Monika Koťarová

“We love original Czech craftsmanship”

Text: Martina Hošková and M. Zisso; Photo: archive

Director, economist, warehouse manager, and marketing expert. Monika Koťarová runs a platform that brings together over two hundred and fifty Czech creators. “We provide a path to the customer for both emerging and experienced designers”, she explains the idea behind the CVRK stores. “We know most of the creators personally”, she reveals as one of the recipes for success, in the field where sustainability and a good idea play an important role.

You used to work in the automotive industry. What do cars and handmade jewellery have in common?

I think the Czech Republic is often perceived as the assembly plant of Europe. But Czechs can do so much more, we have skilled hands and a great tradition of craftsmanship. That was one of the reasons why I didn’t want to stay in the corporate world. I wanted to move from mass-produced things to originality and authenticity. From anonymous manufacturing to real products. I love that behind every product we sell in our store is a story of a specific person.

Lucie Hvězdová creates her original fashion under the brand COCAT

From a visit to Gregi’s workroom, where Hanka and Tomáš Gregárek make their original wooden jewellery

You are in charge of four designer fashion stores and an e-shop, what are some of the difficulties you’ve had to deal with?

When I came in six years ago, CVRK could have been considered a start-up. When you work in an automotive company you’re like a piece of the puzzle, but here I quickly had to learn how to multi-task. Preparing a good business plan and strategy, managing HR and marketing, and setting up clear processes and responsibilities (where I benefited a lot from my past experience in the car industry). To make a long story short, one is suddenly an “expert in everything”.

On a personal level, of course, I had to“fight with myself” a bit. I had to step out of my comfort zone, leave the patterns behind, and come to the realization that my truth and opinion may not always be the only right ones. I learned humility and patience. I understood that sometimes it’s better to not act stressed, to not want everything right away, but to let things ripen nicely. Then, only the delicious juicy fruits come.

What do you think you have succeeded in?

Today we can say that we have built a sustainable and meaningful business, and that we are a stable and secure platform. You will find more than two hundred and fifty creators whose products we help sell. Everyone is making something different, and thanks to the space CVRK provides these products reach the customer. It turns dreams into reality, and that’s what I find great, and enjoy supporting.

Thanks to CVRK, we are creating competition – and an alternative – to the majority and consumerism. We are showing that Czech craftsmanship, such as seamstresses, jewellery makers, or joiners for example, is of great value. It is also economically important; we are supporting small entrepreneurs who produce in the Czech Republic, and at the same time contributing to the national treasury.

A few days ago, you returned from a pilgrimage in Italy. Italians are big fans of fashion, would a shop with local artists’ work be able to sustain itself there?

Absolutely. We visited several shops in the Italian countryside, not only with designer fashion but also shops where the merchants offered lamps, natural cosmetics, soaps, or paintings. I always had a nice feeling of seeing things of value that were being made in that particular place. This is similar to the idea we are promoting at CVRK. Words like kindness, warmth, cuteness, and ‘feeling at home’ come to mind. I think that kind of positive emotion is very important in our field.

Hanka Leisnerová also thinks about the environment in her work. The material for her original handbags is, for example, leftover leather from industrial production

If you were to introduce an Italian to what CVRK is, what would you tell them?

CVRK brings together people of many backgrounds. People who make different products have different opinions. They use different techniques. They are united by creativity, desire, and the courage to follow their dreams. In my opinion, diversity creates room for enrichment. It is definitely true that the Czechs have golden hands. When I travelled the world, I realised that we are skilful, creative, and resourceful.

If you had to name three people who have inspired you the most on your journey, who would they be? There were a lot of people. One of the biggest inspirations for me is definitely my grandmother, Alenka Sokolová, who has dedicated her whole life to taking care of her family. Even though she is now 87 years old and can hardly see, she doesn’t hesitate to make me homemade dumplings for Sunday lunch. Then there is my best friend, Hana Rokosová Kukulská, whose heart has remained open despite the difficult ups and downs of life, and is now raising four wonderful children. Professionally and personally, I owe a lot to my coach Gussie Grace Wallem. And not to forget the men, a big thank you to David Pátek for his inspiring vision, and his courage to throw himself head-first into things.

