As part of my initiative to showcase the diversity of local brands, I invite you to discover Zvelle, a shoe and handbag line. I also suggest you visit the “In Conversation” section of their website to read the fascinating conversations with women from different backgrounds who demonstrate the company’s philosophy and founder’s altruistic vision.
—By Andrew McNally
Zvelle by Elle AyoubZadeh, Founder, CEO and Creative Director.
What is the story behind your brand? I founded Zvelle because I wanted to modernize the way women and their stories are portrayed in fashion. If we look at fashion and fashion images it is very one dimensional and it is almost antiquated. The way they portray women of only certain sizes, ages or culture is so ignorant. I never related to this and I wanted to disrupt that. At the same time, I wanted to bring luxury craftsmanship to customers at ‘inclusive’ price points. We make our handbags and shoes in Italy, in the same factories that global luxury brands use but we sell our products directly. It’s now very common to sell directly to the customer but it is not common to sell luxury products directly to the customer at our price points. In fact, luxury is such an overused word these days. We don’t even use the word luxury when we describe our products because of this.
How would you describe your brand? For Global Citizens enriched by all cultures and connected to all people, Zvelle offers accessories that support individual attitudes and unchartered pathways, so we can move through the world in our own way. We like to say #WalkHowYouWant and by that we mean walk how you want 🙂 We are not a brand that likes to prescribe to women how they should look like or how they should wear our products and when.
What is your creative process? I have learnt to be creative anywhere under any circumstance. I design, manage all the creative direction of Zvelle and I am also the CEO which means I have to worry about finances. In every aspect of my job within the company I have to be creative and use a different creative ‘muscle’ because when you are building a company and a brand it’s like raising a child and with each stage comes different challenges. When it comes to design and product development, I usually start with an idea or a story I want to communicate. From there I write what I am thinking, feeling and I talk to my team. I do research – a lot of research and it’s not necessarily only looking at art, fashion, vintage shoes or bags or earlier collections like a lot of designers do. I am researching things that are also not visual and forming a picture in my mind. After this, I decide on a few key directions and talk to my team. From there we think of design, we exchange ideas and we keep on building it and editing it over and over again until we feel like we have something that is Zvelle. Sometimes this takes days and sometimes many months. Once we have a design we want to explore I work directly with our craftsmen in the factory to make a prototype. And we keep on working on it until we are satisfied with what we see in front of us.
We don’t design seasonal collections or collections based on trends so we are always working on the best styles to bring to life. This also gives me the freedom to think about different products throughout the year. For example we might release a new handbag style instead of new shoes or vice versa.
What has inspired your latest collection? My last collection was inspired by “lightness” – it was also our first handbag collection. Right from the start I knew I wanted our hand bags to feel lightweight. I’ve never understood why anything ‘luxury’ especially bags need to be heavy. The biggest luxury to me is being able to move freely so I decided that lightness would be a feature of all our luxury products, as well as exquisite leathers and craftsmanship. It’s a three-piece collection that walks the line between minimalist and elevated. Clean lines marry with the most beautiful, buttery soft leather for the right balance of structure and freedom. Embellishments are restrained and details are tasteful, with minimal hardware, so there’s plenty of room to make each bag your own. The color palette is neutral.
What are your influences? The world and everything in it that can be seen and that can be felt. Every place I have been, lived and every person I have connected with has influenced me on some level. When it comes to creating products for Zvelle I take a lot of inspiration from outside of fashion and art. I am inspired by different cultures, books, people and I like to cross boundaries with my work and show the unexpected. Sometimes the unexpected is seen only when you learn the story behind the style.
What is your signature piece?
Rayna: My first design and our best seller. It’s now available in different heel heights.
Amelia: This is the shoe Sophie Gregoire wore during the day when the Trudeaus visited the Obamas for the first State Dinner they hosted for Canada in 20 years. Amelia was the second heel I designed after the Rayna. Ava: This is the first 4 inch heel I designed and the style Sophie Gregoire wore under her beautiful dress for the State Dinner. We are always sold out of this style.
We just launched a handbag collection:
Aroha: The ultimate unstructured tote. Aroha, pronounced “uh-row-ha,” means “love” in Maori, an homage to our New Zealand roots. Strong lines meet the softest Italian calf leather in a lightweight, shapeshifting bag that changes character according to its contents. Unlined and unfussy, it has a hidden internal laptop pocket and a smaller pocket for a phone or lipstick. Long handles let this highly functional bag hang easily from your shoulder. The ribbon-tie closure can be twisted, tied in a bow or allowed to swing freely according to your preference.
Ray: A subtly unique, medium-sized tote. Ray is slightly structured and surprisingly roomy. Its highly distinctive, asymmetrical handle detail makes it stand out, a clever twist on a classic style. A demi-lune pocket appears at the bottom corner for balance. Made of supple Italian calf leather with a smooth matte finish, it has a hidden internal laptop pocket that spans the height and width of the bag, plus a smaller pocket for a phone or lipstick. Ray is lined in tonal suede for a luxurious feel each time you reach inside.
Who is the Zvelle woman? When I think of the Zvelle woman, I think of her intellectually and emotionally. She is someone who is open to the world and the world is open to her. Age or race doesn’t matter. She is adventurous, passionate, curious and independant. She has a generous spirit. She is multifaceted and very comfortable in her own skin. She loves reading, arts and culture and she cares about what is happening in the world. She is not afraid to be the first to try something or achieve something. Because of all of these qualities she is the woman you pay attention to when she walks into a room even if you don’t know why.
