Style: Colorful hand-knitted timeless classics with a contemporary twist.
Occasion: Perfect for everyday life and night outs.
Mihaela Markovic creations are embodied in traditions of hand-knitting, but she has given them a breath of fresh air and a touch of modernity. Mihaela is playing with different forms, creating transformable pieces that can be both useful and joyful. Her works are diverse and at the same time practical, as is the culture of Amsterdam, the city she is based in. The model line ranges from a cozy pulls for chilly evenings to sophisticated party looks. Every item is made by hand by Markovic’s team of hand-knitters.
Historically, my home country was always known for knitwear, but the tradition was lost.
Mihaela Markovic’s fashion brand follows three main principles: traditional knitwear techniques, globetrotter lifestyle and sustainable production. The Croatian born designer and Istituto Marangoni graduate launched her eponymous brand in 2015 in her native Zagreb before moving to Amsterdam, the city of her dreams. Mihaela tells us her story and explains why helping others and preserving a national craft is important to her and how even a little piece of fabric can be turned into a treasure.
I always thought I would become one. When I was little I liked to draw and to create stuff and put things together. I come from a family where everybody loved to make things happen. My parents are manufacturers of sport equipment, and when I was younger I was involved in the creative process behind it, from the initial idea to putting an actual product on the shelf. That is why I am a very hands on person. If I have an idea, I will go and execute it.
One could think that because it is a Croatian know-how, I haven’t always been a great knitter, but in fairness I never knitted before going to the university. I became interested in knitwear only at the end of my Bachelor’s in Milan when I was 21. My final collection was all hand-knitted. It was just the beginning, like opening a door to this new world. After graduation I enrolled in specialised courses. When I had a solid portfolio I applied for an MA program in knitwear design in Nottingham University. I knew that it was one of the best programs because the very first knitting machine was invented in Nottinghamshire in the 16th century, so there is a long tradition of knitwear production and the textile industry is strong. And thanks to this MA course I started my brand.
My Masters’ project was called “Clothes that my Mother wore”, and my whole brand evolved from it. I just knew that if I really wanted to start my company, I had to do it right at that moment. I wanted to create something that had not been done before and that can only be done by me. Historically, my home country was always known for knitwear, but the tradition was lost. That is why I decided to find the knitters I can work with to preserve this craft. My idea was to use my skills and my perspective as a young designer and unite it with their skills to create something completely new. No traditional granny knitting! Now ten knitters from Bosnia and Croatia are working with me.
I found the first ones through my uncle, who is a priest in a little village, and the others heard about us through word of mouth. From a very early age these people had excellent knitting skills, but this was the first time they could earn money from that skill. I bring my samples and the tools – needles, materials, measurements and patterns – they suggest their ideas and the whole working process is an ongoing conversation. They are so hardworking. I do not want them to be just executors of my design, for me they are all my collaborators. I don’t live in Zagreb any more, but I come visit them once every three months and we have skype meetings every week.
It’s a combination of making and sketching and then trying it all over again. When an idea pops up in my head, I start trying it out. And if I cannot do it at that very moment, I would probably draw it, then do it later. Now I’m at the point where I have the shapes I can rely on. They are more classical, not necessarily easy to sell, but I can develop new ideas on top of them..
All the accessories are done by me. That is why they are all unique. I am never ever making two identical earrings or brooches – firstly, because I would get bored doing the same. And secondly, I want to find a way to make the whole process one hundred percent circular with zero waste. Basically, when I’m working on little accessories I use everything that is left over from my bigger projects. For example, we have to buy yarn by the kilo so obviously there are some leftovers and I use them to make accessories. I also love experimenting with different materials, so I use cord or elastic threads too. What brought me into knitwear is that it’s a very universal skill, you can literally work with anything, use any material and create something beautiful.
Everybody has favorite clothes that you spend years and your favorite moments in. But sometimes you get bored with them so you put it in the back of your closet. It made me think about what would happen if our clothes could change with us? I try to develop pieces that you can turn around and form a completely new shape. Sometimes you need your jacket to be longer or shorter, you need it to work in different ways. It is also very connected to the way we live today. We travel a lot and we need to always put as little as possible in our luggage and make it work on our travels as many times as possible. So having this piece that works as a skirt or a jumper and just takes up a little space in the suitcase, it’s a very cool idea for me. It is called Jean Skirt, it has sleeves on the side. When you wear it as a skirt you tie them in the front as a big bow.
I had already lived abroad and living in Zagreb felt very restrictive in every sense of the word. It is not the best city for fashion, it’s s a very small market and I had to travel all the time to show my clothes. While in London for fashion week, I met the founders of the agency Pause Fashion Hub, Leti and Romi at pop up event. They organise different events all around the world but are based here in Amsterdam. From the first conversation we clicked. Last year they told me that they wanted to open a creative co-working space. It was a nice challenge to move to another city and to take my business to the next level. It was also a perfect opportunity to work in a highly creative environment, where I could test my ideas on someone and get my daily feedback. I am not creating for myself, I am creating for my customers, so it is really important to listen to what people need. Here they share what they think and the city itself is very functional. Everything is nicely organised, so you do not have any extra distractions and can focus on your work.
I am very proud of my origins. When people ask me what Croatia is about I can never give just one answer, because it is a country of a lot of influences. Italian food, for instance, has a very strong and clear identity. Croatian cuisine, on the contrary, is much more complicated to describe. It is so varied, because we have been under so many influences – Turkish, German, Hungarian and Austrian. So there are a lot of influences being mixed and I am just trying to bring that out in my designs.
I think so. Even the way the Netherlands work very well in terms of everything has been very important for me. Amsterdam is also a very international city. You do not even have to speak the language to make friends with the Dutch. There are also a lot of expats like me. Living here has opened so much more perspective for me as a designer. I see how clothes have to be, how to make them better, just living here riding my bike everyday. When the weather conditions change, I am thinking more about yarns for the wind or for the rain. Anyways, I just moved here so I think its influence will just keep growing.