Interview with CURIO - Shoes Inspired by Cultures Around the World with Yasmine Idriss: Founder, Solana
“I grew up in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, where I attended a French school. My family and I traveled every chance we had. We’d spend breaks in Lebanon, visiting family. During summer and winter breaks, we’d travel to Europe, the US, and on a few memorable occasions, to other parts of the world. I attended camp most summers that were very diverse. For those three weeks, I’d live with kids from all over the world. It’s powerful to meet people from different backgrounds at a young age; it helps form an open-minded perspective and worldview. I also spent a lot of time in the Mediterranean, in Italy and France. At 16, I moved to a boarding school in Switzerland, which was a very international environment. I absolutely loved it! What teenager wouldn’t want to spend 24/7 with their friends?
I always had a feeling I’d be an entrepreneur. I was pretty industrious as a kid. I used to organize charities and try to develop exciting ways to get people excited about the cause. My biggest hit was a basketball tournament I organized when I was 15 called Hoops for Hope. We donated to an orphanage in Malawi for children whose parents were affected by AIDS. Saudi was segregated at the time, and I knew that a mixed-gender event would be a hit. I convinced the American School principal, a private property protected by the US embassy, to rent me their grounds. Then I called MTV Arabia to get them to advertise the tournament. Miraculously, they agreed, and shortly after, Nike, Gatorade, and Gold’s Gym followed suit. The event had DJ’s mixing while games took place, a vintage car show, and a breakdance competition. It was a success, and before we knew it, we had sold out of tickets. The event was a massive undertaking for me at 15. Still, despite my grades plummeting and running on five-six hours of sleep for two months, it was an exhilarating experience, and I felt I was doing something meaningful and real. I think I subconsciously decided then that I’d pursue a lifestyle that would allow me to freely combine my creativity with my desire to give back in some way. A few years later, I decided to attend Babson College, an entrepreneurship school in Wellesley, MA.CAREER
I started Solana not long after I graduated from college. My first internships were after college because I had spent my summers traveling instead. I viewed my time in college as carte blanche, a precious four years when I could travel as much as I wanted before I started my career, which at the time, I assumed wouldn't allow much free time. To bolster my resume and figure out what I wanted to do, I took up a couple of internships in New York, one at an art gallery and another at a booming startup. This combination is a perfect reflection of where my mind was at the time, as I was debating between entering the fashion industry or the startup world. My mom is an artist, and my dad is a businessman, and it so happens that it's the perfect description of my personality. I had taken a few design classes at Parsons and was continually going back and forth between design and entrepreneurship.
The corporate world quickly disenchanted me. My jobs weren't stimulating enough, and I promptly reevaluated the mentality of school, career, retirement, with retirement being the point at which you finally start living the life you want. I started thinking about what I wanted to do and what career suited me best. I finally realized that my passion for travel and exploring new cultures could become my life's work. I guess that's where the saying 'if you do something you love, you won't work a day in your life' is derived. Well, let me tell you, you do work when you're doing something you love! I'm not off traveling every day, but I love the idea of sharing my experience of different cultures with the world, and more importantly, shining a light on those cultures.
It's sad that we still have to ask why sustainability and ethics should be essential to brands. The move to sustainability is no longer an option; I think if you're in an industry that offers eco-friendly alternatives, there's no reason why you shouldn't go that route. Sustainable materials are more expensive than the generic options, but now people are willing to spend more for something that doesn't harm the planet or has a smaller ecological footprint.
There's just an innate quality to a handmade object when choosing the medium of a traditional espadrille. A quality made espadrille is an incredibly flattering and versatile silhouette – it can be both elegant and casual. There's a reason it's been around for centuries and is a wardrobe staple.
Finding the right atelier was a long process that took almost two years of searching. When I visited our current workshop in Spain, I immediately knew it was the one. The fact that it works with some of the best-known luxury brands was, of course, an indication, but the craftsmanship process truly blew me away. The attention to detail and technique is simply unrivaled. On top of that, I had access to the cleanest materials that exist. Although there was a significant financial factor to consider, the decision was easy. I always choose quality over quantity, slow fashion over fast fashion, and unique pieces with stories to tell.
WE WANTED TO CREATE A CULTURALLY INSPIRED SHOE AND A BRAND THAT WOULD SHINE AN AUTHENTIC LIGHT ON CULTURES FROM AROUND THE WORLD.
Solana has been a learning journey for me. It started in 2017 with a very different shoe, made in a tiny atelier in Beirut. For three months, I zipped through the city on the back of a broken-down scooter with the atelier owner, trying to gather our components from different artisans around town. At the time, I wanted to be close to the production process to understand what it took to create a shoe since I was new to it all. The challenges were many, from creating the perfect silhouette to locating the right materials and running a business's everyday tasks. After two years of experimentation, I finally felt I had a good vision for where I wanted Solana to go. We changed pretty much everything about the brand except for the name and the origins of the brand. We wanted to create a culturally inspired shoe and a brand that would shine an authentic light on cultures from around the world. Once we found our workshop and added the sustainability element, the puzzle was complete. I was on the right track.
Since COVID-19, we have run the business entirely from home! Each day is different, and there's no blueprint. I usually prepare coffee and breakfast first thing, then check on our production team in Spain. I take my calls in the morning and get the most important tasks of the day done. I'll then go for a run, prepare lunch, shower, and get ready for the second half of the day. When we're designing, we center everything around that. I'll be in constant communication with the team discussing inspirations, fabrics, colors, stories. It's an ongoing process, but I love it! Design is probably my second favorite part of the job after traveling.
Style is the most visual and direct tool we have to express ourselves in the context of everyday life. I think style extends beyond what we wear to our behavior and personality. It’s very fluid and continually changes.
My style is a never-ending work in progress, but I have been consistently drawn to neutrals with a pop of color. I give a lot of importance to the fabric and the fit of the pieces I wear, how a piece feels, and how it sits on your body. I also love to mix and match materials. I think there’s an influence of my personal style in Solana, but the shoes are designed based on my experience of the featured culture. We focus on the sensations, the tastes, colors, sights, general energy, and feel of the place and try to portray that in our shoes. Our first collection fully encapsulates our brand identity, and I’m pleased with how it turned out.
I’m obsessed with our Sumatra shoe! Since everyone is working from home nowadays and loungewear is the new outwear, they’ve elevated my work from home look just enough for me to feel like a normal human being. I’ve also been living in my Mate the Label outfits, a fellow sustainable brand!
The rise of sustainability in the industry is fantastic; it's high time everyone made the shift. Every industry needs to find innovative and sustainable ways to operate. Sustainability is not a trend and certainly no longer an option.
At Solana, we're committed to using the most eco-friendly materials available to us. Most of our materials are certified recycled, and those that are not recycled come from natural sources. For example, our midsole is made of natural jute. We tried using recycled jute, but it's not durable and doesn't meet our quality standards. The sustainable textile industry is developing quickly, but sometimes it takes time to find a suitable alternative that doesn't require the use of any harmful substances. We're always on the lookout for the latest advances in recycled materials and sustainable processes.
Thankfully, it's becoming easier than ever to shop consciously. There are now companies that rate brands based on their eco-friendliness, like Good on You. You can also follow accounts on social media that promote these brands.”
Original Article: https://www.curioxo.com/editorial/shoes-inspired-by-cultures-around-the-world-with-yasmine-idriss-founder-solana
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