Iva Minkova was four when she decided she wanted to be a fashion designer. She liked drawing people, not houses. But it wasn’t until she saw a “stunning sculptural pair of shoes, displayed like art on top of a white plinth” in the flagship Dover Street Market in Mayfair, London, that she realised footwear could be a calling. Her passion for shoe fashion took her to the Royal College of Art and behind the scenes of some of the most celebrated London brands.
These experiences have fuelled her passion for quality, slow fashion and protecting the excellence of traditional shoemaking skills. Since 2019, she decided to take the matter into her own hands and launched her eponymous brand IVA MINKOVA based in London. One of her first decisions? Offset what emissions she could not avoid or reduce through her innovative production techniques with Plan A. We had to meet this planetary hero, so we laced our own boots and brang along our questions and equipment. Welcome to the world of made-to-order, low-impact fashion.
Hi Iva it is a pleasure to interview heroes like you. Can you tell us a bit more about what you work on and how you got here?
I am hardly a hero! I am just trying to use my experience to propose a better way to do the thing I love. I have been working as a shoe designer and developer in London for the past six years. Naturally, the conversation around sustainability was started at every brand I ever worked for. But what always struck me is that the way the industry is structured right now, it practically demands that we create so much unnecessary stock, which leads to so much compromise. When it came to design, I wanted to be uncompromising with the materials we use. My goal was to create something precious, something desirable and meaningful, and to find an ethical approach to luxury fashion. After years of working by the industry’s rules and bringing other designers’ vision to life, it felt like time to propose a new, fresh and uncompromising take on modern meaningful luxury.
I wanted to create something precious. So I started my footwear brand IVA MINKOVA – we create luxury made-to-order shoes and try to promote the idea of slow fashion and, specifically, made-to-order fashion as a way to address what I believe to be the greatest silent problem plaguing our industry on its path to sustainability.
Your company creates made-to-order personalised footwear for women. How does that work?
We work on a pre-order system, which means that we do not create stock in advance. That way, every pair made is made for the intended wearer, which allows us to personalise it with the wearer’s name – this makes the shoes both truly exclusive and more sustainable because resources are not wasted unnecessarily to create unwanted overstock.
How do you integrate sustainability into your company?
Our biggest responsibility is to make less, thus create less stock, and motivate people to not discard what they buy quickly, which goes to longevity.
My whole motivation behind starting the brand was to find a new way to approach what we do. I believe that we need to find ways to change the relationship between brands, wholesalers and consumers… To me the big problem in fashion is that we create too much stock at every stage. Yes, there are more and more sustainable materials becoming available, but few options are available for footwear, and even fewer for luxury footwear. Also, when you look very deeply, you realise that with most of them there is a “but” and a designer has to decide what they stand for and what they are willing to compromise on. Even the most sustainable material uses up resources. By creating a made-to-order offering, we only use the resources we need to create the pairs people actually want.
You have decided to support climate action through Plan A. Can you tell us why you decided to support the Sagar Mitra Project in India?
I personally love this project because there is so much hope for the future in it. It might seem unassuming at first – teaching children to recycle plastic waste, but the educational element has an impact on these young people for their entire lives, and it extends far beyond them because like dominoes: through the children, the message reaches their parents, and in turn their extended families. The scale of the project is staggering – what started with 150 students now aims to reach 1.2million students and their families. To keep the project going, the organisation is looking for a small grant of €6500 – something perfectly attainable, so it felt like with every sale, we can have a very real positive impact.
Can you explain what modern meaningful luxury is to you?
To me it refers to what luxury should be in the 21st century – exclusive, not mass-produced, conscious of the quality of the product and the fine work that goes into it, but also conscious of its impact, and not least, speaking very personally to its owner. It is not something that is easily discarded.
What is Iva Minkova’s position on climate change? How do you want to impact your world?
I think it is high time that we demand our leaders unequivocally recognise and address climate change. A middling attitude cannot be acceptable anymore. We need a huge global shift across all industries, on a massive scale, government-supported to find actual working solutions. This goes back to one of your earlier questions – to make sustainable fashion, we need access to sustainable materials; and you can apply this simple maxim to every field, every industry, but fuelling the innovation and restructuring this entails is a huge undertaking that needs government initiative first and foremost.
What I want to make the consumer aware of is a little-talked-about aspect of fashion and that is the amount of unnecessary resources that the industry currently wastes, and hopefully seduce them into changing some of their shopping patterns.
Can we have sustainable fashion?
I think we will, sooner or later. I can tell you for sure that already we can shop fashion more sustainably by buying made-to-order, or vintage, and just simply wearing what we have for longer. We need to cherish the stories our clothes tell.
I am very aware that made-to-order pieces are an investment that is not accessible to every customer – that is why it is luxury. But we need to remember that clothing was not a commodity the way it is now some 50 years ago. Purchases mattered and they still should, whether you are investing in a plain white t-shirt to wear every day or a pair of crystal-beaded wedding shoes that might be the most extravagant and precious piece of apparel you ever own.
What are my best moves to contribute to this fight?
Pick what you stand, shop less and keep putting pressure on governments to take broader actions. And follow and support PlanA, of course!
What would you say to the people who want to support climate action but do not know where to begin or how to go about?
I suppose I would advise them to pick their fight. That is kind of how sustainability is approached in fashion: it is such a vast subject that brands would usually create some sort of framework around the issues that are most important to them and how to address them. I guess that strategy could be adopted at every level – if you are mad about plastic pollution, you can start recycling your plastics tomorrow. Or shop package-free. If you want to fight deforestation, you donate a pound to plant a tree. Turn the light off when you walk out the room, eat meat less frequently, switch to a green energy provider… And when you start with one issue, I think you quickly gain awareness about the next and the next, and the next. The key is to really believe in the solution you find for yourself and not just adopt it as a momentary pose.
And vote for leaders that believe climate change is real, obviously, and then hold them accountable to take the big actions needed!!
Funniest looking animal?
Favourite ice cream flavour you’re afraid is at risk from climate change?
Fig sorbet from a specific gelateria in Florence
Pineapple or kiwi?
If you were a squirrel, what do you think you’d say to humans?
…ahmmmm “I’m nuts about nuts”?!
You have to live on a desert island because of the consequences of climate change. Who do you take with you, and what CD (yes, there’s a CD player on this island)
One CD?! And one person????!!! This is an impossible task! Well, I’d have to make a mix CD of my favourite songs, wouldn’t I?!
And finally, the Ultimate Question, what is your equation of happiness?
I saw that on a flyer many years ago and it stuck with me. It means that we are all unique, one-of-a-kind and we all together make one whole. That’s pretty nice, isn’t it? Harmony. And also keep your eyes open – it’s a pretty amazing world out there!