This isn't shameless self-promotion (I'm too shy for that), it's a translation from an interview in Greek on Info Woman 'Meet the designer' section, published on 16th December. Read the original on the infowoman.gr website.
She is young, talented and very creative. As a student, she tried to make the clothes she wanted, but could not find in Athens. And slowly the hobby became a profession. The conversation is about Xenia Sapanidi who is based in London and last summer, in the midst of a pandemic, opened her own brand, Made of Stories. So far, it has officially launched four collections, Welcome to Greece, When in Morocco, Feel Bali and A fairytale in Bavaria.
We talked to her and got to know her work a little better!
Xenia, tell us about you. How did you get to London? What do you do?
Hello! After graduating from AUEB in 2012, I decided to come to London for an internship. I always wanted to live and "experience" life in different countries. That year, I had just realized that we are not eternal. Therefore, if it was to ever try and make my dreams come true, I'd better start. As a student in Athens, I had a passion for making all kinds of clothes and accessories. I was making whatever I liked and couldn't find in stores - which coincidently happened to arrive about a year or two later. I remember specifically that I made high-waisted trousers in 2011 and they got into fashion in Greece in 2013.
However, I left the field of fashion behind me in Greece. In London, all these years I worked in industrial marketing. Until last summer I was an associate marketing director in a corporation. I run programs in 48 countries, which allowed me to travel a lot and spend weeks living and working in cities and countries such as Madrid, Indonesia, Paris, Athens, Istanbul, Moscow, South Africa and Jordan.
Apart from work, I really enjoy aerial yoga and acrobatics, taking care of my plants, cycling and of course exploring new places.
When and how did the idea for "Made of Stories" start?
The idea for Made of Stories started five and a half years ago when I took a course at Central Saint Martins. We had a final project and that was when I made the business plan for the brand, as a dream that might come true at some point in the future. But it took me five more years, many more trips and a wonderful mentor to make the decision to do it. Something that gave me an extra push is that when in 2015 I made an imaginary collection with strong Moroccan and Middle Eastern elements for Spring-Summer 2016, it was exactly what became fashion the following summer.
Made of Stories, as you experience it now, started in the summer when I decided to leave my corporate job and is a continuous work in progress.
What's included in the collections of the brand and where do you get your inspiration for the items you design?
The collections are inspired by personal travels. I get inspired by landscapes, walls, carpets, architecture, and other cultural trademarks of the country or city I explore. The products are made to bring joy in everyday life. The collections include various types of fitness wear (as a fan of acrobatics I really like colourful leggings and tops that flatter all kinds of bodies), backpacks that support a busy life, t-shirts, dresses, various accessories and exotic home decorations. In addition to the items that I personally design, there are various items that we add from selected suppliers. These are mostly items that we can't make in the same way we make the rest - the rest are made-to-order. Some of these items are handmade, some are made of bamboo or wood, and some are just too adorable to pass on the opportunity to include in our collections.
What elements describe the new collection "A fairytale in Bavaria"?
It's inspired by winter landscapes, such as snow-covered trees, beautifully colourful Bavarian villages, snowballs and snowflakes. Great inspiration was Neuschwanstein Castle, which is said to have inspired Walt Disney's, Cinderella Castle. We did a road trip to the area in January 2019. I tried to make the collection as happy and festive as possible and to include various items that we will need this winter with the current situation - even thermal clothing that will help us enjoy our outdoors walks with friends.
One of the collections of the brand is "Welcome to Greece". What does this collection mean to you? Does it make you feel nostalgic about Greece?
This collection was the most difficult so far. On one hand, it's nostalgic indeed, on the other hand, it is how well I know the Greek culture, so my standards were higher than usual. Greece is a very popular holiday destination, but most people know Greece for the amount of sunny days you get in a year, its islands, beautiful food and sea. However, there are so many other unique elements that I wanted to highlight, such as humour and values such as doing something with 'meraki' - which doesn't have a direct translation in English. There are pieces from my childhood that I miss, such as a good old Greek movie.
Also, as I was working on the collection, I realized that we lack beautiful words that describe women in an equally positive way as they describe men. For example, we have palikari, leventis, dude but I did not find any equivalent in a female form. I hope this changes in the future.
My goal while preparing Made of Stories collections is to highlight elements of the country's culture and in 'Welcome to Greece' I had extra pressure due to my personal relationship with the country.
The brand was "born" in a difficult period we are going through because of the coronavirus. Did you face any difficulties due to the situation?
I would say not much because we mainly operate through e-commerce. Due to the recent lockdowns, we have some shortages of materials as some of our suppliers had to close, but fortunately, they are few and the customers have not been affected at all.
From what I can understand, travel is an integral part of your life. How do you experience all this now that it is more difficult to travel due to the circumstances?
Could I say that I didn't have a personality crisis this year due to lack of travel? That I have not booked tickets for somewhere in case we make it? That I do not have travel vouchers with four airlines? I would be lying! Since March, I have watched whatever international series (that unfold in an exotic place) there is on Netflix. I have learned how to cook various cuisines - Indian, Mexican, Middle Eastern, Thai. I've tried to make a Cuban Pina Collada at home and failed - it will never be as good as the one from that bamboo kiosk on Ancon Beach! Mojito and Cuba Libre ended up being very successful though. To answer the question, I'm doing my best to enjoy the little joys of life with whatever means I have at the moment really.
Xenia in Wadi Rum desert in Jordan
At a time when the term "sustainability" is becoming more and more widespread, what is the brand's contribution to this effort?
This is a great question because it helps brands be more accountable for their contribution to sustainability. I personally, as Xenia, realized a few years ago how much we harm the environment with our continuous shopping. Consequently, I wanted the brand to be as sustainable as I could. The products I design are made-to-order from very high-quality materials. What does this mean? Every product is made for every order, there are no products that are thrown away or sold at such low prices that consumers do not respect the product and use it once before throwing it away. The cost of manufacturing the product is quite high due to its quality and customers do not pay the cost of marketing but the quality of the product. Some of the products are made from natural materials, some are handmade, some are biodegradable and some are made from organic cotton. In the future, I will try to make more and more of our shipping packages biodegradable and get more efficient shipping ways as we continue to grow.
Are there any plans for the next collection? Can you tell us which trip will inspire you?
There are! Some pieces are already prepared but the entire collection will be available in February 2021. It will be inspired by Brazil, specifically Rio de Janeiro.
In 2019, we went on a wonderful trip to Rio that made me fall in love with the city and I would love to share its beauty with the rest of the world.