Set up as a showroom in the heart of Neukölln by very talented Bolivian designer Maria Corvera Vargas, C\V Studio Berlin stocks her beautiful garments, which with their attractive cuts & simple patterns are not only truly sophisticated, but are made with a high ethical ethos; using high-quality leftover fabrics from iconic brands or Fair Trade wool from Bolivia. We’ve sent a few questions to designer and owner Maria Corvera Vargas to find out more about her vision of creating gorgeous, ethical fashion in limited numbers…
Maria, ethical fashion is important to you, but for those unaware, how would you define it?
It’s a broad subject to define that we could talk a lot about, but to put it simply, ethical fashion is made with as little negative impact as possible on the people working in the supply and production chain as well as the environment.
Does this commendable ethos make it more difficult for you and others to produce clothes at the more affordable prices our society is now accustomed to due to mass-production facilities used in developing countries?
Of course! Fashion from mass production is sold at such a low price that many people see fair trade or ethical fashion as something special, an alternative option.
It’s shocking and sad that cheap labour and disposable fashion is the norm for so many consumers but it makes us really appreciate so much more the customers who support us and understand why we work the way we do.
One thing that is instantly clear when walking into your beautiful shop is the incredible quality of the garments. What materials do you tend to use and where do you source them from?
We work with two sources for our materials. Firstly, and for most of our collection we are using fabrics sourced from high end fashion houses around Europe and Italian fabric mills. All of these are dead stock/left over fabrics that would otherwise go to waste.
Secondly we produce a line of Alpaca knitwear in Bolivia. We source the yarn from a wool mill which is an independent enterprise whose main shareholders include 1,200 alpaca breeding families from rural communities in the Bolivian highlands.
We take the yarn from this mill to two artisans in El Alto who produce all of our knitwear designs from their atelier. The production is made using fair trade practices and is 100% in the hands of the indigenous Aymara and Quechua people.
Whilst most clothes stores sell other people’s clothes, you actually make your own. What is the process like from sketch to finish?
My team and I work in two week cycles to design and produce our range.
We start designing with our classic cuts, sometimes updating design details or changing some features.
Then our process is led by our selection of fabrics, deciding which style will work best with which materials and through this we draw together small collections.
Some of our production is managed from our atelier in Berlin but mostly we work together with a small family run business in Poland who travel between Toruń and Berlin to discuss our designs and return with the finished product two weeks later.
And what did you do before setting up C\V ?
I was studying fashion design at HTW here in Berlin whilst working in a collaborative studio creating my own one of a kind designs.
During that time I founded “C\V – Corvera Vargas”.
We LOVE your use of colour in your clothes, and in all honesty feel there should be more colour in Berlin fashion. Do you feel this is one reason why you stand out from other designers in the city?
I do hope so!
I’m drawing much of my inspiration from my cultural connections with both Bolivia and Germany – combining the vivid colours of La Paz with refined German tailoring.
Do you sell your clothes elsewhere than your shop too?
We are mainly selling from our shop in Neukölln and through our own online store.
We also join some design fairs throughout the year and collaborate with one or two concept stores in Berlin to sell exclusive collections but we don’t sell our range wholesale to other stores.
This is partly because we are often only producing small quantities of one specific cut from one particular fabric which doesn’t leave many, if any pieces to give to other shops.
It’s also important for us to offer more accessible prices for our customers by reducing the price from the typical retail mark up and the only way that’s possible for us is because we are working directly with all our suppliers/manufacturers.
Designing, making and then selling your own clothes is a big endeavour! What were the main challenges you have faced in setting up the business?
One of the biggest challenges comes with sourcing materials.
I decided to work in this way with leftover fabrics to reduce waste from the larger fashion industry, but it leaves us with a more limited selection, which takes more time and effort to find the perfect range of colours or fabrics with the right feel.
I also find it a rewarding challenge to be able to produce contemporary designs with skilled artisans, whilst maintaining respect for the craftsmanship passed down among generations.
It takes patience and flexibility when working with artisans and small producers to find a balance between our friendship and working relationship.
What advice would you give to a fashion designer thinking of setting up their own store?
Start with a clear vision of your style and understanding of the customers you want reach.
Patience and being strong for yourself will be invaluable as you go through the highs and lows of starting a brand/store.
It can be a roller coaster of successes and failures, both of which you learn from and can overcome!
Where do you like to eat, drink and relax in Berlin?
Gazzo is a great pizza place, right on the corner from my shop so I’m there too often!
Chicha is another favourite, a bit pricey but really great food.
Okay cafe is my local spot for morning, afternoon and evening coffees with a nice place to sit outside.
Naturales is my go to for evenings where I feel like sharing some plates of food with friends… and a few glasses of wine.
“For me, Berlin is…”
…diverse! The diversity of different cultures and beliefs allows more people to feel free and express themselves as they are. Our Kiez is especially open to the community and we love getting to know all the neighbours around us.
C\V Studio Berlin is a wonderful boutique with garments full of colour and passion. Make sure to pop in next time you are in Neukölln!