Interview with Marina Topalo

Updated: Feb 17

Fashion Design is an incredible industry that takes a lot of time, dedication and believing in yourself. Today, we speak to Marina Topalo, the creator and founder of The Fashion Atelier Brooklyn, who gives us some personal insight of a fashion designer’s life and tells us about her journey through the years of designing.


So, let’s start with the most basic question, what made you interested in fashion design initially?


Fashion design has been a dream of mine since I was six years old. I remember my mom buying me a big doll for my birthday that could walk and talk – her hands and feet could move, and I often held her hand as we walked around. I wanted to make all sorts of clothes for my doll and that is when the spark of interest in fashion design started.

I was in grade six when I was taught how to sew in school, and this is when the passion developed into something more serious and I started to make clothes for myself.


Tell us a bit about your background in fashion design


When you are in school in Russia, you can decide in which career you are interested, and you do two years of a kind of internship in this industry. I, of course, chose fashion and clothes design. After these two years you receive a higher certificate which helps with furthering your career when you are finished with school. My parents did not see fashion design to be a real job and they wanted me to do something in the economics or finance field. So, after school I studied finance and credit for five years and received my degree. Meanwhile, making clothes for my friends and colleagues started to become a side job I did for extra money.


After working in the finance industry for a year, I quickly realised this is not what I want to be doing and decided to pursue my fashion design career. By that time, I had had my two small daughters, making young children clothes the perfect place for me to start my first collection. I started with production and knitted plenty of items.


After the children collection I opened The Fashion Atelier and a Bridal shop. The Fashion Atelier focused specifically on business ladies who were in the cooperate industry as I felt I had somewhat insight of what these women required when working in the industry, having been there myself. Production started to expand, and we opened the Fashion House and sold our collections through our boutiques.


However, when I moved to South Africa a few years later I saw there was much less need for women business attire which led to the shift in focus from corporate-wear to bridal-wear. I had had prior experience in the bridal industry in Moldova, but I felt I just needed to go back to the basics and refresh my knowledge. I went to Lisof fashion school for 18 months and received a Higher Certificate in Fashion, however, I am constantly learning and educating myself – I recently finished a course on fashion illustration.


Throughout my journey I have picked up as much information and knowledge as possible. I regularly did workshops or seminars on business development and entrepreneurship. I believe my financial and economic education gave me a solid foundation on which I have based my passion for fashion design.



According to you, which skills are most essential for a successful fashion designer?


You need to really love what you do and have a great desire for it because not every day is going to be easy so you will need a lot of tenacity and persistence.

It is also important to be able to put yourself in your client’s shoes and really understand their needs. Creating clothes without your client’s needs in consideration is art, however, a fashion designer has a responsibility to cater to the client’s preferences.




What are some of the most important elements of fashion design?


Colours, patterns, styles and how these compliment the wearer’s skin tone, body shape and personal preference. Attention to detail is another important one, the finishes have to be precise and neat. The designer should also have a basic understanding of the different types of materials and how they fall or move.


What do you love most about your career as a fashion designer?


I have a big passion for creating something, especially if it is something that can make women feel their best and most beautiful self. I believe each woman is amazing in her own way and I truly enjoy helping each individual find their unique inner happiness and self-appreciation.


Where do you get your biggest inspiration from?


From all around me, really. Sometimes it is real events happening in life or people I come across. I often get inspiration from materials; when I see a material I like it often gives me an idea of a specific type of garment I can create. When I came to South Africa sixteen years ago, I was very inspired by the vibe of South Africa and all the colours and patterns.


How would you describe your personal style?


Simple, minimalistic, classic and timeless. Something elegant and classy that has small details of South African and European influences.


What are some of the stages you go through when designing a garment?


It always starts with the idea and brainstorming. I also think about the individual’s needs and think of ways I could address this. I then analyse their body type, take measurements and start developing the idea. I start to create something that compliments their unique style and flatters their body shape.


What advice would you give to aspiring fashion designers?


Understand the very basics of sewing and keep building your knowledge and practice. You also need to comprehend who you are designing for and keep their every need in consideration – the client always comes first.

Most importantly, you need to believe in yourself, nothing happens overnight so you need to keep at it and not give up. Don’t be scared of failing, learn to pick yourself up and try again.


Quick facts:

· Marina studied Finance and Credit at The State University of Moldova for 5 years

· She designed outfits for Mrs South Africa contestants and staff as well as the Moldova contestant who won Miss World

· Marina has a Higher Certificate in Fashion

· The fashion studio first officially started in 1999

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