Remember that lead up to Christmas where you are hunting around for the perfect present for someone you love, yet you don't want to just get anything and you definitely want to make sure it does good for the people and the planet? Well, it was at this time last year that I came across the Marina Vaptzarova.
Marina Vaptzarova create the most intricate and beautiful handmade journals that are the perfect high-quality gift for anyone that journals their thoughts or is about to go traveling and wants to keep a travel journal. From experience of traveling for six months, there is nothing better than keeping a travel journal, trust me days end up blurring into one otherwise and it's a great way to help you remember the beauty you experienced in every day for years to come.
For Marina Vaptzarova, every journal is handmade at every turn - from the creation of the paper and fabric, to every cut, fold, stitch, dye and print. Marina is a brand that I loved from the moment I came across their story, however deep diving further into what they do really made me feel that they have gone above and beyond the rest to ensure that both nature and the people who make the products are looked after in every step of the process.
In order to help you grasp the beauty behind each and every part that makes these handmade journals so beautiful, I'm going to break it down.
The paper is called Daphne paper, and is a sustainable material that is specific to Nepal. It's a paper that has been used in Himalayan societies for centuries to create prayer books, official documents an traditional medicine. It's texture is not only visually appealling but it's unique fibres are long enough to hold exceptional strength and therefore are able to stick to each other without the use of additives. This there makes Daphne paper one of the most sustainable papers in the world.
Daphley, aka vegetal leather
The same Lokta fibres that are used in creating the Daphne papr are also used to create a material named Daphley, otherwise known as vegetal leather. The material combines both luxury with sustainability that ultimately creates a fabric that is comparable to wrinkle leather. Not only is it used for creating the covers of Marina Vaptzarova's travel journals, but it can also be used to create decorative cushion covers and blinds for your home. All paper offcuts are recycled, making the process of creating and recycling their paper completely closed loop.
Allo, aka thread
Nettle fibers grow in abundance in the Himalayan hills and can reach up to 3m in height. It's an ancestral tradition to weave these fibers into a thread, ropes and weaving for clothes and bags.
Hemp is one of the most sustainable plants we have on the planet, as it grows and regenerates rapidly without any fertilisers. If you want to learn more about hemp, and other fabrics ranked on sustainability you can read the article I wrote about them on Mind Body Green here. The hemp fibres are woven into cloth and can also be used to make paper as it's renowned for its solidity, insulating capacities and resistance.
Brass & Silver:
Some of the journals from the collection have a brass or silver clasp that hold the journal together. Just like all other parts of Marina, these clasps aren't mass manufactured. Instead, they are created by The Newars, the native artisans of the valley of Kathmandu. The Newars are responsible for some of the most creative art found in the Nepalese tradition.
If it's not clear already, sustainability and slow fashion is truly at the heart of Marina Vaptzarova. Since 1993, Marina has been creating designs with renewable and natural raw materials, so it's only natural for this care for the planet has transcended into the core of her beautiful journals for Marina Vaptzarova. As Marina says, 'respect has always been our key word, whether it is respect for the environment, the artisans or the client'.
More than that, Marina Vaptzarova has been awarded the Butterfly mark which is powered by Positive Luxury. This Butterfly mark is in recognition of their commitment to social and environmental sustainability, you can learn more about the Butterfly mark here.
There's one more thing I want to touch on with this beautiful label, because I feel that they really have ticked all the boxes I look for in a label. It is also the main part that encompasses everything Ethical Made Easy is about. Since 1993, Marina Vaptzrova has been committed to improving working conditions and social benefits for the artisans that create their products.
Without any legal obligation, they have developed and implemented several benefits to their employees, such as health insurance or payment plans for school fees that are entirely at Marina Vaptzarova’s expense. Whenever possible they also offer to work at home, providing additional revenues for those who cannot work outside. To add to this, they also support Nepal's future by donating 1% of it's sales of paper designs to the Nepal Youth Foundation. This foundations is committed to providing freedom, health, shelter and education to Nepal's most impoverished children.
Behind the Brand:
An interview with Marina, the founder of Marina Vaptzarova.
What made you start Marina Vaptzarova?
I have always been interested in handmade items; since a young girl, I liked to knit, draw, embroider, make anything by hand. I always had an interest in the paper,the often forgotten support of writing, philosophy, art and I found Nepali paper very interesting; especially for its strength and beauty.
I was asked by a friend to make paper lamps for a hotel; from then, more requests came in and the business started organically. Soon after, I developed a small local team to work in my garage, converted in manufacturing unit,in Kathmandu. In 1994, I officially opened areal workshop with a team of local artisans that I trained to produce my designs.
