When Mikkel Bjodstrup packed his bags for a vacation to Spain in November 2017, little did he know that the trip would change his life. As was written in the stars, not only did he meet his life partner Veselina on the trip, he was so inspired by Veselina’s passion for sustainability and fashion that they decided to launch sustainable footwear brand Arteana together. It is no secret that AISPI loves a good story and this one really does have it all – romance, travel and of course, fashion! Read our interview with Mikkel below for a whirlwind trip that will take you from Google’s HQ in Ireland to the sun soaked beaches of Italy for a (sustainable) la dolce vita unlike any other.
Hi Mikkel, we’re so excited for our interview. Before we hear about the brand, however, we would love to know a bit about you and Veselina. How did you meet?
Two of my childhood friends and I have a six-month tradition where we take turns surprising each other with weekend trips and short breaks, with at least one of us not knowing the destination and just receiving a weather forecast and a few hints to help with packing.
In November 2017, I was working at Google’s HQ in Ireland and the destination of our mystery travel group was Alicante, Spain – where neither one of us had been before. On our first evening out, after googling our way to the best wine bars in Alicante, I arrived at the same wine bar as Lina was enjoying a glass of TGIF cava with one of her colleagues from ZARA. And the rest, as they say, is history.
What is Veselina’s story? What led her to imagine a brand like Arteana?
On one of our first dates back in 2017, Lina told me about her dream of starting her own sustainable footwear brand. At that time, Lina already had +8 years’ experience with the fashion industry – first as a footwear designer for the Italian luxury brand, Aquazzura, in Florence and then as a senior footwear designer for ZARA Woman in Alicante – and felt that she would probably be ready soon to try forces as an independent with her own brand.
I could feel that I was both inspired and motivated when Lina first told me about the many challenges of sustainability in the fashion industry and at the same time shared her ambition to create a shoe brand that could help Italian artisans preserve their unique design arts and crafts and at the same time, inspire both consumers and other players in the fashion industry to focus even more on sustainable materials and ethical production.
In 2019, Lina’s dream of creating a luxury footwear brand that inspires women to live La Dolce Vita without compromising our planet or its people became our dream when we founded ARTEANA.
What about you? What is your role at Arteana?
Lina and I have chosen to be responsible for every aspect of our business which also means that we have decided to take on an amount of tasks that could keep a team of four-five people busy on a full-time basis. However tough it can be at times, this way we will know everything about our clients, our suppliers, and our operations so that we can on-board future team members successfully when the time is right.
This means, even though the title on my business card says CEO of ARTEANA, I’m involved in everything from retail sales, e-commerce marketing, corporate partnerships, influencer collaborations the one day – and the next I’m moving boxes around in our warehouse, depositing a cheque at the bank or picking up printer cartridges for our shoe labels.
In a very fast-growing fashion start-up, it’s impossible to have clearly defined roles and responsibilities but – no matter how busy – Lina and I are doing our best to separate our tasks and roles so she, as our Creative Director, can focus on keeping the heart of ARTEANA beating – bringing life to our unique collections through high quality sustainable materials and our ethical supply chain in Italy – and I’m doing my best to maintain a healthy business and market our brand both online and offline, to businesses as well as to consumers.
A partnership that goes beyond business – how do you both ensure that you do right by both your personal and professional lives?
We’re exceptionally privileged to have each other on our sustainable fashion adventure and I’m not sure we would have been able to do it without each other. Starting and managing a fashion brand is incredibly fun at times – and incredibly tough at other times – but physically and mentally. By being in business with our life partner, we both know that we’re always “in it together” and it gives us comfort to know that worst case something goes wrong, we’ll still have our amazing life with each other to fall back on.
Since we started ARTEANA, we’ve been travelling 90 out of 100 days for sales campaigns and fashion weeks and spent almost every single hour together which means that it has been important for us to agree on no-work-date-nights and no-business-for-breakfasts to stay mindful, motivated, and happy in our lives.
We absolutely love your take on footwear! What we would like to know is, why footwear?
