When you hear the words “family-run business,” flame-adorned stilettos and leather moto cowboy boots aren’t typically the first things that come to mind. Proving HAVVA, a family-run shoe brand based in London, is anything but typical.
Helmed by sister-and-brother design duo Havva and Ali Mustafa, HAVVA is quickly becoming the go-to shoe brand for cool girls across the globe. The brand’s collection of footwear ranges from striking neon boots to houndstooth stilettos to streetwear-inspired designs—mixing skate culture with luxury and merch adorned with their “Cool girls don’t sleep” mantra. It’s an unexpected formula that shouldn’t work for footwear, and yet it completely does.
Havva and Ali each considered careers in other industries (law and architecture, respectively), but they couldn’t resist their family calling to shoes. Both their father (who teaches shoemaking at Central Saint Martins) and grandfather worked in the industry. Making it a complete family affair, the waste-conscious collection is made in a family-owned factory in Turkey.
A rising name to know, Havva also teaches at both Central Saint Martins and the London College of Fashion—where she’s taught and mentored several other footwear designers including Neil J. Rodgers, Julia Nodaleto, and Jennifer Chamandi. Is HAVVA the next big shoe empire to know? BAZAAR.com speaks to both Havva and Ali Mustafa about running a luxury shoe brand as siblings.
How did you first get into designing shoes?
Havva Mustafa: Our father and grandfather were in the shoe industry so it was something we grew up exposed to from an early age. My mother really wanted me to study law instead so that I could make a great living, but I knew I was never cut out for it. At the last minute, I rejected my law university acceptance and managed to secure myself a place at Cordwainers London College of Fashion. After graduating, I worked as a designer for companies who would produce for trend-focused brands, but after some time, I realized it was not the right fit and I wanted to design my own small-batch collection that spoke truly to me.
Ali Mustafa: I went to university to study architecture, so I never really thought I would be designing shoes. However, once the HAVVA brand started coming together, I couldn’t keep myself away from it. I just felt a natural draw to designing and it woke an underlying passion inside me that I guess was always there. It felt like a natural move from architecture to footwear, as you can apply a lot of the same design principles. I also think I was able to bring a different perspective to the brand, and that really meant we would start to develop our unique brand voice.
Given the rising amount of footwear brands (including the many designers you’ve mentored!), how do you differentiate HAVVA?
Havva: I feel like you have to really focus on who you are and what your aesthetic is. You must be true to yourself, and I think if you stick to that, it will naturally be conveyed in your product. There is enough room for all of us designers (especially the emerging ones!) to have a creative voice and vision.
Ali: It’s not just the design of the product, but also the presentation. You have to speak to the customer in your own voice. You must develop your brand’s personality through your social media channels, lookbooks, website, ads, and events. The key is that when someone sees a shoe, they will associate it with your brand. No matter what you try to do will have been done in some way before—the difference is how do you interpret those ideas through your brand’s creative filter.
Has mentoring other designers and students inspired your own collection?
Havva: Every student is so different, and they all have their own style and personalities that is reflected in their work from very early on. I help them build the skills to create and develop as a designer, but based on their own personal influences—their brand DNA is often evident in their designs without them even knowing it at first. It is very rewarding to see my students flourish, I often feel like their shoe mum! They all keep in touch and send me updates regularly.
How do you balance teaching at the London College of Fashion with running your own brand?
Havva: The real trick to keeping the balance is to ensure I plan my timetable correctly, which often means a lot of late nights. So once my day teaching is over, I come back to the office and work on the brand with Ali until late at night. I love teaching though, so I don’t see myself giving it up anytime soon!
How did HAVVA turn into a family-run affair?
Havva: While I was designing at various other companies, our older brother came to me with the idea of me having my own brand, which led to him putting down the initial funding for it. Then I thought, if I’m dragging one brother into this, I might as well drag the other in as well (Ali)! Ali and I are both very much on the same wavelength on what we envision for the brand, which means that when we come to design, there is hardly any disagreement in the approach. Our father still helps us with any technical questions we might have about the construction of a shoe as well.
Ali: I knew that with it being a young company, I had to learn as many things as possible myself in order to save on costs. So I would spend as much time as I could reading and learning anything I could get my hands on. I picked up photography, videography, web design, graphic design, and pretty much anything that I could lend a hand on. There’s nothing quite like learning on the job with immense pressure. By taking on all of this, it meant that the workload balance between the two of us was easier to split as we have different roles and don’t often overlap, except when we are designing the collections together.