Zvelle, a luxury women’s shoe and bag brand, is the brainchild of Elle AyoubZadeh, who wished to bring together high fashion with ethical and sustainable production. Crafted with the finest suedes and leathers, these handmade products are produced with impeccable attention to detail and comfort.
In the space of six years, the self-funded venture has grown into a recognizable brand, which was highlighted when Sophie Grégoire Trudeau wore Zvelle’ s hot pink Ava pumps to a state dinner at the White House in 2016. Elixuer had a chance to speak with Elle AyoubZadeh on her motivations to start Zvelle, her business model, sources of inspiration, and the quintessential Zvelle woman.
Having started in finance, what motivated you to launch Zvelle, a retail brand focused on premium quality shoes and bags?
How I got to Zvelle was really [when] I started to pay attention to fashion in general. At that time, I was running a luxury concept store, and I looked at this space. I just couldn’t relate to the way fashion portrayed women in general, and the way they spoke to customers [in advertisements]. It really started to bug me and looking also at the product side, you can buy a lot of the cheap types of brands, or you can spend $1,500 for a pair of shoes. I just didn’t think that either [was] right. I really wanted to bring quality craftsmanship to people at attainable price points.
You have said that with Zvelle you wish to change the way women’s stories are portrayed in fashion. Can you elaborate on that?
If you look at the fashion space in general, when is it that we hear about women? We really only hear about a small group of women, and these are the actresses and the fancy people on the red carpet, but there’s a whole other segment that fashion is ignoring. What we are trying to do is really bring different stories to people.
I have a handbag called Editke, and it’s named after this fantastic woman, who’s 93 years old today, Dr. Edith Eger. She survived a concentration camp when she was 16 years old. She is a world-famous psychologist. Now, everyone from Oprah to the who’s who has interviewed her, and I read her book and I was really inspired by her story. We gave out copies of her books. There are brands [into] influencers, and Instagram likes and things like that, and then there are brands like ours showing that there are lots of different kinds of women in the world, and they all deserve to be celebrated.
Why did you choose to partner with family-run Italian factories to handcraft your brand’s shoes and bags?
For us to be sustainable and also to make the best products, we have to go work with family-owned factories. Italy is the land of family-owned factories. This really gives us the ability to, number one, control our supply chain: we want to work with factories that give their workers a fair living wage, not just fair, but something that they can be proud of, and they can support their families [with].
Then the second thing is that we want to know every single person in the supply chain. Working with small family-owned factories allows us to do that. [We] vet, first and foremost, the factory owners. It allows us to work with people who are ethical—people who have sustainability in mind. We never want to make a product that is hurting someone.
What design philosophy do you ascribe to as a fashion designer located in Toronto and having a Persian background?
I’m somebody who is an outsider and also an insider. I’ve lived in many different parts of the world, and I’m in Canada right now. I’m proud of my Persian background, but I’ve never really grown up with Persians. In a way, I am an outsider Persian—somebody admiring the culture and having this personal connection that I have from my parents. At the same time, I’m in Toronto, but I think that I really could be anywhere, and my design philosophy would be the same. I didn’t go to fashion school—I’m a self-taught designer. Everything that I know about making handbags and shoes, I learned working with the factory owners on the factory floors, almost like an apprenticeship.
I have this insider perspective because I’m working with the best factories in the world. We make our products in the same factories as all [the big luxury brands], but [still I’m] an outsider because I don’t really get my influences from typical fashion. I don’t just go to vintage markets and say, “Oh, this is nice. I’m going to make this new.” My interests are very varied. One of my signature styles is called Rayna, and it’s inspired by the Persian number five, which looks like an upside-down heart. How did I come up with that idea? I can’t even write Persian and I can’t read it, but I’m familiar with the language.
What defines a Zvelle woman in your eyes?
One of the things that I always make sure of is that I make handbags and shoes for a global audience. I’m not making them for Persian women. I’m not making them for Indian women. I’m really making it for the women of the world. She could be anyone, but she has a certain mindset. She’s a woman who is intelligent. She really cares about the world, and she is a determined woman. You can really tell a woman from just how she goes about her life. There’s one thing we say: “Walk how you want.” The Zvelle woman is somebody who walks how she wants. By that, I mean she’s not listening to others telling her how to live her life or how to look like, what to do, what not to do. She follows her own path, and I think that is the most important thing that we can all do in life.
When you say that a Zvelle woman is intelligent, how would you define this intelligence?
She reads books. I know [that] I’m opening myself to [laughs] criticism here, but she is a woman that reads books. I don’t want to make comparisons. Let’s just say she’s not reading gossip magazines. She is more concerned about what she puts inside her head than the number of Instagram likes. She’s experienced life.
If she’s buying Zvelle’s shoes, it’s not because she wants to tell the world that she has money. She’s buying it because she wants to show that she has certain values. She cares about how things are made. What I love about fashion is that when we wear something, we are expressing to the world what our values are. She is intelligent because she’s making informed choices.
Arslan Ahmed | Contributing Writer