Marina from Marina Vaptzarova

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Marina Vaptzarova create the most intricate and beautiful handmade journals that are the perfect gift for anyone that journals their thoughts, or is about to go traveling and wants to keep a travel journal

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. You can read the full brand summary here

I feel very lucky to be able to have interviewed the founder of such a mindful company, so I really hope you enjoy this interview with Marina, a woman who's been paving the way of mindful products since 1994 - the year I was born. 

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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 Vaptzarova who 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: https://www.ted.com/talks/ernesto_sirolli_want_to_help_someone_shut_up_and_listen
 
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’ https://www.ted.com/talks/elizabeth_gilbert_on_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.

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If you want to check out the full range of Marina Vaptzarova, or grab one for yourself or someone special you can do so here. While you're at it, head on over to their Instagram and join their journey.