Designer Spotlight : Tatiana Shabelnik

Born in Minsk, the capital of Belarus, Tatiana Shabelnik developed an early love for the arts and fashion design in childhood when she first designed outfits for paper dolls.  That love would grow and continue as she moved from paper dolls to designing outfits for herself.

Here, she chats to us at House of Coco and tells us more…

When did you launch the brand and what was the reason behind it?
Becoming a fashion designer was not a random decision. Fashion has been my biggest dream, right from childhood. However, I never talked about it until about four years ago. We all have dreams but not always can make them reality. I decided that it is better to start late than never. When I was 16, my original plan was to attend Vitebsk Technological University to get my degree in fashion design, but God had a different path for me, and I followed it.

Looking at where I am now, I believe things happened at the right time, and the right people came into my life at just the right time and for a certain reason. I do not regret that my fashion training did not begin when I was 16. I grew up with my mother and grandmother who were immensely talented in sewing, knitting, crocheting, or any other handcraft you can name.  They even made rugs. My mother raised me by herself, and to make an extra income, she completed a two-year course in sewing where she learned how to sew to perfection and build patterns from scratch. I remember her coming home every day at seven p.m. from her main job as a physicist and then sitting behind her sewing machine until midnight. I grew up around Burda and other fashion magazines. I knew the feel of fabric from a very early age.  My grandmother taught me how to knit at the age of 7 and I learned how to sew when I was at school. We had a yearlong home economics class. I started sketching my own outfits when I was a child, and my mom was the one who implemented my crazy ideas.  If you have a passion or a talent for something, you will be able to realize it at any age.

In June 2013, I flew to my home country of Belarus with two bags full of fabric and leather with the goal that in one month would produce my first collection.  . Amazingly, I was even invited by the organizer of Mamont Avant-garde festival  to show my collection on June 17th.  This was the beginning of my fashion career and my first fashion show. I launched a line of women’s clothing called CONTRAST, interplay of bold colours and contrasting textures in leather, silks-chiffons, and Belarusian linen.

What is your background?
I do not have any completed fashion degrees. Prior to coming to United States, I taught Library and Information Science at the Belarusian University of Culture.  In 1994, I was awarded a scholarship from USIA – United States government –  to study for my Master’s Degree in Library and Information Science at LSU.

I then worked for four years at the Michigan Technological University as a librarian and web manager. Later on, I spent more than a decade working as Web manager for Whittier College and as adjunct librarian for Rio Hondo College. Currently, I hold the position of Web interactive services manager at Claremont McKenna College.

When it comes to fashion, I consider myself natural born artist. In 2012, I enrolled into a fashion course in the Continuing Education Program at Otis College. However, I took only four modules and never completed the program. I was advised by a fashion consultant from New York not to waste my time and money. I remember her saying: “They don’t teach talent. You already have it. They teach technical skills, which you already figured out.”  Fortunately, I listened to her very valuable advice. In autumn 2013, I competed at RAWards, and was chosen to be one of three finalists for Designer of the Year in Los Angeles.

How many people are involved in the company and what are their roles?
It is a start-up company and I do not have any employees. I work with freelance sample makers in my hometown in Belarus and have tremendous support from my friends here in the US who help me with fashion shows and photoshoots. My incredibly talented very close friend, Maksim Leonov, works with me on all projects. He is a professional ballroom dancer, creative director/stylist, very talented make-up artist and hair stylist. I also have a number of friends who are models who collaborate with me on photo shoots.  Sara Ishag, my very close friend, is my feature model for my line of clothing. She has been in most of my fashion shows and photoshoots. She even flew with me to Dubai to do Runway Dubai as well as Vancouver Fashion week. Hopefully, one day we will come to  London Fashion Week.

Since my main career is in web design, graphic design and public relations, I am able to design and maintain my website as well as built my e-commerce store. I do the graphic design and manage all social media. My other passion is fashion photography, so in a number of photoshoots I was a photographer and published in fashion magazines. I also collaborate with very talented fashion photographers such as Max Aria where we are shooting on two cameras. As an extra thing, I also model my clothing in some editorials. I do have tremendous help from my writer friends who have supported me from the very beginning of my fashion career in writing press releases and editing my writing. I also have worked with a number of very talented and brilliant interns.  When you do not have the budget, you figure out a way.

If you could start over with the business, would you do anything differently?
I do not think I would change anything, as my path is a learning path where I learned everything from scratch by doing it step-by-step.

What is the hardest challenge you have faced since you started the company?
A lack of financial means and a lack of time to devote to fashion. It is not easy to balance a full time college job and fashion work in the evenings, weekends and all my vacation time for the past four years.

