Generation M’s Global Co-Chair, Kristina Dimitrievski interviewed Elena Dunovska and Nikol Mitanoska, Co-Founders of Dukyan, a luxury fashion brand whose focus is on true statement pieces – tailored with strong lines, a feminine touch, and a sense of quality that transcends, season after season. Dukyan’s purpose is to encourage women across the globe to break barriers and be the best version of themselves. In an era where it’s of utmost importance to showcase support for women worldwide, Elena and Nikol believe that these distinct designs will allow women the freedom to express their truths, their way. Read on to learn about the genius behind Dukyan.
Tell me a little about yourselves: Elena, you were raised in Florida and Nikol you in Ohio?
Elena: I was born and raised in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, attended school and graduated from Broward College. My entire career has been predominantly in the fashion industry. I have always had a passion for this, especially the luxury industry and made it a point in my life to one day work for one of these luxury fashion houses. My dream would come to fruition when I landed my first luxury fashion house, Louis Vuitton. It has been an amazing journey working with some prestigious fashion labels over the passed 8 years, but it was over this time period that I finally summed up the courage to venture out with Dukyan. Today, I currently reside in Chicago, IL with my husband Mihajlo and son Valentin.
Nikol: I was born in the western suburbs of Cleveland, Ohio and finished my undergrad at The Ohio State University. Since a child, I knew that I wanted to work and be a part of the fashion industry. Every day getting ready for school was chaos (sorry mom). I would not leave the house until I got to wear whatever it was that I wanted. My mom would eventually understand my need for self expression and allowed me not only to pick my daily outfits but also choose what clothes she would buy for me. Having relocated from Columbus, Ohio to New York City and then finally to Chicago, the beginning of my professional career started in retail working for companies such as Michael Kors. In 2014, I felt that I needed a change in my career path and accepted an amazing opportunity in the ad agency world. I worked with McDonald’s as a client until July of 2018 and am ever so grateful for the experience but also so excited to be on this new journey with Dukyan. Like Elena, I too live in Chicago, IL with my husband Zlatko.
You are both first-generation Macedonian-Americans?
Elena: Yes, my father first came in 1978 straight to Florida from Struga. This was not typical at the time since so many Macedonian immigrants first settled in the US in the northern states. My father flew back to Belgrade, Serbia in 1986 and met my mother through mutual friends. My mother who is from Ohrid, would eventually join my father in Florida in 1987 to begin their lives together. They would go on to have two children, myself and my younger brother.
Nikol: My parents, interestingly enough, come from the small village of Nakolec, which is located in the Prespa region of Macedonia. My father moved to Ohio in 1976 and it wasn’t until 1985 that he would be reacquainted with my mother at a wedding in the village. After a year of writing letters back and forth, my mother would join my father in America, where they would get married and start a family.
Did your parents instil in you a very conscious connection with your Macedonian heritage?
Elena: My mother was actually a huge part in my Macedonian upbringing. She came here like many not knowing English and with that only spoke to us in Macedonian at home. My parents both made it a priority to send us to Macedonia almost every summer as children. My mother was extremely proud of where she came from and wanted to show us that although the US was a great country, Macedonia was a beautiful country, with a rich history like no other.
Nikol: My mom also did not know English when she first came here so the first 6 years of my life were spent speaking solely Macedonian. It wasn’t until I began school did I learn to speak English. My parents, although very proud of where they come from, never forced the culture onto us. I was brought up in a household with rather modern views on this topic. My love for my Macedonian heritage started developing on my own terms and in my own way during my teenage years.
Do you visit Macedonia frequently and have family connections there?
Elena: My summers I spent with my grandparents in Ohrid along side my aunt, uncle and cousins. I spent almost every summer in Macedonia going into my teenage and adult years.
Nikol: Since the age of 16, I have visited Macedonia almost every year, sometimes even twice a year. Between my parents planning their retirement and having a lot of family and friends that still live there, my connection with Macedonia will always be very strong.
How did you two become connected?
Nikol & Elena: Our parents were introduced through mutual friends. We ended up staying in contact through the years. Now you have to realize this was before the time of social media, so in order to stay in contact you really had to want to. There was just something that clicked between us that made us not only stay in constant communication but we also made it a point to see each other as often as possible. Macedonia was a major connecting point for both of us.
You have both worked with very prestigious fashion labels: how have these experiences influenced your own brand?
Nikol: Working with Michael Kors we both learned the value of building real relationships with clients. Clienteling was a means of not just selling something to another person walking through the door, rather a means of getting to know this person and connecting their lifestyle with the brand. Michael Kors, at the time, had successfully developed a niche within the fashion industry where he learned how to make affordable luxury pieces accessible to every day women. When creating Dukyan we were both conscious of implementing these strategies into our brand’s culture.
Elena: Like Michael Kors, LVMH focused on their clientele but on an exceptional scale. I never knew that clienteling could be taken to another level. LVMH is known for being a lavish brand, and with a lavish brand come lavish experiences. LVMH knows that their clients are not just anyone and for the most part are a brand that caters to the elite. Louis Vuitton would take their most loyal, top clients on luxury yachts and tropical getaways in return those clients would always come back to Vuitton. I know that Dukyan is very far from this but I do know that the fashion world is an extremely competitive industry where we must continue creating in order to remain relevant.
What inspired you to create your own brand and what is unique about your fashion pieces?
