In Conversation with Melisa Minca – Berlin's Very Own Upcycling Queen
This sustainable babe is making waves in the industry and saving our planet one outfit at a time.
Melisa Minca is a Berlin-based upcycling 'queen'. An upcoming designer, Instagram baddie/blogger with a degree in Sustainable Development.
In conversation with Fizzy Mag, she reveals all on her process, work and ideas.
We caught up with her amid her working with Adidas on their ‘Future Studio’ brief, which is ‘An open call to creators to take what they want from the past, mess with it to create something totally new’, it involves asking creators to put their own spin on items of clothing and accessories through the multi-faceted lenses of sport culture.
Adidas provide platforms, access and space for a group of 10 like-minded individuals with diverse backgrounds to come together and develop content empowered by the brand. Focusing on art, fashion and music and giving back to communities, creative freedom is endless!
How did you get started with sewing and designing?
M: I come from a family where women make their clothes as a result of growing up in a socialist Slovakia. If you want to look different you have to make your clothes. In shops back home, the designs were limited and boring, so yeah I grew up around women sewing, not for a job, but just for themselves, you know? Making pants shorter, doing a bit of this and a bit of that. It has been something that I've always been familiar with. I went to university, not for fashion design but sustainable development and politics. I had a fashion blog on the side. Upon finishing university, I still had no clue about what I wanted to do.
How did you land up in Berlin and start to sew?
M: I came to Berlin as we all do and tried to find myself. I was unemployed and had all this time on my hands right after uni. So I was like ‘why don’t I just start sewing, it's always been what I want to do’, but I never got around to it, so I started teaching myself alone from YouTube tutorials.
So you are self-taught?
M: Yeah! And books and I don’t know, just figuring it out, lots of experiments. That’s kind of how I got into upcycling. I was studying sustainable development for my final paper and I wrote about sustainability in fashion because that was close to my heart. I found I could focus on this for an extended amount of time. It needs to be a topic you are very interested in otherwise you won't get through it!
Tell me about how you refined your skill?
M: So I knew in the beginning, I would probably fuck a lot of things up. To combat that, I went to flea markets and I would get, bed sheets and fabrics that were, second hand and tattered, that way I wouldn’t feel bad about destroying it. So that's how I started and it kind of evolved. The better I learned how to sew the more I was thinking about how to re-work.
How did you discover your love for upcycling and then how d'you refine your skill?
M: I was discovering this entire world of upcycling and kept wondering about how I could turn this into a job. I went through a few jobs that were social media related and I did not find myself in that. I am not the type of person who can sit behind a computer all day long. I was dying, haha. So I found myself in the job market again. In Germany, the government can support you when you’re unemployed so I signed up for that. I did a few months [of that] and then I felt like they didn’t care about me. They just wanted me to find a job, any job.
The Jobcentre kept pressuring me to find a job. They kept suggesting jobs that I was 'qualified' to do but not what I wanted to pursue. Then, finally, they changed my advisor. That advisor actually, on the first meeting sat down with me and asked, “So what do you want to do, what do you enjoy doing?” and I told him I have a blog and am interested in sewing, and additionally have a popular Instagram blog. Then he suggested, “Okay, so you want to do this freelancing program, it’s like a government-sponsored loan for freelancers”, and I said, 'sure!' They put you through this business coaching, it's difficult—I’m not a native speaker, I’m not German, however, my level of German was enough for that. I am fluent but it takes a million years to express myself!
Do you think German is a very hard language? We do! Also, did the program work out for you?
M: I don’t think it's hard, I don’t practice enough. I don’t have German friends so it’s harder.
Also, did the program work out for you?
M: I went through this program. I eventually was awarded what you could call a scholarship. For twelve months they were supporting me financially, and then these twelve months ended in February this year. I've had my shop for more than a year now, and the only reason I could do this was that I had the right support! Now I’m gonna pay it back—But they don’t want the whole sum immediately so I’m really happy that I can pay it in instalments, and that's my story!
How much has your degree influenced your career choice?
M: - I got into this, with the awareness of wanting to be sustainable, it is what I studied. Initially, I wanted to change something in the world for the better. When I started I was vegan, and I'd say, ‘Oh my god, I’m going to change the world’, and then I got more realistic about it. However, it remains true that I care about, you know, the people and the planet. I want it to continue!
How do you describe the genre of your brand, as in, what's your style and how do you sell yourself, as a label?