Tell us one fact about you that people wouldn’t know?
One of my big passions is Latin dancing; I used to dance on bachata teams and truly enjoyed it. Due to the lack of time, I had to leave the teams and focus on my big dream of fashion. The fact that I incorporate dance in all my fashion shows is coming from my big passion for dancing and music.

2017 is here, where do you plan on taking the brand?
I have my hopes to grow the company and to attract investors, as it is not easy to pull it off all by myself.

To date, what has been the highlight since launching?
My major highlight was just recently. I was profiled in British VOGUE, July issue and will be in August issue as well. GLAMOUR UK just profiled me in August, and will in September and October.

Which city do you feel most at home in, London, Paris or New York?
I never been to Paris so would not know much about the city. New York is great but my favourite is London. My very first trip to London was in 1993 when I was still living in the former Soviet Union. I will never forget taking a coach from Holland, boarding a ferry and arriving in Dover. The White Cliffs of Diver will always stay in my memory.  I spent a month in England and about 15 days in London.

Three beauty products you can’t leave the house without?
Hand cream, lipstick and perfume

Style means….?
I always start from my favourite quote of Coco Chanel who is one of my idols: “Fashion fades, only style remains the same.”

Style is so much more than just season’s latest trends. It is a reflection of life, personality, and how you present your personal story to the world.  My line of clothing is a reflection of who I am as a person. My collection is inspired by my tremendous passion for travel and learning about other cultures. Bold bright colours and shapes as well as colour-blocking elements derive from my long-time admiration for the work of Russian artist Wassily Kandinsky and Belorussian-French artist Marc Chagall.  My collection incorporates fusion colours along with the current trends. My ambition with this line is to produce clothing that people will want to wear in everyday life. Very comfortable, yet stylish—these qualities have always been the goal of my designs.  Sexy and feminine, too.  I believe that adding a little touch of “drama” is essential even though I want my clothing to be wearable and not simply designed for the runways. My clothing certainly should WOW a runway audience but at the same time, I want the runway audience to know that this clothing is for them.  They can wear this line in everyday life.  My designs draw on a host of influences and inspirations, including the colours and styles of Belorussian folk dresses. By reflecting my heritage and culture in these designs, I produced clothing that connects contemporary life with my vivid ancestral past.

Best thing about London to you?
London is very cosmopolitan. I absolutely love diversity and London is the best representation of it.

Statement shoe or statement bag?
Statement shoes will be my choice.  For the past five years, I have been wearing John Fluevog shoes and love them. The company also gives me their shoes for my runways and photoshoots. I have met John Fluevog in person. He is an amazing shoe designer and his colourful leather shoes perfectly fit with my colourful line.

If you had to, what piece of clothing from your wardrobe would you wear every day?
Since in everyday life you have to be practical and comfortable, I will go from there. I have quite a selection of leather samples. All my samples are done in my size so I can wear anything from my collection. My preference would be a leather jacket.

Favourite love song?
Same as I never can name favourite fashion designer, favourite food, favourite place in the world, I do not have a favourite love song. There are so many talents in the world and I love discovering new ones. My very recent discovery is Caro Emerald who is originally from Holland. I love her song “Paris” which literally reflects what I am living with – LOVE FOR FASHION.

Best place for a coffee?
I always prefer small private coffee places to Starbucks, Seattle Coffee or Coffee Bean.

Most memorable piece of advice given to you?
In 1992, I was invited by the Rotarians from Holland to spend my summer as a Rotary youth exchange student. The Rotarians took the initiative and organized my trip. I managed to get a visa for West Germany, and my host family helped me to get to Holland from there. What stayed with me and guided me through many years to come was the phrase my Rotarian host said to me. With a fearless attitude, he told me, “There is no word for ‘impossible’ in my dictionary.” So, when people ask me about my philosophy, I express it in two simple words, ‘Dream Big!’ If you have dreams and you really want to accomplish them, there is no reason why you can’t.

If you could spend 24 hours anywhere in the world, where would it be?
If Concorde planes were still flying, I would go to Minsk to see my mom whom I miss so very much.

In future, how do you plan on expanding the company?
I need to focus on investors and go from there.


Find out more…

Online boutique:


Photographer: Viktorija Pashuta
Anna Asia (Red and blue dress)

Twins in gold-yellow silk dress – Hannah-Leah Stacey
Batic painted “Monkey and elephant” dress- twins Hannah-Leah Stacey
Knitted  terracotta dress  – model LenaMake-up: Lupe Moreno, Aurora Galarda
Hair: Carina Tafulu, Bethy Mireles
Fashion Designer: Tatiana Shabelnik
Jewelry: T & R Accessories

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