Interview with Veselina Chebanova
We commit us to what is right and re-find love for what we own. A mantra, which is not only true for the consumer, but most definitely for the fashion houses.
Our Founder & Creative Director, Veselina Chebanova, shares her vision of a sustainable, luxury footwear industry and the story of creating Arteana with a dream to inspire to live la Dolce Vita - without compromising our planet and its people.
“It was already when I went to fashion school that I pledged for sustainability, even though it definitely wasn’t a topic back then in the noughties. But I grew up with a mother and a grandmother who knew how to use their hands, and I myself am somewhat of a flea nerd and love the stories woven into good handcraft,” the Creative Director, who just calls herself Lina, shares from her design studio in Valencia, Spain.
“My own point of no return came when I was a student in Florence and met the Belgian designer Bruno Pieters who was one of the first to talk about both sustainability and transparency with his concept “Honest By”.
His thoughts were so new at that time! That you should state, not just where the materials origin from, and how they had been made, but also the amount of time and work each item had costed to produce. So that you as a consumer understood, what you paid for. Because quality and concern costs. To take responsibility costs. It is important to understand, that this is always about people and the Planet: we are not the last ones, someone will inherit the Earth after us.”
After meeting the visionary Bruno Pieters, Lina chose to finish her education at Fashion Institute of Technology in New York. With her degrees as Footwear Designer, Fashion Management & Sustainability from Moscow, Florence and New York she moved back to Florence and became a part of the newly started brand Aquazzura, soon to be a gigantic success. After that she was handpicked by Zara as responsible for Women footwear design and thereby consolidated the reputation of the fast fashion brand for making elegant, feminine shoes.
Lina enjoyed being with the two companies but felt that she wanted something else and more. She wanted to go back to sustainability and, together with her husband, Mikkel Bjodstrup, founded Arteana with her as Creative Director and him as CEO.
“In the end of 2018 we went to a small village, Citta di Castello in Umbria, previously known for its textiles, but with no existing production today. There we found a lady who has a school for 10 women of all ages, educating them to sew and embroider in traditional artisan style. To us it was the perfect combination: women, handcraft, the local – and Italy,” Lina tells. Even though the couple lives in Alicante, Spain today, she still loves everything Italian. “That’s why the name Arteana was so obvious to us,” she smiles. “It’s both handcraft and people. Arte is Italian for art (and craft), ana is the last – and feminine – part of the term Italiana.”
The couple found a small family owned footwear factory in Tuscany, had some tests produced with the ladies’ hand craft as uppers, and come 2019 after some adjustments they started up a small exclusive collection with elegant and feminine shoes. Shoes that are either flat or with a 75 mm heel and consists of natural materials like leather and cotton and with handmade embroidery and laces.
“Besides the women in Umbria we also found some in Tuscany, and they all make uppers for us. All the women that we have been so fortunate to meet can actually make the artisan handcraft that we want: traditional embroidery, laces, crochets. But alas, they were not easy to find, because it is no longer popular to inherit an art from the elder or to be educated as a craftsman” .
“E.g. there are only 30 women today, all of them more than 60 years old, who masters the traditional needlework technique “Merletto di Burano”, which comes from the venetian island of Burano. So because you really have no more than these 30 pairs of women hands in that small Italian village to produce this kind of lace, that we use for our “Amalfi 75” style, we found a small factory in Lombardi who can make a similar just by using technology, so that we can have enough produced for our collections. We hope that we, by making the technique popular and use it in fashion, can inspire more young women to take up the craft, so that it will not die with the ladies.”
“No matter what it’s all about women,” she continues. “Except for a couple of men at the family owned factory, these are women shoes made by women from A to Z. And they are always inspired by La Dolce Vita; the special Italian concept that for me means to love life, be curious and get the best out of it – also now, when we have all become limited. Before lockdown Mikkel and I travelled 20 out of 30 days a month and of course we miss it, but now it’s about enjoying the simple pleasures; dress up and be a tourist in your own country, until we can travel again. Visit the local museums, have a picnic in the park. Rediscover your surroundings.”
Lina herself is always on the lookout. And no matter where she lives, she needs room for her “huge, huge shoe archive”, partly inherited from her mother, partly gems from flea markets. Because even though the designer has a lot of vintage clothes in her wardrobe, she rarely uses the shoes, she finds. They are for inspiration and joy.
“I am a collector, a keeper of beautiful stuff. But I don’t necessarily use it the way it was meant to. An old curtain embroidered with words and flowers from my Russian grandmother will maybe inspire to a shoe design, while an antique champagne bucket contains my drawing tools.”
What drives Lina as a person and as a designer is obviously curiosity and respect. And that is why it is so important to her to do like her old mentor, Bruno Pieters, insisted on: Always tell the story behind so that you understand what you see.
“I know that to the untrained eye a pair of shoes are just a pair of shoes. But it is easy to learn how to tell the difference, which is always in quality. Look at the shoe, feel it. Is it real leather, real cotton? How is the outsole constructed? And how is the heel attached? How stabile is it? Balance is everything. Poorly made shoes are not very stable and therefore not comfortable, whereas you can wear a pair of well-constructed shoes for a whole day, no matter their height.”
Whether Lina Chebanova and Mikkel Bjodstrup fears the future being such a small and newly started company on the big fashion scene?
“Not really. The big ones will always be big, but a good thing for small companies like ours is that we are independent of large production chains. Our products don’t have to travel back and forth to and from China; we are local, so we can comply with our productions plans and deliver our goods. Another advantage is that we are much closer to our customers and are always up to date with our customers’ needs and can adjust, no matter if it’s about shoes from the actual collection, if you want to make a pre-order, or if you order a pair of unique, made-to-measure shoes. And, lockdown or not: We can guarantee you, that every pair will ignite that feeling of La Dolce Vita.”