Matea By 

the girls whose designs brought Borovo to Vogue

They are Iva and Hana, and this is a story about them. And about Startas. And about the hype that arose when that morning (and, symbolically enough, it was Christmas morning), in an editorial  devoted to inspiration in children’s fashion inspired by unicorns, a model of Startas designed by Iva appeared. It was the Pink Unicorn model of sneakers made by this cult Vukovar shoe factory, which soon became the talk of the fashion world, even across the Atlantic.

The history of Borovo started back in 1931, which means that Borovo is as old as my grandma, but joking aside, it’s also one of the oldest brands in Dear Old Croatia. Startas, those cute canvas sneakers with a rubber sole, were designed in 1976 and marked the 1980s, peaking in popularity in 1987, when they were the official footwear of the Summer Universiade. After a looong break and all the turbulences Borovo had gone through, they came back with a bang several seasons ago, and since then they have been the must have of all young people and those who feel that way. They are comfortable, made entirely of natural fabrics, and the price matches the quality, which makes them affordable for the masses.

Matea wears Pink Unicorn from the Vougea (pic right)

With or without Vogue, the fact is that Borovo has been going through a renaissance in manufacturing, as well as in the positioning of the brand (way to go, Filip and Martina:-)), and I had coffee with the girls who self-denyingly hide behind their computer screens and do their designer work. Meet Iva Ćurković Spajić and Hana Ciliga in this parallel interview.


Designers from Zagreb who went to high school and university together, and today they live 200 meters apart. We are proud to be part of the amazing story of Borovo, the former footwear giant who will (hopefully) rise to its former fame.
What has your professional path been like, from university to where you are now?

Iva: Even though we didn’t have formal education in footwear design and construction or fashion in general, during our study of product design at the Faculty of Architecture, we learned to think in a specific way that can be applied in the design of any item. Seven years ago, I had the first boots made according to my design by shoemaker Plavša in Zagreb. Borominas originated two years before I even started working at Borovo.

One day, I wore Borosanas on a skirt and concluded that my legs weren’t slender enough for that combination, so I took nail scissors and cut the tongue in a semi-circle and shortened the upper part. The next day, I took them to my shoe repairman and asked him to attach 2 centimetres of micro-foam rubber. Apart from elevating the first Borominas, it made them more comfortable for walking or dancing since the layer of foam rubber gives added amortisation.

Hana: I finished Classical Program Grammar School and enrolled in the study of design at the Faculty of Architecture. My mother is an architect so I presume I have her to thank for my artistic streak. As a kid, I wondered why someone would choose a job that makes you stay up at night as my mother did, but my job gets that way occasionally now. Truth be told, I never thought I would be designing shoes – I imagined myself designing furniture, cute little items, etc. However, the design process is the same – you want to make as much as you can with as little as you have. You start with the technology and materials at hand, you think about how to turn your weaknesses into your advantages, and to make advancement in design. And function always comes first!

How did Borovo’s Startas end up in the American Vogue?

Iva: In Borovo, I design the canvas and rubber collection, and Hana is in charge of the leather. But this feature was the feat of our friends, Michelle and Robert Grgurev, Newyorkers who come from the island of Ugljan. Every summer, they would stop by a store in Zadar and buy several models of Startas, and two years ago, Michelle also bought a pair of Borominas. They contacted us in early 2015, and in May that year, they started presenting the first shipment of Startas in the United States.

Hana: Michelle sent several pairs of Startas to the stylists of Vogue, who chose the Pink Unicorn model and presented it in the unicorn feature. You can send things to stylists and they’ll choose what they see fit, but it often happens that you keep sending items from your collection and they never choose any of them. That’s why we’re extra happy they chose Startas.

What does your average working day look like?

Hana: I often travel to Vukovar, where I work on new collections with the development team. We are currently working on the autumn/winter 2016 collection. My favourite place in the leather footwear building is definitely the so-called “Andrea’s warehouse” (Andrea Rorškar has designed most of the shoes so far), a small storage of leather and soles intended for prototype development. I often go there to cut around the samples, to get inspired. In order to devise an economical product, I need to take into account each operation a shoe needs to go through before final production.

So far, I have mostly designed ballet flats and sneakers, but many models are still in the pre-model stage. Only the Back to work autumn ballet flats collection went further than that. I am very much looking forward to spring since my favourite model, devised a year ago, will be finally coming to stores.

Iva: We have three average working days, in fact (laughter). The first one is us travelling to Vukovar by train, and during our days there, we get up at six and spend time in the factory from 7 to 3 p.m. We usually stay there during manufacturing, the creation of new models or for an important meeting. Some days in Zagreb are spent exclusively in front of a computer screen, designing shoes or boxes, visual identity and the like. There are days we spend in meetings at our office in Lauba; we also meet the press and hold workshops, like the one we had in Vukovar for Museum Night, when we painted Startas in the town museum… All in all, never a boring day.

How much has Borovo’s image changed in the last year? To what extent are designers responsible for that?

Hana: I believe that we are slowly changing the people’s perception of Borovo – we are finally successfully selling our products. We are far from where we want to go, but I think we’re on the right path. People have become aware of the importance of strengthening local manufacturing and local designs, and we’ve even managed to attract those who don’t care about these things with a quality product sold at an affordable price.

Iva: The two of us are responsible for the entire visual identity of the brand – we even design the store posters. We are the only designers at Borovo (if we leave out the creators, who also design footwear). For My Ballerinas, Hana did literally everything – from the shoebox to the logo and the campaign. I took photos of the models for Startas’ campaign last year.

What inspires you?

Iva: There are no rules, everything can be inspirational – going to Hrelić, visiting a second-hand store, photos, old surfer boards, wrapping paper, bathroom tiles, nature, forest, animals… Sometimes an idea will just occur to me: then I take my little notepad and write it down.

Hana: My process is slightly different than Iva’s since Iva works with canvas and I mostly work with leather. I pay most attention to the type of leather, type of stitches, detailing such as buttons, laces, zippers. I often look at stitching on the clothes and bags, so I take and use some parts in a completely different way. The archives of Borovo with gorgeous old shoes make for some amazing inspiration.

Do you have an ideal client in mind – who are the people who wear your designs?

Iva: Borosanas and Borominas are worn by women who are fashion enthusiasts, but they’re not slaves of fashion or shy away from weird designs. The most famous ambassador of Borosanas is Nina Violić. I believe that says enough.

Hana: For the ballet flats I work on, it is any woman who wants to look feminine but might be too easy-going to wear heels.

What are your business plans for the future?

Iva: We are planning to launch a new collection of rubber boots, Rubber, in autumn, and we’ll also be making leather Borominas.

Hana: I am looking forward to the prototypes of the autumn/winter 2016 collection that I’m currently devising. I hope we’ll cooperate with a Croatian knit work factory and make a collection of shoes combined with knit wear.



Photo Gallery/campaign Startas

Photo: Lidija Šeatović for MLZ, archive Borovo

Translation: Nevena Erak


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