Sandra Zovko takes after her mother.
The founder and CEO of her own knitwear company sources inspiration from her late mother, Mila, and the sweaters she made throughout her life. Both Zovko junior and senior embrace luxurious materials, bold colours, and intricate patterns, and this aesthetic has become the foundation of the Mila Zovko brand, asserting itself within a fashion landscape that largely favours minimalism.
The Fall 2016 collection incorporates red, pink, and green contrasted against neutral shades. The exaggerated and cropped silhouettes reference 1980s fashion, but with an incredibly wearable sensibility. The pieces are fabricated in Italian merino wool, making the them substantial enough to keep the wearer warm in the winter, yet light enough to layer over a T-shirt or a dress during summer evenings.
Zovko recalls fond memories of her mother with projects constantly at hand—“She was always knitting and humming”—but the idea to create a collection inspired by the sweaters she inherited came from those unaware of the sentimental value that each piece held. “I would wear them around and people would ask me, ‘Where did you get this?’ Or, ‘It looks like a piece of art,’” Zovko recalls. “When someone said it looked like a piece of art, I thought, ‘I should try to do something.’”
Once she decided to move forward, Zovko utilized the skills acquired from her business education and retail experience to develop the line. After working for a large financial institution upon completing an undergrad in commerce, the Toronto native relocated to Vancouver to pursue a master’s in economics. Her tenure as both a personal shopper and buyer for two large retailers gave Zovko an immersive experience into consumer purchasing habits and the clothing construction process.
Connecting with a manufacturer to produce the intricate patterns was not a simple task. “I wanted to produce in Canada, I really wanted to,” she says. “I called maybe 40 factories, most of which have closed or have moved overseas.” After a few rounds of disappointing samples, Zovko found a New York City-based knitting factory that was able to capture the characteristics of her mother’s original pieces. “They were able to achieve her complex stitch transitions and designs,” Zovko recalls with a sense of relief. Finding the perfect manufacturer was essential to Zovko, as she wanted to capture the handmade feeling of her mother’s beloved garments—and retain the same focus on material. “I wanted to keep the quality standard high, so all the yarn is from Italy,” she explains. “She definitely valued quality. Sometimes you have to pay more to get that, but it was worth it in the long run.”
The inaugural collection has made its way into retailers including Vancouver’s Eugene Choo and The Block. “It was amazing,” Zovko recalls of seeing her garments in a store. “I spent 45 minutes taking photos!” Zovko’s brand has taken shape with the help of her skilled friends—whom she graciously refers to as her “advisers”—assisting her with pattern-making, technical design, and photography. “One friend said she helped me because the goal is to keep this company going so I can continue dressing her for the rest of her life,” says Zovko with a chuckle. While the brand is propelled by Zovko junior and her friends, the spirit behind Mila Zovko will always be rooted in the matriarch’s joie de vivre. Lucky for us, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.
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