SMENA – Jaklina Ristevski the Creator
I attended a Melbourne Retail festival trade show scouting for inspiration. It was an interesting event with an eclectic array of designers and small fashion businesses under one roof, so very nice to see so many talented entrepreneurs.
I met many creative people and was pleasantly inspired, but I was drawn to SMENA, an intriguing stand decorated with handbags, clothing, wallets, and earrings, all made from beautiful soft leather. It was all pretty impressive stuff and refreshing to see sustainable leather as the main focus of a business.
The creator behind SMENA, Jaklina Ristevski explained all about her collections. To start with we talked about her very cool eye-catching earrings, consisting of triple layers of leather creating colour contrast, depth and very clever subtle ‘super’ cool style. I love them. The range is exciting with different colour combinations, shapes and textures, really well put together. They look so stunning when worn, like a little piece of art, they stand out!
I wanted to know more about Jaki and her passion for running a business, knowing a bit more about her thoughts and choices? I was very lucky to be invited to the SMENA hub. A lovely house buzzing with energy. Below are some awesome answers to some of my questions.
What inspired you to start SMENA?
Where do you get your ideas from?
I gather ideas from all around me, architecture, design, landscape… leathers chosen often inspire a design that I believe would suit the leather. Conversations with people on what they look for in the perfect accessory. Travels back to “the homeland” and spending time with my family there I am always inspired by the landscape of Macedonia and the depth of history there. My travels around the world have always inspired me too, through architecture, art and seeing the street fashion in various countries.
What do you enjoy most about running your own business?
My favourite place is my cutting table in my studio, surrounded by all of my leather that I have collected over the years. I have always held onto my leather, never throwing anything out as I know one day I will open a box and be surprised by what’s inside… often new designs are created in these moments. Designing is the favourite part of running my business. This process does not involve any drawing or any computer programs, it’s all done playing with various leathers (and fabrics) to see if the ideas in my mind can work. Production is definitely my second favourite, immersed in leather and creating each piece with a whole lot of love. Every single product that comes out of the studio has been worked on by me, that is super special to me, knowing that my passion and love lives on in every product.
Tell me more about your business? Family involvement?
Although some might say I’m a one woman show…. As they say, it takes a village to raise a child….and I truly believe it takes a village to build a business! My family have always been very involved in Smena, my dad doing a lot of my sewing, my aunty is my queebee on my JUKI machine (who has decades of experience with leather accessories for various Australian brands over the years) my mama is my all round assistant and my 4 year old son is often by my side in the studio, a little gem inspiring new colour combinations and keeping me company.
I suppose this happened by accident at the beginning. Making earrings for my friends, my male mates asked me to make them something and at the time leather cuffs were the thing. I started by buying old leather garments from op shops and cutting them up. I love the texture, the various finishes and the feel of leather. Being a natural product and a by-product of the meat industry I believe it is important to use this rather than going to landfill. I am not into man-made materials and although we are looking into ethically and sustainably produced vegan leather, this would be included in our SMENA offering as an additional and alternative collection to the leather products.
What are your aspirations for your business?
SMENA is in what I call its 2nd incarnation, having started the business in 2002 and taking a 4 year break in 2012, I am excited about the re-birth and growth that we are currently experiencing. SMENA, true to its meaning of a name- is always CHANGING, although we continue designing and making in the same way we did all those years ago, the world is quite different now.
Over the years, I have witnessed many changes in the industry, including off-shore production exploding with many designers taking their production outside of Australia and choosing mass ‘fast fashion’ over meaning. Despite this, the development of SMENA has continued and the high-end nature and Melbourne-based manufacturing processes have remained unchanged. I am proud to share that SMENA products continue to be made by hand in our small workshop in Melbourne.
Functionality, endurance, superiority and sustainability are important elements in my work. All is considered, starting from the materials selected for each design and the processes followed, to the waste (or lack of) as a result of production – what would normally be considered as an off cut and waste, is turned into its own piece.
I am excited to continue this journey and create truly unique pieces. Made with experience. Made with love. Made with leather. Made in Melbourne. SMENA.
Who are your favourite designers?
Big designers are among my favourites; Maison Margiela, Rick Owens, Comme de Garcons, but I love finding and following smaller designers from around the world, one especially springs to mind, a real favourite, a homegrown talent, Toni Maticevski, a fellow Macedonian designer. (I agree with Jaki, he is awesome, check him out https://www.tonimaticevski.com). I also have a few favourites designers from Israel and Japan and also a couple from my favourite places to visit, Spain and Italy.
What do you think about the use of leather in fashion?
I do love leather in fashion…it is a timeless material that can be worn for years to come and live beyond any fashion craze. At this stage, sustainable as a by-product of the meat industry.
What do you think about sustainability in the fashion industry?
I think it is great that there is a strong movement to slow fashion and sustainability, although SMENA has always worked in this way, it is great to be part of this movement and we hope to educate and inspire, not only through SMENA but also in the companies we work with and by also supporting other labels who strongly believe and follow sustainable practices.
Functionality, endurance, superiority and sustainability are important elements in my work. All are considered, starting from the materials selected for each design and the processes followed, to the waste (or lack of) as a result of production – what would normally be considered as an off cut and waste, is turned into its own piece.
Our consumer knows the high standards we pride ourselves in, as well as know that by purchasing a SMENA piece they are making a conscious decision to support locally, ethically and sustainably made products… and that perhaps they are the only one (or one of very few) who will get to own that special piece that is as unique as they are.
Our mission is to keep our consumer satisfied with the quality, functionality and design of each and every piece, and those who champion the brand are constantly inspired by what is brought to life through the brand.
It’s always great to meet genuine and hardworking creatives like Jaki. I felt the passion and determination from her and could see how hard she works and runs her life. Her business is taking off after attending craft shows and markets here in Melbourne and Sydney, things are looking very exciting. She’s putting herself out there and getting recognitions driving her to create more innovative products. Smena is growing and building up momentum. Very exciting indeed.
I really feel it is important to add that while attending many fashion events and trade shows, it always makes me wonder how many new ideas and stylish products are out there undiscovered and unsupported. I have mentioned in previous posts that there really should be more coverage and scope to these events. A much-needed support system required to encourage exposure to creatives so we can finally have a well needed ‘new’ wave of quality fashion garments and accessories into a very dull and repetitive mainstream fast fashion market place. Somewhere along the commercial line someone needs to take stock.
Thanks to Jaklina for showing me your lovely family world of SMENA.