Lina dreamed of being a footwear designer back when she was just six years old and has since studied in three different universities in Moscow, Firenze, and New York. Her career took her to some of the most esteemed fashion companies in the world, Aquazzura and ZARA, so for Lina it has always been about footwear, mostly because of her love for the complexity and effort that goes into making a shoe.
It’s really not easy and it takes a lot of collaboration between different types of craftsmanship – last makers, heel makers, material manufacturers, sample development specialists, and so on – to put together a pair of shoes and most people are not aware of this when they put on their new pair of sandals or sneakers.
To be honest, personally I was shocked first time I saw Lina’s “shoe room” (which she persistently still tries to convince me is in fact a library by the way, haha), and, before we started the business, I was mostly inspired by our mission of empowering artisan heritage and influence the fashion industry in a sustainable way rather than building a footwear company.
But I also have to admit now that after seeing Lina bring life to our beautiful first SS20 collection with our artisans in Italy, I was blown away by the creativity, beauty, and uniqueness of our design and have fallen completely in love with the footwear industry.
What about sustainability? Why is it so important for you as a brand and how exactly do you incorporate it in your activities at Arteana?
Our ambitious dream is that in just five years, there’s no longer a need to use sustainability in fashion because it’s become an integral part of every fashion business out there to do their best to take good care of our planet and its people through use of sustainable materials and a focus on ethical production methods. A little bit like how the word laptop has evolved. A laptop used to mean “a portable computer” but the word is now used as a synonym for a computer because it’s no longer really needed to clarify whether or not your computer is portable or not. Because 99% of computers are, right.
For ARTEANA, this means that, from day one, all our production methods have been sustainable with a great focus on our social responsibility as a fashion brand. All our shoes are handmade in Italy with help from female artisans across Europe to ensure that credit and compensation for originality, design, and heritage are distributed fairly. Our designs empower antique artisan techniques such as Merletto di Burano, Crochet, macrame and have been used to create new unique, colorful, and elegant styles for the trendy and conscious woman in search of La Dolce Vita.
Before launching the brand, we diligently spent months searching for the best production partners and material suppliers in Italy and Spain who help us ensure high sustainable standards and ethical work conditions for everyone involved in our supply chain. The materials used in our collections have been hand-picked from certified, sustainable suppliers in Europe and we have spent months building relationships with all artisans, and craftspeople involved in our production, have visited their workshops, and had the pleasure of experiencing their passion, dedication, and quality of work-life.
You have an interesting concept called ’Aftercare’. Can you elaborate a bit more on that and why you think it is important for brands to provide a service like that today?
Longevity and sustainability go hand in hand and is key to mitigate overconsumption and ensure best use of the materials and the skills of the people on our planet. For ARTEANA, it’s absolutely essential that our pieces can be worn and used for years to come and almost become the usual travel companion for our customers in their fabulous times with La Dolce Vita every year.
Where can we find your pieces?
We’ve been fortunate enough to find amazing Retail partners in nine different markets in Europe, Middle East, and Asia including metropoles in Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Spain, Italy, Russia, Qatar, China, and South Korea. (link to stockists here [some will be updated post AW20] – https://www.arteanafashion.com/stockist).
And if a customer from outside Europe wants your shoes, where can he/she look for them?
Our e-commerce website offers free global shipping and 28-days free returns so we’re more than happy to ship orders to customers outside of Europe as well.
How do you see yourself working with AISPI? Can you share with us your thoughts on the company?
AISPI is an amazing platform and could in many ways be a perfect partner for ARTEANA.
The AISPI trunkshow is a sustainable sales channel and goes very well with the “pre-order” function on our e-commerce platform where we give our customers an opportunity to select and secure their favorite style from upcoming seasons and receive at the same time as it arrives in store. This method allows us to plan our production much better and avoid waste and overproduction.
Besides that, ARTEANA is still only well through its first two seasons and will be unknown to most – so hopefully AISPI also gives us an opportunity to be discovered by an audience with great taste and eye for upcoming talents.
As the novel coronavirus pandemic continues to upend the global economy, small businesses like Arteana need your help more than ever! If you liked AISPI’s interview with Arteana, don’t forget to share it with your community and stay tuned to the AISPI INSTAGRAM and BLOG for more on designers like Mikkel and Veselina.