Alina Van is a young designer who launched her self titled shoe label “Alina Van” in October 2010. The Chinese designer grew up in Russia and now lives in Australia. At just 23 her debut collection is quickly becoming noticed.
Alina took some time out to speak with Beauty and Lace, and you will be sure to find inspiration in this interview:
Tell us a bit about your brand, Alina Van…
Alina Van is a new Australian brand of ladies shoes. In our company we stand for three main principles: design, quality and comfort.
Design represents aesthetics of our brand. We work in a team of footwear technicians and designers, where I am the lead creative designer. Essentially, I shape the vision for every new collection and our brand in general. Every single design reflects what we believe is femininity, elegance and beauty.
Our shoes are made using high-quality leather including upper, lining and sole which makes them extremely soft and comfortable to wear. We are also very particular when it comes to shoe lasts (a form in the approximate shape of a human foot, used in shoemaking to produce the fit of a shoe). This is crucial to make any shoes comfortable, especially high-heeled shoes.
How has your Russian background influenced your designs?
A lot. I grew up in Russia where women don’t get out of the house without high-heels and makeup even to buy a bottle of milk. I don’t necessarily agree with such an obsession but I adore people who are so dedicated to maintain good looks, as it is a hard work. Women in Russia dress in a feminine, delicate and sexy style and like to make a statement with their outfit.
As a result, our designs are feminine and delicate while making a bold statement. This includes not only evening stilettos but everyday shoes including casual sandals, office heels and comfy boots. Our shoes are meant to compliment women’s gracefulness and elegance while accentuating their character and individuality.
When working on shoe designs, I always think about what I would like to wear and what other women would like to wear. While I admire haute couture creations, the thing that gives me the greatest sense of accomplishment is seeing women wearing our shoes. All our designs reflect my personality, cultural background and places I’ve visited but they are also very diverse and suit various occasions.
How did you get started as a shoe designer?
I always was very passionate about shoes. However, only when I came to Sydney about 5 years ago, I started thinking about setting up a shoe brand. I saw the market for women’s’ shoes of statement design and high-quality. That time I was too busy studying at university, so it hadn’t happened then.
About 2 years ago I spoke with my husband about it and he saw a business opportunity in my passion. The next think I know we are on our way to visit shoe factories and material markets. It was quite a frenzied time: we spend a lot of time inspecting factories and putting our team together.
Once we had a highly-skilled production team ready (thanks to our friends working in the shoe industry), we started working on our first collection. It was just a burst of ideas! I got very excited deciding on materials, colours and shapes. That’s why our first range is a bit all over the place. I guess I got a bit too passionate about it!
Where do you get your inspiration?
Everything that surrounds me instigates new ideas for shoe designs. For our first collection (Spring/Summer ’10/11) we really went for bold colour inspired by the Australian summer. I’ve spent several years here and think that Australian people are so lucky to have such beautiful natural landscapes at their doorstep. There are bright colours all around in Australia, and so this was my main inspiration.
I also couldn’t resist the enormity of various materials available. As a result, we used quite unique materials in our first collection. In our latest Autumn/Winter ’11 range, we continued experimenting with different materials and textures which lead to some mind-blowing designs. Metallic patterns on suede leather, textured reflective wedges and gold hue infused denim are all signature designs of our latest collection.
Who are your current favourite Australian designers?
I have a few favourites! I love sass&bide, Camilla and Marc and Cue. I also love Tigerlily beachwear and Alex Perry evening gowns.
How do you choose which materials to use to create your shoes?
I can talk for hours about this! As I said, we source the highest quality leather to use throughout the shoe including upper, lining and sole. At Alina Van, like at most well-renowned shoe-making houses, we use the softest kid leather even for the inner lining of shoes which costs six times more than standard lining leather. This means that you feel extra soft and comfortable the second you slip your foot into the shoe. As a result, we’ve had many customers commenting on how incredibly soft and pleasant our shoes are to wear.
From an aesthetic point of view, the sky is the limit when it comes to materials to be used to create shoes. The abundance of various leather and non-leather materials is amazing! There’s pure leather, textured leather, patent leather, suede leather, snake skin, lizard skin, stingray skin, crocodile leather, pony hair, mesh fabrics and more! Multiply this by hundreds of colours and print patterns and you get infinite design possibilities!
I like to use textured leather in our shoes, as it creates another dimension to the whole design. I select materials which not only look good but feel good to touch, are wearable and picture unique patterns and colours. Overall, I’m still learning and experimenting.
You opened your flagship store in October 2010, what has the customer feedback been like?
So far feedback has been great! I am very happy that people like our style and, more importantly, appreciate the high quality of our products. We already have a lot of regular customers which is a good sign!
What has been your biggest challenge in starting your own label?
The biggest challenge for me was to learn that we often cannot change certain things and need to be able to work with what we have. I am a perfectionist and always try to do the best I can. Sometimes it costs me my nerves, or worse – my husband’s nerves! However, I learnt that being able to adapt to any situation is the key to success.
If a website takes two weeks longer to develop, find another way to display your products – use Facebook! If you can’t meet a production deadline to have the next collection in store on time, make a sample shoe of each style and put interested people on a waiting list – it’s even more exciting for them!
These are all things I had to do. It’s difficult, but the more challenges like this you go through, the more confident you feel. I learnt to adapt and prioritise better which helped me.
What kind of woman would wear a pair of Alina Van shoes?
A woman who embraces her individuality and unique style and likes to make a statement!
What is next for Alina Van?
At the moment we are working on our Spring/Summer ’11/12 range. We are hoping to further refine our signature style following our first collection which was a bit experimental.
Apart from that, we are also in the process of developing a set of shoe lasts based on Australian standard meaning that our shoes will fit more Australian women. Our first two ranges were made using Italian standard shoe lasts which differ from the Australian standard. This is a big project with its own challenges. Diversity of Australian population makes it very challenging to make shoes that fit all or most people. We hope that we can complete this piece of work on time for new lasts to be used for our next collection.
Where can we buy your collection?
Full range of products is available at our flagship store in Paddington, where our charming sales assistants are always ready to help you find the perfect statement shoe. Our products can also be purchased online at www.alinavan.com
Do you have any advice for those wanting a career in fashion?
I’m not sure if I’m qualified to give any advice, as I’ve just started myself but I would say patience and dedication are qualities that will help. And, don’t be afraid to try something different!
What does being a woman mean to you?
Being a woman means compassion, beauty and strength. It means carrying yourself with elegance, delicateness and dignity and embracing your body as nature has given it to you without vulgarity.