The Kazakh-Belgian designer Zarina Khassenova has only just turned her side job into her main profession. Setting the bar high with sophisticated handbags in cheerful colours, with Zarina Rouge she aims to offer sustainability for not-too-exorbitant prices.
How do you deal with sustainability and innovation?
At first, I had my prototypes made more cheaply in China, but that wasn’t who I am. Now I work as locally as possible. My Italian leather developer and leather supplier are both certified by LWG (Leather Working Group, an organisation dedicated to sustainable leather – ed.). I have everything made in a Spanish factory that also works for Jacquemus, Loewe, Chloé, Prada and Louis Vuitton. All of my packing material and dust bags are from Italy. Of course, all of that has its price. My handbags are also seasonless. There’s such an oversupply and such an overconsumption that I find it a bit sad. Personally, I prefer to save for a piece that I can wear longer. I want to demonstrate that with Zarina Rouge. My offer is currently very limited and I certainly wish to expand, but not every season and probably not even every year.
What is the biggest challenge in your work?
Money, to be honest. My head sometimes explodes with ideas, but I don’t have enough money to get everything developed. I started with 200 euros, but I could have gone so much further if I had more financial strength. Now I’m in four stores, and I get a lot of requests from other stores, but I can’t keep up with the demand.
How do you keep a balance between the artistic and business side of things?
I’m much more concerned with the business side because I can’t do otherwise. I do everything myself, from maintaining social media and accounting to placing orders. I’m a translator/interpreter by training. Languages are in my blood, but numbers, not at all. I still have a lot to learn on a business level. I may be a little too naive. It was never my intention to get rich with this. I wanted to market something cool that made other people happy and made me a bit of money, but not necessarily to turn into a wolf. Although sometimes you can’t help but be tough. People see you’re a small fish and they sometimes take advantage of that.