Marina Guergova, Founder of MARINA London
Reading Time: 4 min
Social Impact: Putting her successful business on hold at the height of its success and taking time to research the environmental impact of fashion.
September is typically a time for new beginnings; leaves become gilded and fall, school begins for another year, and the excitement of a London summer muddles once more into a quiet period of autumnal self-reflection.
This couldn’t be more fitting for Marin Guergova as the white walls of her apartment soak up the last of the summer on our visit. To say she is ‘best known’ for MARINA London is an understatement to her other achievements, as founder of The Basics Store and having recently completed a successful term at AppearHere. But here she is, embracing the next few months as a period for research and reflection, following the decision to put MARINA London to sleep.
Due to reasons surrounding sustainability and inclusivity, she couldn’t be doing so for more admirable reasons. We visited her to discover her personal journey and what lies ahead in her professional career after a much-needed break:
Where did MARINA London take its first steps?
“I studied Fashion Marketing at CSM [Central St. Martins], and it’s where I first discovered my love for silks. You start off creating lots of different things to find your feet, to find out what makes you tick; I was doing mens, womens kids. For my final collection I did a mixture of linens and silks— that’s when I found this type of silk that I really loved and started my whole love affair with the material.”
With subsequent internships from Alexander McQueen in London, Proenza Schouler in New York and David Szeto in Paris; Marina got her first taste of the luxury fashion world. But it was after working for Emilia Wickstead before the label enjoyed mainstream success that she had an end-to-end experience of how to run a label from its small showroom. Once that internship came to an end, it brought one question to the forefront of her mind: what now?
“I realised I had one of two decisions: I could either do a job, or do my own thing. But, if I did my own thing, what would it be and how would it be different? I knew from the start I wanted whatever it was I did to be very directional and focused on one kind of product or one concept, as doing whole collections is super expensive!”
So how did the idea for MARINA London emerge?
“As a complete beginner, I didn’t have the resources I needed initially, so in the end I went to a bunch of trade fairs. I went to one in Paris that focused on Eastern countries like China, Turkey and India and all the amazing materials they offered. I met an amazing Chinese silk supplier who supplied to MaxMara and Georgio Armani and, by chance, it was the very same type of silk that I fell in love with at university.”
What kind of silk was this?
“It’s called Crepe de Chine. It’s a delicious sandy textured silk that I decided to make the core of MARINA London. I started off with six pieces that varied in shape, but I purposefully didn’t have a huge selection to start off with.”
Having lived in East London for the majority of MARINA London’s success, we agree that the area is a constant source of inspiration: in everything from style to art. We ask what her main influences for her designs were:
“My starting point was to ask the question: what can women wear that’s beautiful but super practical. At the time, silk wasn’t a very cool fabric: you either associated it with huge ugly florals or your grandmother! So, my concept was how do I take this material that I love and make it practical, street, a bit more cool?
Another of my influences is movies: I love watching old movies and mentally designing for the women in them. I do the same when I watch women walk down the street: what would look good on her? How would it move if she was wearing it? Sometimes I’ll be staring at someone’s back deep in thought, and I’ll hope she doesn’t turn around!
My other process was deciding the colours and shapes that are universal— aside from the super obvious ones. That’s why I never did black until the very last collection, when I finally fell in love with the colour! When the whole collection was black it had a real weight to it.”
The black collection was unfortunately the last for MARINA London; one day in April of this year, after eight years of success in the industry, her customers signed onto her website to find a poignantly penned letter from Marina to her customers. It was to make the announcement that the brand was to be put to sleep, citing unsustainable and uninclusive standards at the core of the decision. We asked Marina in person to tell us why she made this step for her business:
“I think when I first started the business the idea of having your own ‘thing’ was so new, very few people were doing that then. So, as a founder of a small team, I was focusing on moving the brand from A to B and not seeing the bigger picture. At the time, sustainability and ethics weren’t the hot topic of conversation that they are now, but we’re very lucky to be at a time where everyone is thinking about it.
Today, if you don’t have that in your business then you shouldn’t have a business. I think because my company was always at that medium-level and I’d never made the huge move to go big, it was difficult to go sustainable and start manufacturing lots of different sizes to be more inclusive. There was also the question of how ethical silk was.”
How is silk unethical in the first place?
“The ethical version is peace-silk; where you wait for the little worms that make silk to leave their cocoons as moths, as opposed to regular silk, where they’re thrown in hot water to harvest the silk before they leave. You’re disrupting an ecosystem, farming unsustainably. I think in a few years time, silk will be questioned in the same way we question fur.”
What’s the way forward for you?
“I’m taking a year out to do research about this, do a bit of consulting on the side but also a lot of research in regards to having another fabric that mimics silk: what would that be? I’m going to a few fairs to find a plant-based or man-made alternative, but do I want to create another fashion brand, do we need a new brand that will ultimately add more stuff to the planet? Three’s a lot of questions that I’m asking myself now.”
Her research isn’t the only factor in deciding to take a year out of work, we’re astounded to hear that the fashion powerhouse of MARINA London wasn’t her full-time job. As well as being the founder of the successful The Basics Store, Marina was also full-time at AppearHere. For her, the commitments unfortunately meant compromises:
“I was barely seeing my son. He was so young and I was only seeing him about five hours a week before he went to bed every night. In the end, I realised that although I loved the businesses I worked for, I needed to quit AppearHere, quit MARINA; I needed to cut it all and figure everything out.”
In a world where social media reigns, it promotes an idea that as professionals, we need to be constantly busy, succeeding and achieving, its worth noting at the incredible daring it must have taken to take a step back. We ask her how she feels about letting MARINA London rest.
“There’s now an exciting new idea of how to communicate this story. Taking a month out in June and August to be with my family, be with Leo [my son] and document this journey and what I’m going to do next through social media.
I have this account and I have this following: how am I going to use it? I want to communicate my journey and the future of my business, because no one’s ever really done what I’ve just done.”
With time to think, a potential new business and her young family, it seems like the future is wide-open for MARINA. With such a serious of drastic life-changes in a short amount of time, we ask if it feels right for her:
“I’m very happy now, and very excited for the year to come. New beginnings are always so nice. People start companies and tend to go for such a long time. I was there and realised that something needed to change but I was so scared about my customer base thinking they’d be disappointed. But everyone was so sweet and so understanding. I think any other brand could do it: they just don’t know just how amazing the public can be.”