How One Knitwear Designer Is Honouring Her Late Mother

Sandra Zovko’s first collection for her newly-launched knitwear line, Mila Zovko, is named after and inspired by her mother’s passion for knitting and bold colours. We chatted with the economist by trade about how she’s keeping her mom’s memory alive

(Photo: Andrew Querner)
(Photo: Andrew Querner)

Sandra Zovko is seated at her desk, eyes narrowed on the letter she’s slowly, painstakingly writing—by hand!—to a potential buyer. As the designer behind newly launched knitwear label Mila Zovko, detail is an obsession. Every stitch must be perfect, every knot in its place. Letter writing is no exception. Zovko pauses to consider her work and notices her pen has been leaking, almost imperceptibly, as she writes. She tosses the card and pulls out a new one. “I can’t send this note with a shittypen!”she laughs.

Based in Vancouver, Mila Zovko is a whimsical collection of sweaters, inspired by—and named after—Zovko’s late mother. “When I was growing up, Mom was knitting all the time: during coffee dates with friends,while watching soap operas,”says Zovko.“And she never followed a pattern. She just imagined them as she went along.” Pretty impressive, considering each of Mila’s designs masterfully mixes texture, technique and colour to bold, prismatic effect.

10-year-old Sandra with her mother, who is wearing one of her own sweaters
10-year-old Sandra with her mother, who is wearing one of her own sweaters

“She was really good at mixing stitches. Every time the colour changed, the stitch changed,” says Zovko. “And that’s very difficult—the factories I work with have a hard time replicating it. She was really ahead of her time.” But it wasn’t until years later that she realized her mother’s knits were special. “They didn’t mean anything to me until I was in my 20s and she started sending me sweaters she’d made in the ’80s.” When Zovko’s mother passed away from cancer in 2008, those sweaters, and the 30-plus other pieces she inherited, became her most treasured possessions. “I started wearing them out all the time,” she says. “I remember one girl told me, ‘It looks like a piece of art.’” It was a combination of the constant where’d-you-get-thats and the need to preserve Mila’s memory that planted the idea of remaking them.

Zovko’s debut collection features a few different versions of the three pieces she wears most, but modernized with flattering fits. The line was immediately picked up at The Rising States in New York City and at Eugene Choo and The Block (which bought every single piece in every single colour) in Vancouver.

Magazine clippings serve as bold colour inspo (Photo: Andrew Querner)
Magazine clippings serve as bold colour inspo (Photo: Andrew Querner)

An economist by trade, Zovko had little knitting know-how—“I had to Google everything!”—and no fashion experience when she started her company. Not one to cut corners (the obsession, remember?), she spent five years turning herself into a knitwear expert. “I got a job in buying and learned about production,” she says. “I worked as a stylist and personal shopper to understand what women want to wear.” She also scoured the globe to find the right yarn(Italian)and the right factory(in New York) that coulddoMila’s hand-knits justice. “It had to be right to honour her and respect her designs.”

Her perfectionist ways have also led her to seek stitch advice beyond Google, including employing a group of knit-obsessed friends for constant inspiration and insight. “I wish I had asked my mom more about knitting,” Zovko continues.“But now, I feel like I’m learning more about her just by bringing her sweaters to life.”

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