Ten Years of Natasha Zinko, As Told By Her
You could use a bunch of superlatives to describe Natasha Zinko. Zany? Yes. Bubbly? Of course. A warm, comforting soul in an industry that can be cold as ice? Abso-bleedin’-lutly. But before all that, you have to applaud Zinko for what a remarkable businesswoman she is.
Not only does Zinko have a hugely successful namesake label under her belt, as well as a bubbling subsidiary line Duoltd, but her Mayfair store is also home to her very own vegan café – where she sells lilac croissants, matcha ‘fuck off’ teas and CBD gummies. “You know when I was starting, I was only thinking about becoming designer,” says Zinko over Zoom, her giant ginger mane of hair manically bouncing as she speaks. “Now I understand that I’m not only a designer, I’m a businesswoman. It’s like my baby that I’m growing, I have to do a lot.”
Life could’ve ended up very different to Zinko, who originally trained in Ukraine to be a lawyer. “I went on vacation with my husband and I remember when I was on the plane home I just realised I wanted to study something else,” she says. “I remember I was just looking out the window thinking I need something new.” Admittedly always into drawing and playing with watercolours through her adolescence, Zinko decided she wanted to move into something creative. After a quick snoop online, she soon came across Central Saint Martins. Her mind was set, she had to get in.
And she sure did. Zinko began studying jewellery design at the esteemed fashion college in 2006. “I was so happy to be there and I think it was one of the best times that I’ve had,” she says. Moving to a city like London on your own, without knowing a soul, is no easy feat – but Zinko took the unknowingness in her stride. “Day-by-day I found people around, nice people,” she says, adding that one woman she met while taking mandatory English lessons at the college still works with her today.
Today, the Natasha Zinko brand is defined by Nickelodeon slime greens, flaming hot pinks and a whole load of punchy motifs; a ciggy-smoking, raving smiley face and a cute bunny giving the finger, included. “My background came from the Soviet Union, a country that doesn’t exist anymore,” she says. “We didn’t have many possibilities, everything was so limited, even the colours were grey. I think it helped me survive, I know how to feel alive.”
2021 marks 10 whole years since Zinko launched her namesake label, and despite it being one shitty year for the celebrations to fall on, the pandemic hasn’t been too harsh on the designer’s business. “I think it has been a good year, we’ve had good sales and we are reducing a lot of things we probably don’t need,” she says, adding that her brand didn’t buy a single metre of new fabric through the pandemic – “we are mostly recycling, using a lot of previous fabrics and thinking creatively how to use it in a way that people will see new product.”
Sustainability has grown to be a pillar of Zinko’s business. She often upcycles vintage garments, like t-shirts, and morphs them into completely new garments – whether that’s jackets or patchworked jeans. “I don’t want people to buy a lot of new things, they need to buy something wearable, something they are going to be able to wear for longer,” she says. “We are trying to make garments that speak for themselves, that are not just driven by the trends of today.”
Quizzing the designer on some of her favourite Natasha Zinko moments comes at some difficulty. “Every time I do a collection, it’s my favourite,” she says. The designer’s spent that past few weeks screenshotting her favourite looks from her back catalogue; fleeting ideas, shapes and silhouettes that she wants to revisit again moving forward.
She is particularly proud of her last three collections: the Sober trilogy. From Americana-twinged tailoring to Halloween-inspired garb, the message of the collection triptych was based on the idea of “sobering” oneself from different aspects each time around, working closely with her teenage son, Ivan, who is the design director of Duoltd. “He is very good with graphic design,” says Zinko, the works closely with Ivan on the menswear front. “He has his voice already and people listen to him.”
Away from the catwalk and into everyday life, Zinko’s designs have become a go-to for celebrity clientele across the globe. Doja Cat, Skepta and Lady Gaga have all worn the brand in the past, as well as Hailey Bieber, who’s particularly fond of Zinko’s chunky, fuzzy sliders. The designer is particularly starry-eyed when talking about when Cardi B wore one of the brand’s SS20 bandana dresses. “There was such a wave of people who were inspired by the dress and then made their own out of their old bandanas and sent them to me to have a look at,” she explains. “It was super nice, it breathed new life into their old scarves.”
A decade on, and surviving a global health pandemic in between, Zinko is looking forward to carrying on doing things on her own terms. “Last year I was thinking, ‘OMG I need to do a catwalk’, but doing a catwalk costs a whole lot of money, maybe we should just do one once a year?” She’s still undecided if she’s all that into doing fashion films – “you just don’t know the reaction of people when they’re watching behind a screen” – but for now, she’s set on finally getting to do that big bday bash. “We need a party, we are going to invite you don’t worry,” she says. It’s always good to have a party.”
Photography courtesy of Natasha Zinko.