We also present the work of our creators during fashion performances

Do you recognize that people are wearing clothes or products they buy from you?

We often say to wear what you are comfortable with, in and out. I am pleased that the creators and customers who come to us are carriers of our values. But besides originality, people find a space for self-fulfilment with us. Do you want to become a painter? Go ahead. Do you want to learn about yourself? You can come to the workshop. Do you like woodwork? You can do that, too.

How do customer preferences differ between ten years ago and today?

It’s clear that people are thinking more and more about what they buy and why. Often, they even consciously pay extra for quality materials. They’d rather have two or three pieces on a hanger than a closet full of stuff. You can see that there are more and more of these customers. The fact that we’ve been open for eleven years, that people know us and keep coming back to us, is good for us. There are also a growing number of designers who really want to create something.

Is CVRK more about things or people?

CVRK is about things that have concrete and real people behind them. It can’t be done without that. I think people take away from us a feeling, as well as things. We live at a time when performance and profit are important, and maybe we forget a little bit about emotions. I think we’re here for people who want to feel good, as well as a well- made handbag.

How do the Czechs stand in European comparison with values such as sustainability or meaningful business?

I see a return to naturalness and local sourcing. You can go to the local market and buy fruit and vegetables from farmers in the area. I like the fact that we can meet real people and talk to each other, that’s important to me nowadays. You can shop on the Internet and build relationships that feel impersonal, since they happen at the computer. But you can also go to the market on a Saturday, and buy coffee and cake from the local baker.

We’re trying to do something similar at CVRK. We want people to come to us, talk, get inspired, and feel good. But people have so many options, it’s amazing. They can go to a traditional department store, or they can come to us. We are an alternative; it’s good that people can choose what they want.

You sell jewellery, handbags, and clothes from Czech makers. How important is the female element in your business?

I don’t think it’s essential for us, but it has to be said that the creators of the products we sell are mostly women. We also see female customers more often than men – though men do come to us, most often to choose an original gift for their partner or loved ones. But I see the feminine element more in the fact that we are all different, and we are perfect in our imperfections. This is the sense that permeates our entire business. We plan to build a platform where women can offer their talents.

How can we imagine such a platform?

It could be regular meetings. We want to engage in self-development in creative workshops. I like the idea of creating a space for mutual enrichment, for inspiration and togetherness. We all have our gifts and talents, and we don’t have to be ashamed of them or suppress them. We don’t have to be perfect, and CVRK isn’t either. We don’t need to create flawless synthetic series. I think what’s important is the human stamp that our products have.

In our stores you will find a variety of originals from more than two hundred fifty Czech designers and artists

What does a designer / artist have to do or accomplish to get their products to sell?

We try to have personal relationships with all the artists. We visit them in the workroom or atelier, so we know a lot about them. That’s important. We know how the work is made, and what technology and materials designers use. Scissors, though, are very open to diversity. We are not curators. We don’t judge quality or execution. What I like, someone else may not like.

When we were talking about CVRK, you used the phrase: “We are creating a new luxury of the future”. Can you explain that?

The luxury is not in the price or the flawless execution, but in the fact that the piece is made by a particular maker. You have something made by a craftsman who is located two blocks away. Luxury doesn’t have to be an expensive car, but it can be a vintage car that your grandfather took care of. You can buy a trendy handbag, or you can buy a piece from a bag maker living in Prague’s Lesser Town. You’ll know that he has two children, a dog, and that he loves the smell of flowering almond blossoms. You can choose. You tell yourself that you want this particular person’s product. Somehow it will resonate with you.

I think that’s our main mission.

Monika Koťarová

Creative, bold, funny. That’s the impression Monika Koťarová gives. She first used her corporate experience in a non-profit, and is now in charge of the CVRK platform, supporting local Czech fashion and creativity. She likes to describe herself as this platform’s heart and soul.

She studied cultural history and philosophy. Right after her studies, she went to the Netherlands and the UK for work. She has travelled in Asia and Europe, and when she talks about cultures and travel experiences she always tells stories of people she met on the road. Monika knows how to bring people and ideas together, and she does it in a casual and natural way. Does that appeal to you? Before you know it, you’ll be on her team.,