What is your fondest fashion memory? I have always been a shoe woman at heart. When I was very young, maybe two or three years old I spotted a white shoe in the window of a store and I forced my parents to go to the store. My eyes and heart were desperate for these shoes and the retail associate noticed it and came over and asked me to tell my parents to buy these shoes for me. My parents were young and they couldn’t afford to buy me these shoes. Somehow, I was aware enough to tell the store associate that if my parents wanted to buy these shoes for me they would but we don’t want it and thank you for asking. My mother told me this story and she said that she and my dad were shocked. They expected me to cry. I was their first born. When I heard this story I was not surprised because this is how I am to this day, I am a proud woman and I would never tell anyone how badly I want something, I will always work to get it for myself. I also don’t like to show off ever. It makes me so embarrassed to show something that I have so I often hide anything I feel is precious or special. It’s how I have been all my life. Since that memory a lot of my other fashion memories have always been shoes and one or two about bags.
How are you coping with COVID? Personally for me it was not that hard to deal with it because I always travelled on my own and moved to many places on my own. I am used to my own company and to being far from my family. I am also a private and shy person. For my work, I push myself and sometimes I enjoy it like a mother who is talking about her child and wants the world to know her child is the best in the world! Because my family lives around the world I spend a lot of time on technology talking to them. So this part was not a big adjustment for me. I am also used to working with my team in Italy, Los Angeles and London so that was also business as usual.
What is hard is seeing the suffering that is going on in the world and feeling very useless. I spent a lot of time thinking about what we could do at Zvelle. In the end, we decided to gift shoes to healthcare professionals across Canada and the USA because we knew the shoes would bring happiness to the women. And it did. It has been so special to see women happy because of something we sent them.
I believe we all have a responsibility to do what we can, even if we think it’s small. For us, we thought giving shoes was a small thing but it had a big impact on the lives of the women who received it. It was like a double blessing as we were receiving so many beautiful messages from the women we gifted shoes to.
On a different note… Which book is on your nightstand at the moment? I always have many many books on my nightstand. I am a nerd. I love reading and I love reading physical books. Right now, I have Bata Shoe Museum’s “The World At Your Feet” book which they published to celebrate their 25th Anniversary. I’m so proud to read it and support them because it is a privilege for Canadian’s to have such an iconic museum in Canada. It’s the only shoe museum in North America. I am also re-reading Vicktor E. Frankl’s book “Man’s Search For Meaning”. I have read it so many times and I pulled it out because I felt that the kind of world we are living in right now requires a special inner strength that this book could provide. It’s something I recommend everyone to read.
Which song are you listening to over and over? I have a very eclectic taste in music! I love all kinds of music especially the ones that make me dance. On any given day I can be listening to Persian, Spanish, Indian, Arabic music. Right now, I am listening to Googoosh’s “Man Amadeam” over and over again. Googoosh is an iconic Persian singer. She is bigger than Madonna for Persians. It was a song that I discovered at university and I listened to it over and over again while I drove 14 hours to go visit my mother. So for me, it has a special meaning and feeling. I am waiting for my mother and brother to visit me from New Zealand so this song gives me that beautiful feeling. It’s amazing that music can transport you in time.
Which television series are you binge watching? “Billions”. Although I am not binging, I am waiting for it to come out one episode at a time. This really satisfies the A+ part of my personality! Last weekend I binged the European show called “Into The Night” . It is like an end of the world thriller. I also binged on “Money Heist” and “La Casa de Papel’. Must watch!
What is your favorite recipe of the moment? I am not big on cooking or baking! The only time I am inspired to make something is for someone I love, otherwise I am a pretty simple person individually and I like to eat fresh and simple. At the moment, I have been cooking this Persian lamb shank recipe a lot. My mother used to make it when I was young. I made it for my husband and my father-in-law and they loved it. My father-in-law, Kwan, whom I like to call Ba Ba (father) loves it. So I make this for him a lot. At least three times in four weeks. He thinks it’s the best thing. It probably is his love for me. I don’t follow a recipe and I just put in the ingredients so it must taste different every single time but he loves it and I am more than happy to make it. Like my designs I am very very self critical when I make something. I can’t eat it without judging myself and thinking what I should have done better. My husband who is also an entrepreneur is a more creative chef than I am. He loves cooking so he is the one doing it most of the time. I am very good at cleaning. In fact, too good!
Which movie inspires you? Any movie that is based on a real life entrepreneur’s journey or a sports movie. I loved “The Founder”, directed by John Lee Hancock, which is based on Ray Kroc’s book “Grinding It Out” – the founder of McDonalds. I loved the book more than the movie and I wish they kept the name “Grinding It Out” because building a business is really grinding it out whether you feel it or not. I loved “The Theory Of Everything”, directed by James Mars, about Stephen Hawking.
PROMO: We are in the second phase of our Healthcare Heroes campaign. So far we have sent over 300+ shoes to Healthcare workers in Canada and the USA. We want to continue doing this and a lot of people have asked us how to help so we can continue to send out more. To do this we are offering 30% off all full price shoes for the first time ever! Use the code “Healthcare Heroes” to get 30% off full price Zvelle shoes for yourself or anyone you love. This helps us to give out more shoes to healthcare workers and to support the people who count on us like our employees, factories and suppliers.
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