Olga Kotova is the designer behind Masha Maria, a brand based in Amsterdam that upcycles materials such as vintage wool blankets and vintage deadstock cotton to craft charming and colorful outerwear. Each garment is handmade and unique in its construction. A piece by Masha Maria often has a contemporary fit with a stylistic interpretation of the 1940s and 1960s. Rather than one style or trend, Masha Maria is committed to creating a sustainable and colorful future to promote a resourceful and conscientious society.
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What upcycling techniques do you employ?
Upcycling to me, means finding new ways to reuse what we already have. Currently, I am working with vintage wool Dutch blankets and turning them into colorful winter coats with lining. My goal is to make a beautiful piece, but keeping the upcycling part between the lines.
My current collection of quilted bombers is a different way to upcycle as well. I collect vintage deadstock 1980s mostly oversized and colorful cotton and silk blouses, spend some time to open them up to make them flat (preserving all the original details such as pockets and buttons), add padding and lining and reclose them. As a result, I do have uniquely created quilted bombers which have the original blouse detailing and pattern.
For the new collection, I am developing blouses and trenchcoats which are made from post consumer yarn. So, as you can see there are variety of ways to approach upcycling - it can start with using the post consumer upcycled yarn as a conscious approach to fabric sourcing and lead to repurposing the ready made piece.
What is the fashion scene like in Amsterdam? How receptive is Amsterdam of your work?
Amsterdam is a center of design and innovation which means it is a great city to start your own fashion business. The city is sensitive to the eco friendly and sustainable ways of thinking in fashion. Every year there are more and more people who are joining the crowd of conscious and sustainable individuals. I would like to mention other interesting countries where Masha Maria is gaining popularity Denmark, UK, France and USA. I am so pleased to see that slow fashion is a global trend which is gaining more and more attention.
Do you find that there is a downside to using upcycled materials?
As one of the downsides of the upcycling is of course extra usage of electricity and water and human resources, because actually the amount of work that goes into upcycling is more than double if we compare it with the new production. Yes, of course the whole idea of reusing what we have already saves a lot for the environment so I am a strong believer that It is always better to find new ways to reuse, instead of producing more. The challenge is always " how to make better with what I already have"
When did you discover slow fashion? What about this movement resonated with you?
I have been observing the slow fashion for the past 5 years. It has been evolving a lot. Starting from really basic shapes and concentrating mostly on the textile aspect, now we do have many brands that create special pieces using a variety of slow fashion approaches.
Being myself an experienced shopper, I wanted to substitute quantity with quantity and to make sure that we consume not because we lack something and we need to hide our defects, but instead, we make the purchase to celebrate our strengths and unique character.
Tell me about your Winter Collection 19/20 in which you sourced vintage wool blankets from Holland. How did these fabrics come into your possession?
Masha Maria AW 19/20 collection is fully made from wool coats which are made out of Dutch wool blankets. This concept will stay with my brand through the next years as well, because I want to be consistent and committed to the idea of the taste and not the trend. I do pay a lot of attention to the power of color. I source the blankets locally in Holland, buying them from private buyers around the whole country. I love the process of finding this specific unique patterns and colors. It is indeed a true treasure hunt.
There is a certain charm about your garments. What inspires this?
Thank you. My main inspiration is vintage clothing from the previous times. Such as 1940s-1960s, but there is no intention of simply to copy the items, but to adapt and learn from old times and create contemporary fit.
What are some of the positives and negatives of handcrafting?
Uniqueness is positive and negative at the same time. Handcraft allows you to create very personal style but at the same time it cannot be reproduced quickly or maybe sometimes even never. So of course it has its time and numbers limits. My goal is never to produce thousands pieces, but still I would like to have the possibility to do more than one piece in a certain color to make a client happy.
What focus on outerwear?
Outerwear has been my passion all along. I was always wondering - Why don't people pay so much attention to such important garment. Outerwear is something we carry half a year around as a main piece on the street and still for some reason in most cases we just use it as temporary cover during the time you are out. So I wanted to change this approach and actually be happy in our outer garment and let it tell more stories about us to the world outside.
Where do you see yourself and your brand in five years?
My dream is to expand and add more clothing stylesto the collection. Of course, I would absolutely loove to have a small shop where apart from selling Masha Maria, I would also like to help out more sustainable brands with similar attitude to fashion and life. What truly drives me is telling stories and making them human through clothing.