce would mean more money being spent on a technical pack and samples and I need to be smart with my coins right now! So I take note but like I used to tell employees when I worked in HR, “it’s not a no but it’s not a priority right now.”
How do you approach designing for different demographics and body types?
I was the first fit model and I have hips and a butt. I have had pajamas that felt too tight in that area and since it was my design, I didn’t want to feel cramped in something I was going to sleep in so I made sure we accommodated that. I’m short so pajama pants that fit me don’t fit my 5’11+ friends. I added shorts and robes so they could have things that worked for them too. The first robe samples were really narrow so I sent it back with notes that we needed a couple more inches. That would not have worked for the girls with the legs and hips and body.
Right now we run from size S – 2X. I eventually want to go down to an XS and add more plus sizes. I’ve also heard from a few women who might be small on top and large on the bottom or vice versa. I’d love to be able to offer separates and to work with fit models who are shaped differently from me so we can be more inclusive of body types.
How important is it for you to establish a personal connection with your clients and understand their preferences?
I was very resistant to being the face of this brand. I remember thinking, “does anyone know who is behind the Gap? Does Victoria of Victoria’s Secret even exist? I don’t know” But those brands were built in a different time. Alot of brand building now is founder led and I see that even in the responses to social media posts. People gravitate towards the ones where I tell my stories. So I’m forcing myself out my comfort zone and interacting with people and as I interact with them, I’m learning their likes and dislikes. Like the person who doesn’t want to be bothered with tying a drawstring when she wakes up to use the bathroom in the middle of the night. Or the ladies who are in a phase of life where sweating in their sleep is a thing. That’s not something I’ve experienced so it didn’t even occur to me! So I’m glad I’ve been out at these pop ups or having these 1:1s and DM conversations. I think it will only make the brand better once we are in a position to act on all the things we want to act on.
Can you share any upcoming projects or collections you’re excited about?
I’m really excited about the sorrel print. It was hand painted by a UK based surface pattern designer and she brought the pieces I put on the mood board together so beautifully. The colors are so vibrant! It represents my Vincentian heritage, the history and culture that my parents brought with them to the States, and the wonderful community they built here, which included our namesake Melda and her family. I see them when I see that print and it makes me so proud to be able to honor them in this way. When I put on the sorrel print slumber suit for the first time, I found myself jumping for joy in front of the mirror. I thought, “I did that!”