When everybody else is content with going with the flow, real creativity will insist to go against the grain. Such is the story behind the success of Melisa Minca, a Bratislavan born and Berlin-based upcycling enthusiast and fashion designer, who has gained a strong following for her mesmerizing pieces. With a Masters in Sustainable Development from the University of Edinburgh, a significant part of Minca’s aesthetic comes from her commitment to sustainability. It was during her student years when she came upon the idea of upcycling second-hand material into unique clothes. She even finished a dissertation on sustainable fashion in Slovakia. Growing up in Bratislava, Minca grew up around people who know how to sew. She shared that her mother, grandmother, and aunt are used to modifying their clothes, often just for the fun of it. Her great-grandmother used to have a tailoring shop. She said that in Slovakia during the Soviet period, many people make their clothes to express themselves. With limited designs available in the market, many Slovakians mix and match various materials to create their styles. Minca also cited her mother as an inspiration for her style. She said that her mother always brings her with her when she shops for clothes. In the process, she has developed her sense of style.
Now, Minca runs an online shop which features System Recovery, a collection of garments crafted from “pillowcases, curtains, and table clothes.” This wide variety of materials has enabled her to explore new visual possibilities. For example, in her “Extra Material” lookbook, she utilized neon colors, jagged silhouettes, and even netting. All of these materials have been recontextualized and snatched from their original contexts. The designs are daring, youthful, and innovative. Her advocacy also goes beyond eco fashion. In her “Workers Unite” lookbook, she featured repurposed workwear which were mixed and matched with eclectic colors and pieces. The lookbook was peppered with slogans and demands, in keeping with the labor-theme. But it also underlines the energy of Minca’s aesthetic. We know that this is not just mere experimentation: these clothes have something to say, and they want to say it out loud. Indeed, while her ethical advocacy remains to be the primary creative force behind Minca’s designs, she also has a flair for empowering alternative identities. She does this by designing pieces that challenge boundaries. For instance, her exclusive collaboration with online vintage shop The Black Market saw the designer working with upcycled power suits. In the 70s and 80s, power suits have become a symbol for the liberated woman. The trousers, heels, and wide shoulder pads blur the divide between men and women in the office. Minca’s pieces, which feature bright neon, large giant statements that run across the outfit, and martial-looking belts and pockets, exude a sense of power and control. The fact that all of these pieces have been made by recycling used clothing only makes them more amazing. Most of her pieces also de-emphasize curves, allowing people of any gender to wear her clothes. She mentioned in an interview with Paperboats that fashion “shouldn't perpetuate any sort of hierarchy, but instead celebrate our diversity.” This can be seen in her lookbooks which feature models of different body types, races, and gender.
This commitment to breaking down boundaries is reflected even in the details of her work. Each of her works is one-of-a-kind, but because they were made from second-hand material, they may have blemishes on the surfaces. According to the designer, “These are kind reminders that these fabrics have lived a life and are not perfect – like us.” Resisting the bland uniformity of mass-produced clothing, Minca’s brand of style celebrates these tiny details, elevating them to badges of honor. Indeed, her most loyal customers identify with this commitment to individuality.
Minca also said that among her favorite parts of her work is designing clothes with specific people in mind. Customers now flock to her Berlin studio to have their measurements taken, after which the designer comes up with a design that fits the customer’s body type. She said in the same Paperboats interview, “I really love this process since it's so personal. The amazing satisfaction I feel when I'm able to create a piece which will be significant to the person wearing it and they won't throw it out after one season.”
Minca’s slow fashion philosophy can be summed up as creativity “from scraps to couture, from a linear system to a cycle. Transparency. No exploitation.” Indeed, her original vision comes from her willingness to break out of the norm, not only in terms of design but in how she sources her materials. This perfect blend of creativity and conscious thought can help move away from fast fashion dependence and, perhaps, towards a more vibrant fashion culture.