M: Well, I would label it street-wear. It has different influences. I like feminine silhouettes, although I don’t consider my clothing or my collections to be only women’s wear. I would like to call it unisex. And that’s because I don’t feel gendering through clothing is the right thing to do. I always get asked “When will you make some menswear?” and I’m like ‘I’m making unisex clothes so if you wanna wear it and it fits you-’
Yeah, it's fine! Clothes should have no gender, wear what you want, right? So, would you say your brand is experimentative as of now?
M: Yeah, that’s all that matters you know! So streetwear, I don’t know it depends on my mood. I don’t think my style is very pronounced at this point as I've only had the brand for a little more than a year. So I feel like I’m still looking for ‘my thing’.
What is your style and where do you draw inspiration from?
M: I honestly don’t like when people ask me this question, like “what inspires you”, because everything inspires me. It's not so clear cut or specific for me. Some people - have collections that are inspired by something specific. So if I were to talk about that, then I might pick individual collections and what they were inspired by. If I were to still point out some of my inspirations, I'd say work-wear as I've been working with that a lot. With upcycling sometimes I find inspiration with what I can find to work on in these second-hand places. If there are a lot of suits, then I'm are gonna rework a lot of suits, you know, and it just depends on I end up reworking them, like how I style them in the collection so the inspiration is everywhere. I don’t know. I couldn’t pinpoint it. (Laughing)
Okay, now about the present week here, so how did you get involved with the workgroup here at Adidas?
M: In the past year I have been asked by photographers and stylist to borrow my pieces for shoots a lot, and one of them was Marlene. She is a photographer, has been working with Girls Are Awesome, she suggested that she should mention me to Adidas. Malene believed that they'd like me. I said, "well I would be delighted if you did that". Then a few months passed, and I thought she forgot about it and in all honesty, I forgot about it, and then one day Adidas just called me and asked, "Hey do you wanna do this?".
That sound cool, networking is important and you've just bagged a big one. What does Marlene do?
M: Yeah yeah! Marlene did this whole project about women supporting women. She did it without being asked, without being paid and just did it, because she cares.
Well, that’s super nice! What do you wish to take forward from this opportunity?
M: Yeah I appreciate that; I always try to do the same for all of my friends. I feel like, that’s what Berlin is about. It’s not like, ‘Who you know’ because that sounds bad, it's more like ‘Connections matter’.
You've got two other designers working here with you, how are you guys getting along?
M: I think we have very different in styles, they are into the deep end of street-wear and I’m a bit more extravagant - I wouldn’t say avant-garde - I would say diverge. That’s why I couldn’t describe my style because I truly do not know. When we were here on the first day, they mentioned that they didn't know how to sew I was like, “Oh god!” I thought I'd have to take over all the sewing projects but then we got support from Unit 26. I thanked my lucky stars for not having to lead a sewing workshop for five days.
But yeah, they are lovely girls, they’re both German so they click with each other better than they do with me, there is also an age difference. So right off the bat, we don't click like best friends but it’s enjoyable. We are each creating a piece that is - mounted to the fact that we’re gonna discuss and bounce off each other, but it's going to be individual items that we’re all accomplishing. I’m okay with that. (Laughs)
Are the Ozwegoo shoes you're wearing today easy to style?
M: Yeah it's not super hard to style. Today you can style sneakers with anything and it's accepted. I mean, they have this little neon bit, and neon is trendy this summer. It’s a little reflective and I love reflective, it’s a nice shoe, I don’t know what else to say!
Are you feeling confident about the Adidas 'Design Challenge' being so that its main theme is upcycling, or are you jumping into new territory and feeling overwhelmed?
M: No it’s completely what I do! I’m thrilled that they provided us with leftover materials. Upcycling is not about cutting into new clothes. It’s about making something better out of things that nobody wants or would be thrown out or material that might get discarded. That’s why I am not upcycling vintage jackets. I don’t think like, 'I need to make this better', it's already good. Somebody will wear it, and they will be happy with it it's not like it has a huge hole in it. That’s why I mainly work with leftover fabric which is brought from the creator’s lab, from where they make samples. It's super cool, the fabrics look great.
Well, I’m looking forward to seeing what you’re gonna do with it, we will follow you on Instagram and keep up!
M: Thank you!
This article has been condensed for brevity.
Cop a pair of Ozweego sneaks here.