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Interview | Elle AyoubZadeh of ZVELLE

In my constant search for Canadian talent, design and innovation it’s not often I find a luxury footwear line in that search. Ready-to-wear, accessory & lifestyle brands are regulars and don’t get me wrong; I love and support them, I’ll have to admit I have a thing with footwear. You’ve all seen my social channels or been reading along for years –  shoes can get me hot and bothered. Enter ZVELLE, a luxury footwear brand slated for a HUGE future. With a dedicated founder in Elle AyoubZadeh, the brand is heading in a clear direction with its conscious sourcing & manufacturing process to its quality & production standard rivaling that of Stuart Weitzman and Christian Louboutin. Get to know the ZVELLE and Elle below:

What is ZVELLE?

I’m really passionate about making beautiful luxurious handcrafted products and bringing them to the end customer at attainable price points. We started with shoes because shoes are one of the hardest categories to make something that’s really handcrafted – that have the right materials; the leathers, the soles – everything. I know our shoes aren’t reasonable for everyone but attainable – [they’re] not a thousand dollars where some people can’t justify that.

Does the brand’s name carry any significance?

I was one of those people that was very reluctant to use my own name in the brand, I knew I wanted something that was one word that people could pronounce and not be one of the trendy names of today. I wanted this to be bigger than me and have it be and stay longer than I’m not on this planet. ZVELLE is a combination of my name and my last name. Nobody had heard it before and it had a really nice ring to it – I already started designing the shoes and still didn’t have a name for the brand, so it came about very organically.

Who is the ZVELLE woman?

Who is the ZVELLE woman? She’s someone I call a global citizen. Just look at yourself for example, I’m sure you travels a lot – for your work or your interests [I laugh – “Regularly”], but you live in Toronto; so I consider someone like that a global citizen. Myself: my parents are Persians, I lived in Australia, New Zealand, Dubai & Canada is the longest place I’ve lived in my adult life & my shoes are made in Brazil – I’m always traveling. While I’m so proud to be Canadian I’m also proud of the heritage inside me – I’m a global citizen. I don’t consider myself as just one nationality because I’ve lived in all these places I have a world mentality. The ZVELLE woman is exactly someone like that; she speaks another language, travel is part of her life, she’s aware [& culturally sensitive], she’s fearless, doesn’t take herself seriously and she’s an individual making her own decisions. And fashion is one of those things, she’s dressing for herself and values products that are made by artisans and she’s not out there trying to fit into a crowd.

 Is ZVELLE your first foray into fashion & design?

In terms of design this is definitely my first. Prior to ZVELLE I had a luxury concept store, it was like a mini department store [where] we had gorgeous 3000 sq. feet space on two levels. The bottom level was a wine bar & café with retail and the second level was a spa. On the retail side we carried everything from skincare to accessories and I did all the creative aspects of that business, all the buying, meeting of designers; and we specialized on emerging designers that weren’t readily available. My attitude was like, ‘I’m always interested in wearing things that other people don’t have’ and that’s how the store did its buying.

 Setting yourself apart from the mid-range price point – why create that business model?

We’re all about making beautiful hand-crafted shoes by artisans around the world and bringing them to the end customer. So we started with direct to consumer, which means that in order to give these price points [to our clients] we’re able to do that by selling through our channels. Initially it was just our website, then our showroom & now we’ve expanded to testing out pop-up stores!

[I’m all about diversifying the table and listening to different POVs] During this year’s film festival, you supported TIFF’s Share Her Journey initiative; a movement to champion female storytellers – to increase participation, skills, and opportunities for women behind and in front of the camera. In another industry dominated by men, specifically footwear, how crucial and what does your, perspective bring to the industry?

First and foremost I’m an entrepreneur, and if you look at entrepreneurs their job is to disrupt industries and to do things differently and when it comes to the business of fashion or shoes I don’t really pay attention to the noise of what is happening. We are trying to run our own race, we have our objectives and we know where we want to be 5 years, 10 years, 15 years from now – doesn’t mean I have the full print anybody who says they do is lying. Fashion – you’re right, there is no diversity, forget including women! In my life diversity was a normal thing, I was an outsider, and my parents had friends from everywhere in the world. I lived in Dubai, went to an International school where I’ve went to everything from a Muslim ceremony, a Bar Mitzvah to a Hindu celebration – that’s just my normal life and to this day that’s my normal life. In my own company I make sure I hire, I consciously have people who are very different to me. If you go to our Yorkdale store we have everyone from every part of the world. I also bring the perspective that everything doesn’t have to be done a certain way, my job is to do things that I want to with the company and the way that is right. I like producing things closer to the season – look how hot its been! I’m sure a lot of the stores don’t have any sandals. I don’t have this chip on my shoulder that I’m a designer and I’m just only supposed to act a certain way. I don’t pay attention to titles, my job is to bring the best shoes in the world and make people feel great about purchasing a pair of beautiful ZVELLE shoes. When you purchase a pair of ZVELLE shoes I want it to come with a lot more than just a pair of beautiful shoes.

Where are you sourcing materials and manufacturing & do you think your cultural awareness has influenced this production?

In the factory that we work with, there are so many female artisans, it doesn’t just help their employment in that factory but the employment of many other people of the small town; the heel makers, the lace makers, the people making the leathers. We have a gold logo at the bottom of each shoe, we support the company that makes the metal accents. Right now everything is being produced in Southern Brazil. Everything being sourced and manufactured is within 100 KM of the factory. I love the factory in Brazil – they’re the best factory in Brazil; right from the artisans, to the assembly line and how they source everything! I actually know all the suppliers, I’ve personally met with them at their offices, know the names of their wives because I wanted to make sure we wanted to know all our partners, it not just helps make a great product in the end but you also want to make sure you’re working with the right people. Everybody working in all these factories are treated well.

You’ve set up shop at Yorkdale Shopping Centre with a pop-up boutique, how long has that been open & is it expected to close anytime soon?

We opened it in April and we’re going to be there until December 31st. It’s out longest pop-up ever and has gone very very well which is why we’ve extended it. We’ve loved being there and its also introduced to a different clientele, Yorkdale has a lot of tourists going there. When we were online the customer knew us but when you’re on the street or in a mall, new people discover your brand and all of sudden this specific customer likes the brand or a particular style.

Testing out the waters with pop-ups are there anymore in the future or fun projects you can tell us?

We’re opening up a New York pop-up in SoHo opening September 30 to October 30. It’s our first ever collaboration with another brand and I’m really excited with to be working with Marie St. Pierre. I have so much respect for her; as a woman, as an entrepreneur, as a designer. She does things her way and we both have this crazy obsession for craftsmanship & quality. It doesn’t matter how fancy or expensive your products are – if they don’t have that quality it doesn’t matter. We both have that in common, we both want our businesses to stand for something. She’s been doing this for 30 years, I’ve only been doing it for 2 – but she’s the only person that I’d want to partner with on something like this. It’s a great opportunity to work with a woman I respect, another brand I respect, a designer I respect and I think our customers are the same. They’re woman who are buying things because they want to be able wear whatever it is they are investing in for years to come. They’re fearless women, they’re independent and they’re not looking for other people to validate them. It’s hard to find people like Marie St. Pierre because most people like to make things so that socialites can wear them.

[Cue applause]

Photos: ZVELLE & Elaine Chan-Dow

Julio Reyes

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