I bet you’ve seen the unmistakable, Chopova Lowena skirt – multiple-pleated patchworks, suspended by mountaineering carabiners from chunky leather belts – on the street style arena. They are so distinct in their look you that just can’t miss them in the crowd. Emma Chopova and Laura Lowena‘s signature, made out of traditional fabrics from Bulgaria – and produced there – was the start of their label’s story. In a short space of time they’ve developed a cult following for their upcycled collection: colorfully cool, full-skirted dresses with big puffed sleeves, layerings of tartans and ’70s prints. Also, their way of doing things is so appealing. “It’s important for us not to make clothes for the sake of it, but to make things which are part of our heritage, and are helping people,” they say. Chopova’s light bulb moment was realizing that her home country is full of under-recognized cultural resources – both in terms of rich fabrics and skilled female sewers. “After communism in Bulgaria, it was all about adopting a Western lifestyle,” she says. “So all the beautiful traditional clothes which had been made as dowries for brides, which people kept in trunks for generations – they didn’t find them precious anymore, and were throwing them out.” The designers began retrieving them, along with 1970s mass-produced flower-print and check taffeta deadstock, then made a network of Bulgarian women seamstresses to make their collections. “It’s built up by one friend knowing another – someone knew a granny who loves embroidery, the old technique they used for aprons. So now it’s great that everything’s being made by these women who really know their skill.” Thanks to another friendship-group link, Chopova Lowena has hit on original way of making jeans this season, printed with beautifully faded marbled patterns, inset with florals. “It’s made by women in their houses in Bursa in Turkey,“ Chopova told Vogue. “We discovered it through one of the Bulgarian women we work with, who goes there. It’s a-300-year-old technique which is used for making Turkish tiles; but now we’ve transferred it to fabric,” she continues. Every piece is unique. In times when sustainability must be the keyword for every brand out there, this ethical way of working comes naturally for these two designers. “We think it’s a luxury to be able to have something handcrafted, and to know where it comes from,” Chopova says. “When we were starting, with all these old materials and telling buyers that, no, everything we make can’t be the same – we never even guessed that it would be welcomed.”
Collage by Edward Kanarecki.