If there's one brand to have on your radar this autumn, it's Slovakia's elegant and ethical label, We Are Not Sisters. Lucia Jarošová and Tamara Tóthová Markovičová, two Slovakian friends (not sisters!), started the project as a sustainable style challenge but with enough interest in Slovakia and now abroad, have built a label of timeless wardrobe staples and a strong visual identity. Aside from the luxurious-feeling funnel sweaters and elegant dusty pink trousers, the brand’s strength is its family-like bond with the local seamstresses and fabric factories who make the pieces.
We spoke to its co-founder Lucia Jarošová about swapping industrial design for fashion, what it's like to run a fashion brand without a studio, and why minimal doesn’t have to mean boring.
Who are We Are Not Sisters?
We are a womenswear label that designs and makes modern and minimalistic garments with innovative details.
When did you start your brand?
We established We Are Not Sisters in Kosice, Slovakia in 2012. Since then we've launched eight collections in total, but it wasn't until the Spring/Summer 2016 that we introduced our brand with a unique and cohesive visual identity and clear branding strategy. We've been around for a while, but in another sense, our brand is very fresh and young and we're seeing how it's now gaining visibility.
How has the brand changed since your initial ideas for it?
We Are Not Sisters started more or less spontaneously in 2010 initially it was just about customising and refreshing our own wardrobes. We searched for something fashionable, ethical and produced with good quality, but at the time we couldn't really find something that fit our needs and ideas in the Slovakian market. That's how we ended up making clothes just for ourselves. As it is with any project, we ended up gathering all this knowledge in the field. First, our friends gave us a lot of positive feedback. From then on we started getting more and more inquiries about our clothes from the people around us and so we finally decided to start accepting orders for items. Two years later we found ourselves establishing We Are Not Sisters as a brand and worked with an actual collection of items. In turn, this led to us looking for solutions to improve our quality and increase production capacity, find points of sale that work with us and really figure out a feasible business concept.
It's still a continuous evolution from there, right now we're breaking into the Central and eastern European countries while preparing how we'll build a presence across the rest of Europe. We didn't start the label to cater to a market gap in Slovakia - it was a personal project that turned into an endeavor with a purpose. It's been a challenge but we wanted to create a brand that didn't exist in Slovakia at the time. Since then, the local scene has started to thrive and it's making people realise what can be achieved here. But if you want to grow and sustain a healthy business, you need to think bigger than Slovakia. Our clothes are likely to be influenced by our surroundings and experiences, but are not primarily Slovak in their. sensibilities.
Did you both have any training in fashion design?
Both of us have a professional background in industrial design. Tamara worked in the automotive industry for several years. I worked as a product designer for a design consulting company focusing on kitchen appliances (mostly refrigerators) and in addition to this I have professional experience in graphic design. We had been interested in clothing from a design perspective for a long while and eventually decided to take the plunge.
How big is your team? Where are they based?
Besides us two, we are supported by Alexandra, who is in charge of the commercial matters. All product design is done in-house by the two of us as it's been like that from the beginning. I use term in-house, but there is no house, no office, no studio or atelier. We all live in different cities - Tamara lives in Kosice, Alexandra in Zürich and I travel between Bratislava and Graz. We work in a virtual space but do enjoy the pleasure of meeting each other regularly.
We also work closely with other professionals on a freelance basis, like graphic designers, stylists, photographers, communication experts, web developesr etc. Chief among our collaborators are art director & graphic designer Kristina Bartosova and stylist Nina Ford, who are based in Graz and Bratislava respectively and are also Slovak. Our extended team is also split between Slovakia and Austria. Everyone adds their own strengths in a way that keeps us motivated. It's a really a great feeling to have the work be local buthave a global vision.
What about production: where are your clothes made?
Our production is overseen by seamstresses and smaller factories in Eastern Slovakia, primarily by Pani (that's the Slovak variant of Ms) Darina and Pani Iveta. We source the fabrics ourselves from the CEE regions including the Czech Republic, Poland, Bulgaria and of course Slovakia.
What are some of the ways in which you're different to other contemporary fast fashion brands?
Primarily in that we are not a fast fashion brand to begin with. We Are Not Sisters is a locally sourced and produced womenswear label and so it's inherently different to global fast fashion brands. Compared to other European designer brands we are a lot more affordable without compromising on quality in design, fabrics and product functionality, all the while sticking to our dedicated, handmade production. We think that our personal relationships with everyone involved in creating this clothing factors into making it what it is.
Our intention is to create versatile staple pieces with sculptural silhouettes and a comfortable fit that still allows the wearer to adapt it to their style. This makes for unique ways to wear our pieces and have them be rediscovered again and again. While we do present our clothes as collections with a seasonal theme, we do carry some basics over, never trying to release as much as possible at any given time. In short, it's a very thoughtful, personal and local production that still doesn't have to be shy around the big brands with its designs.
Tell us about your latest collection?
The AW 17 collection, called Gleam, draws its inspiration from the innocence and energy of falling head over heels with someone. It's a feeling of pure certainty and free-fall naiveté that fascinates all who have experienced it. Virgin wool and mohair are mixed with more technical fabrics. The cuts are clean and deceptively simple, allowing for the items to speak on their own.At the same time the pieces don’t shy away from accentuating details, featuring funnel necks, exaggerated lapels, missing collars or wide, fitted waists.