Nikol: Being a naturally quiet person, I had to find a way to voice who I am, without having to say anything at all. With my extensive background in fashion from a young age, I always knew how to stand out in the crowd and express who I am through clothing and piecing everything together. When the idea of Dukyan came about, we both knew that the pieces had to be one-of-a-kind. Our collection would be a grouping of statement makers, focused on high quality styles that would transcend season after season. In my lifetime, I have only chosen pieces that were distinctive and could be styled multiple ways, this was the foundation for Dukyan. Elena and I have always toyed with the idea of creating our own fashion label. It wasn’t until the beginning of this year that we decided to take action. We both were at a crossroads with our professional lives and knew that we had the potential to create something more. After many sleepless nights of strategizing how this would become, we decided to leave our full time jobs to make our dream a reality.
What influences do you draw on to inspire your designs in your new brand?
Elena: We were influenced by the growing luxury market and finding our niche in it by offering affordable designs. What makes us luxurious is that all of our outerwear selection is made from exclusive leathers, furs, and wools. Our handbags are handcrafted with the finest calf leather; And our jewelry is 100% silver. We obviously realize that there are a lot of differences on the topic of using fur in clothing, but most may not know the benefits. Many are unaware that, first and foremost, fur is considered to be a sustainable use of renewable resources, a principle promoted by world wildfire organizations. Not only does it have a luxurious look and feel, fur is a natural fiber which can be recycled, updated and restyled time and time again. Unfortunately, just because a piece of fashion is animal free doesn’t mean that it’s not hurting animals in more underhanded ways. Real fur, since it is organic in nature, will eventually biodegrade; Faux fur is essentially just plastic spun into thread and plastic can take anywhere from 500 to 1000 years to biodegrade. Along with the importance of quality textiles, our inspiration comes from being European. European means being effortlessly elegant, showcased in Dukyan’s Fall/Winter Collection with strong tailored lines in our outerwear designs. This is the essence of our style.
Creating your own successful brand is not an easy thing to do: what has the path and process so far been like?
Nikol & Elena: Starting your own luxury brand is exciting and we have learned so much in this one year alone. Like most new adventures we have encountered many challenges along the way that have in turn improved our business strategy. We have learned not only about our business but about ourselves as individuals. Both having come from entrepreneurial households we know to expect trials and tribulations in the beginning stages of a new business. In the end, the most rewarding part is seeing your hard work begin to come alive.
As Macedonians we of course love Elena Risteska…and she has become your brand ambassador? How did you get connected with her and how has her influence helped your company?
Nikol: Along with many other Macedonian singers, growing up we both listened to Elena’s music which defined our teenage years. Since our summers were spent there we were fully immersed in the culture. We often found ourselves playing or listening to her music in the car, with friends, and at clubs in Macedonia.
Elena: We connected with Elena while she was on tour in the US. I saw that she was playing in Chicago and decided to reach out to her via social media and introduce myself as well as Dukyan to her. We eventually met for dinner and the rest is history. We can’t wait to share with you what’s to come in our collaboration for 2019.
Does your Macedonian heritage and connection inspire you to bring more Macedonian-Americans or Macedonians into your company or encourage them to pursue their dreams in the fashion Industry?
Nikol & Elena: It absolutely inspires us. Currently our team is partially Macedonian operated. From our models to our photographers to our web and graphic designers which are all Macedonian. The more we grow, the more we are willing to work with Macedonian-Americans because we know that their work ethic is something that is instilled from a young age. We know that coming to this country, the hardships our parents endured and with that comes a responsibility of making their journey here worth while. As Macedonian-Americans, we have no choice but to give the best out of us and we feel strongly about finding others like us as well.
What are impactful ways you think members of the Macedonian diaspora can give back to their homeland?
Nikol & Elena: We have discussed the many ways we would want to be involved in giving back to our homeland and don’t know a better way of getting involved than starting with our youth. We are proud of being Macedonians but we are also proud of being Americans. With this being said we would love the opportunity to be able to open up different organizations that would introduce finance and budgeting as well as environmental and community building skills. Being American has taught us the importance of cherishing this planet we live on with something as simple as recycling. It sounds elementary but these are basic fundamentals that we feel are overlooked in Macedonia. In America, community building as been a priority in every corner of this country and we definitely see the potential of teaching Macedonians that there is no greater pride than giving back to your communities. These along with many other ideas are just a few ways we will be impactful if we are able to look past the politics and focus on a better tomorrow for Macedonia.
Where do you hope your company will be in 5 years time?
Nikol & Elena: This is a journey and our hope is that our company is growing and thriving in many years to come. Being entrepreneurs, it would give us a sense of pride to know that we are able to create jobs for talented people. Since the revelation of the internet and social media, the world has become such a small place that we know our goal is to become global. We want to be able to ship worldwide very soon. Also, it would be a great accomplishment to have Pop-up shops in a couple major US cities; It would create such a buzz and excitement around our brand as well as give our clients a visual aesthetic of Dukyan.
What advice do you have for young Macedonians who aspire to open their own business?
Elena & Nikol: Nothing comes without fight and determination. We feel like young people, in general, are always told to go to school, graduate, get a job, etc; It’s almost as if we are programmed to do these things in this exact order and if not, there will be consequences. We’re not saying that going to school and getting your degree or multiple degrees is not commendable, but what we do want to encourage is thinking outside the box. As cliché as this sounds, we want to urge young Macedonians all over the world to truly pursue their dreams. Do not be the norm and the crazier your dream seems the harder you should work towards attaining it.
The views of the author may not necessarily reflect the views of the United Macedonian Diaspora and Generation M.