Malin Iovino uses handweaving techniques learnt as a child in Sweden to create stunning handbags, cushions, and accessories that honour tradition and strive for sustainability.
For Malin Iovino, whose handwoven bags and cushions and leather accessories are rapidly gaining favor among discerning customers in London and beyond, weaving at her home loom is an exercise akin to musical composition.
“My ‘free weave’ approach embraces the freedom that spontaneity provides,” she said. “Although I envision patterns in full colour, I prefer not to reproduce these patterns on paper, or even to create samples, so that I have the freedom to improvise as I weave.”
The appeal of this approach is evident in the repeat orders Malin receives from clients who trust her sense of colour and design implicitly, often selecting products in patterns they might never have considered.
Originally from Norrkoping, a small city in Sweden, Malin and twin sister Lotten began her career as a model in Paris at 19. But after marrying, moving to London, and starting a family, she turned to interior design, a longstanding passion. With a degree from Chelsea College of Art and Design in 1995, Malin quickly established herself as an in-demand designer on an array of projects. “But life is all about change, and after years of interior design, with the pressures of deadlines, budgets, and demanding clients, I was ready for something different,” said Malin.
That something different was the design of handbags, belts, and other accessories. But as a long-time proponent of sustainable designs, Malin approached this venture with an unusual perspective.
“We live in an age of ‘everything…and everything now’ in which we’re encouraged to purchase more and more ‘stuff, and then to discard these objects as soon as the instant gratification of a new purchase fades,” Malin noted. “I was determined not to contribute to this avalanche of stuff but to create beautiful and unique items that would earn an honored place in people’s wardrobes and homes.”
Malin looked to her Swedish upbringing, particularly the weaving techniques using snoren, a cord produced by one of the last traditional rope makers in Sweden, techniques learned at her grandmother’s feet as a child. She started small, setting up a loom in her apartment and purchasing limited quantities of rope in different colours. “I questioned what I was doing at the beginning of this venture, weaving at home with cords that were not traditionally used for bags,” Malin admitted. “But I also felt strongly that there was a desire among many women for bespoke designs that utilized time-honored artisanal production techniques.”
Malin’s hunch proved accurate, and although selling initially only to friends, she began to receive inquiries from strangers who were entranced by the beauty and originality of her designs.
She began to investigate and incorporate new materials into her creations. The colourful crochet yarns that embellished many of her designs were thicker than is typical. She painstakingly removed the narrow diameter yarns within each skein, ultimately yielding identical colours in different thicknesses.
Malin’s commitment to upcycling took her to Scotland, where she purchased exquisite woven fabrics for her bags, and to Italy, where she cultivated relationships with several small Milanese fabric houses. There she bought magnificent fabrics designated as overstock bolts or production remnants, incorporating them into her designs. She also began working with printed Italian leather.
As she began to incorporate different materials into her bags, Malin extended her designs to clothing, including a simple but chic blouse in a linen and cotton blend. “Although I designed this blouse purely for my enjoyment, friends began referring to it as the ‘Malin,’ requesting their versions in different fabrics,” she laughed.
Inevitably, Malin was drawn back into interior design, as customers requested her fabrics for incorporation into pillows or cushions. “My Lisa stool has become particularly popular, and I offer it in solid ash or a painted finish, with detachable woven or leather cushions,” she added. And in a classic example of how the path we take in life often doubles back in ways we might never have imagined, Malin was recently retained by a client in Miami and charged with creating new iterations of her artisanal weaves as tapestries in the client’s home. But bags remain the cornerstone of Malin’s offerings. She is particularly excited about her petite bucket bags, individual creations that blend weaves and printed and embroidered leather to stunning effect. “I had one customer refer to it as the sustainable version of the Fendi baguette,” she laughed, referring to the handbag that rocked the fashion world almost 25 years ago, and ignited the trend for the next “It bag.”
Through it all, Malin retains her unwavering focus on unique designs crafted in a sustainable fashion that will withstand the test of time. And although she has called upon her mother, Gunilla — working on her own mother’s original loom — to satisfy the demand for her designs, Malin is adamant that her output remains strictly limited.
“I entered into handbag design with the specific intention not to add to all of the ‘stuff’ we already have, and so I’ve been very careful to keep production strictly limited and as sustainable as possible,” Malin said, noting that in her quest to reduce any waste, she recently started using leather scraps leftover from her handbags to fashion tie belts, card wallets, and keyrings.
“Nothing goes to waste,” she affirmed, proving that there is indeed a way to create stunningly soigne accessories that respect the limited natural resources we have today.
(Article by Glenn Behar)