Meet the Entrepreneur: Amber Kotrri from House of Zana
Tell me a bit about yourself.
I’m a mum to Kasper, aged two, and Luella, 10 months. I have a wonderful supportive husband who I couldn’t live without. I also joke that House of Zana is my first born and that I therefore have three children.
What inspired House of Zana?
House of Zana was inspired by my time living in Albania – my husband’s home country. We travelled between there and Italy which inspired my designs and choices of beautiful, quality fabrics. Albania has a rich culture and many skills that have been lost here but are still used daily there. I loved watching my mother-in-law cooking everything from scratch and knitting the most incredible clothing for our children. Spending more time in Tirana, the capital, I began having clothes made for myself by the many seamstresses there, some of whom are now part of my team. This grew into creating pieces for friends and, from there, House of Zana was born.
Where are you based and stocked now?
We now have our first concept store on Grange Road in Darlington, housing House of Zana clothing alongside other local and international emerging brands: everything from homeware to beauty and fashion accessories. Each brand holds the same values as us. We also have our designs stocked in boutiques up and down the UK, as well as on Silk Fred and Creoate.
How has the last year been for you?
There have been many challenges this year; when everything closed in March it wasn’t only our recently-opened Grange Road store we lost, but all our stockists too and so we had to really rethink the business. We began the Sew2save campaign as a way to give back to the NHS workers by working with Catherine Hart to create PPE for hospitals through donations from our fabulous customers.
Once we were allowed to reopen again in June (two days after the birth of my daughter), I felt that it was time to expand the business. I have a wonderful team of ladies in Albania who make every piece by hand for House of Zana – and with the new expansion, we now also make clothing for several other brands, from nightwear and loungewear to skiwear and even children’s clothing. I love my team and speak to them over WhatsApp everyday until I can go back to Albania. I took night classes to learn to speak Albanian and although there are definitely mistakes made on a regular basis with my spelling, we understand each other in our own way.
also make clothing for several other brands, from nightwear and loungewear to skiwear and even children’s clothing. I love my team and speak to them over WhatsApp everyday until I can go back to Albania. I took night classes to learn to speak Albanian and although there are definitely mistakes made on a regular basis with my spelling, we understand each other in our own way.
You’ll be stocked in Teesside International Airport soon. How did that come about?
In November we created a luxury advent calendar alongside Rejoy – this was an incredibly fun project that helped us grow in so many ways. This wasn’t something we set out to do from the start of the year but when the idea came about it was something we couldn’t miss out on. This project was seen by many across the North East and led to talks with Teesside International Airport about a way in which we could bring together local brands (as we have done on Grange Road). We were so pleased when they loved the concept – and we open in the airport this May.
Favourite product from your collections?
My favourite House of Zana product is our kimonos. I live in mine and I feel so glam feeding the children breakfast while wearing them. I have almost every print, so no need to panic if the sleeves end up in the porridge.
How have you found the North East as a base for your business?
The North East as a whole is going from strength to strength and I am so excited to see the continued growth of the region. I love the people here, and how friendly we all are. It’s hard to really explain the feeling to people who aren’t from here but there is just something about Northerners.
Who or what inspires you?
I am inspired by all the brands who we stock in our concept store – each of their stories is so incredible. We have a monthly Zoom meeting as part of our brand growth program and I always leave feeling full of ideas. I thoroughly believe people are so much stronger together, when we share thoughts and help each other.
Plans for the future?
When I think of the future I see very different high streets – ones that are full of independent brands and businesses. I hope to see more House of Zana concept stores out there. I would love to keep expanding the manufacturing side of the business too, and eventually open a training academy for girls in Albania to learn to sew and get into skilled work. Firstly though, I hope Covid allows me to visit my husband’s family there so they can meet our daughter and so I can hug all of my incredible team to thank them for putting up with my daily WhatsApps and constant wacky designs.
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