For Sandra Zovko, founder of knitwear company MILA ZOVKO, there’s no separation of personal and professional at her business; one is woven into the other.
The sweaters are inspired by MILA ZOVKO’s namesake, Sandra’s mother, who passed away in 2008. Sandra inherited a treasure trove of sweaters, all hand-knit by her mother. This was a thread that ran throughout Sandra’s life: Mila was an avid knitter, with a penchant for colour and pattern. Her sweaters are full of personality, with geometric shapes and an unabashed mixing of hues. Sandra clearly got her mother’s love for fearless, fun fashion.
I had the pleasure of working with Sandra at the BC Innovation Council for a few months, and I have never seen someone mix pattern, colour, and texture so skillfully — outside of Tarah Ferguson, host of She Built That, who recently interviewed Sandra for her podcast.
Listen to Tarah’s interview with Sandra Zovko on the She Built That website.
The MILA ZOVKO sweaters are absolutely gorgeous. As we head into dreary autumn, full of neutral layers that fade into grey scenery, these hand-knit Italian wool sweaters represent a remnant of summer that’s appropriate year-round. They’re a pop of colour, a way to wake up your wardrobe despite winter weariness.
More than fashion though, the sweaters are a beautiful tribute to Sandra’s mother.
“I think [my mom’s] laughing,” Sandra told She Built That. “I think she thinks it’s funny, because for so long we were like, ‘Ew, what’s that sweater, why are you making it that way?’ Now, people are like, ‘Oh wow, these sweaters are really incredible.’ And I’m like, ‘Yeah, my mom’s so cool.’
“I had [all the sweaters] in my closet, and I wore some of them sometimes […] When I started wearing them out, people would ask ‘Hey, where’d you get your sweater? It looks cool,’ and I’d say, ‘Oh my mom knit it,’ ‘Oh, it looks like art.’ […] I was like, yeah it does kind of look like art, just with the colours, it kind of looks like abstract art,” Sandra said.
“I don’t know if that’s when I decided, or when the seed was planted, or — I can’t remember exactly when — but I just thought I should do something with these sweaters. I should make them, or share them with friends.”
Sandra had never planned on becoming an entrepreneur. While she did study business, she specifically avoided taking entrepreneurship courses, because she had no intentions of starting her own company.
“[I remember] consciously thinking ‘I don’t want to be an entrepreneur, because I like learning from people,'” Sandra told She Built That. “I like learning from bosses, I like working for smart people and learning from them. But I guess what I didn’t realize, or maybe I was naïve is that, when you are an entrepreneur, you learn from yourself, you learn from your factory, you learn from your advisors. You do still learn from different people. It’s just you have to make more decisions, and you’re probably held more accountable than if you’re working for someone else, but there definitely are opportunities to learn.
“I don’t know why I thought — I think maybe it was fear or something — but I thought, ‘I like having a boss, and I like working for a company that I don’t run, because I can learn from smart people.’ But it happens all the time now, that I’m just learning from everything and everyone.”
Now, she’s working full-time, raising a child, and running a business. Not a light workload by any means, and Sandra sometimes wishes there was more of a work-life balance. When asked what that would look like, she said, “I think because my family’s from Croatia, we would spend a lot more time there. We were only there for two weeks this year, and barely got to see family because I was working while we were there. So I think it would be spending more time with my siblings and dad in Croatia.”
Her support system has been huge to creating MILA ZOVKO. From photography to logo design to modelling, Sandra’s had a network of good friends who are able and excited to lend a hand. As she joked, “I somehow diversified my friendships, so that I have someone who’s good at everything!”
It’s that support, along with Sandra’s tenacity and passion, that have helped to make MILA ZOVKO what it is. Sandra’s determination once helped her win a pizza eating contest (13 slices in one sitting), and it’s what keeps her motivated now. When asked if she had ever considered quitting, Sandra immediately responded: “No. […] Even though it’s really hard, no, I can’t. I won’t. I promised myself I would give it at least three seasons, before knowing if it’s working or not, or if it’s growing, or what people’s reaction is.”
It’s a labour of love, and one that she can’t give up on.
Our founder @sandreeze is this week's featured entrepreneur on the She Built That podcast! Visit @shebuiltthat to hear her interview with Tarah Ferguson and find out more about the joys of starting a business but also how many pizza slices she can inhale in one sitting // #milazovko #shebuiltthat // Photo: @andrewquerner
Are you interested in purchasing your own MILA ZOVKO sweater? Find them online or in store, and follow MILA ZOVKO on Instagram. Want to listen to the full interview? Go to She Built That for more, and subscribe to the podcast on iTunes for weekly updates.