In 1998, we opened a boutique outlet in Kathmandu’s prestigious Babar Mahal Revisited and the brand began to develop. In 2015, we rebranded to Marina Vaptzarova, my maiden name with the creation of more sophisticated, high-end products.
What is something others wouldn’t know about creating an ethical and mindful business that you think they should?
So many times people choose a product, or something they like to do or perhaps something that they're already doing,and then try to improve it or research on how to make it more ethical and more sustainable. This is often the case, because so many times I am asked, 'how did you improve?'.
In my case, and I think this is the best attitude, I started to use materials that are natural, ethical and sustainable in their own right, from the beginning.
There are always things to improve in terms of product design, processes and the way we market and conduct business, but still, from the beginning, I chose natural and sustainable resources as much as possible; even though ecological sustainability was not yet a topic so much talked about at that time. How can we improve hemp? How can we improve Daphne paper? They are natural resources that are ethical and sustainable on their own.
This is a pre-requisite; start with that. You should start using materials that are already sustainable from the beginning and then you create things with it.
What has been the most challenging thing since beginning?
Management! Creativity is my thing, not management. It is a very different frame of mind so you have to switch from one to another, and it is not so easy. I have common sense so I can organize, but I do not enjoy management so much. My passion is in creating, which keeps me going.
Within the ethical fashion community, there’s a big question we ask which is ‘Who made my clothes?’. In the scope of Marina Vaptzarovawho made your journals? Can you tell us a bit about them?
Most of the team of artisans I work with now are the same people who joined my team between 1994 and 1997. They further developed their skills in my workshop.
We work with other suppliers such as fabric weavers, paper manufacturers and metalsmiths with whom we’ve also worked with for many years; we know many of them.
Traceability is often made easy for us in Nepal since everything is made by very small manufacturers, often artisanal, family-run businesses as well as home-based artisans. We have less contact with some of them who are in very rural and remote parts of Nepal who supply the raw, unprocessed materials but we know they operate according to their craft tradition.
Best piece of advice you have ever received?
After watching a Ted Talk by Ernesto Sirolli: He quite rightly said that you cannot run a business all by yourself! You need a variety of qualities (great product, finance, and marketing), which cannot all be found in one individual. I thought I could manage on my own, but after listening to him I understood why I cannot! You need to surround yourself with a team. Nobody has the capacity to do it all alone.
One tip you’d give to others who are wanting to start their own business?
It is better not to be alone; nobody has all of the capacity required to starting and running a business. You cannot be good in everything. As Ernesto Sirolli points out, you need first a great product, then good finance manager and great marketing skills.
Where do you envision Marina Vaptzarova in the future?
I would like to brand to grow and become well known within special circles of people who appreciate quality craftsmanship and the time and expense that goes into such products. As much as I want the brand to grow I would like it to remain accessible to a niche of customers with appreciation for sophistication, and who value sustainable and ethical brands. Marina Vaptzarova will grow within our capacity to be able to maintain the quality and dedication to each and every process. I do not envisage Marina Vaptzarova to become a mass manufacturer; it will remain intimate from its production to the connection with its user.
What or who inspires you to do what you do on a daily basis?
My inspiration to create does not come entirely from me or from one source; it is about my connection to something out there, which brings me ideas, like pop ups. Of course I would need to think of it, concentrate on an idea and to get somehow connected; but then it somehow comes to me! I do not need to feel proud or carry an ego on the creations I make, because it does not come entirely from me. At least this is how I feel.Elisabeth Gilbert explains this really well in her Ted Talk ‘your elusive creative genius’.
I have an urge to create. I don not know from where it comes, but this is what really gives me energy. I want everything to look nice, pleasing to the eye. I just cannot help it.
Do you have a morning routine? If so, what is it you do to set yourself up for the day ahead?
I’m very bad with routine. I like things to be different all the time. That’s not always practical but I like my life to be lively and different everyday.
One book everyone should read? Why?
I cannot give so much importance to one book. There are many things and books that bind together; ideas and concepts that intersect together.
Are there any other movers and shakers out there in your world that you think people should know about?
I am thinking about Sir Ken Robinson; he talks about education and creativity and explains how school can kill creativity. Everything starts with education, opening the mind of people. Creativity is not only for people who do design. Creativity is for everyone; it should be part of every business, whether it is a doctor, a researcher, or an engineer. Any business requires a lot of creativity. It is important to learn to manage on your own and find solutions to pursue your dream, your passion.
Right now the education system in most countries has done exactly the opposite of what is required. As Sir Ken Robinson mentions: humans are diverse and they develop organically. Education should work on developing this diversity instead of uniformity. I also think everybody has a creative mind but most education systems tend to suppress it instead of developing it. It is time for a real revolution in education so it can catch up with our age of innovations and rapid changes.