Carolin Zisgen, Founder of Vaca Vaca
Having had a dream of starting her own company since she was little, German entrepreneur Carolin realized her dreams in 2014 when launching Vaca Vaca. With a passion for quality materials and handcrafted products, she creates fashion and interior items that will bright up every room.
In our series Time For Creative Souls, we interview inspiring people from around the world who follow their hearts and creative calling.
Carolin Zisgen had dreamt of becoming an entrepreneur for a long time. Though, she worked in the marketing department of another company for some years before taking the step to found her own. Vaca Vaca was launched in 2014 after she had been traveling in South America, finding inspiration for her first collection of fine bags made of cow skin. Soon after, Carolin saw that the scarves she created were an even bigger hit, and has since expanded the brand's product range to interior textiles such as cushions as well.
We talked to Carolin about her journey so far and how she decided to start her own business. And of course we asked her about the design process and the materials she use.
Dear Carolin, you are the owner of Vaca Vaca, a brand designing shawls and scarves in fine quality. How did you come up with the name?
Vaca is Spanish for cow. In 2014, we started with an accessory line made from leather and cow skin, the name was inspired from my travels through South America, especially Chile and Argentina.
Was it difficult to find the materials that you were looking for? How is it today?
It was very difficult in the beginning due to the fact that I was totally new in the fashion business. I had to build up a stable network with reliable suppliers. It’s not only about the materials but also the logistics, customs, labels and declarations if you are producing in a foreign country. You have to visit a lot of fairs and companies and you learn from your failures every day.
Now it is quite easy in the everyday, since we are producing at small manufacturers who we know personally. Or, actually not that easy: It is challenging every day because we are working with up to 70 years old wooden looms which can cause unexpected problems.
The most fun is to work with a traditional product to translate a traditional design to modern fashion and marketing.
Can you tell us a bit about your background? Did you always know that you wanted to be an entrepreneur and do something creative?
I have studied Economics and Marketing with internships at Porsche and Cosnova (essence cosmetics). There I discovered my passion for lifestyle brands - I have always been a fashion victim myself.
Later I worked for several years as a Marketing Manager and Head of Marketing in the renewable energies industry. This experience was very useful for me to build up my own company even though the products did not really touch my heart.
Being an entrepreneur was my dream from the beginning on. Some weeks ago I met with my old friend from university (where we graduated from ten years ago, time flies!) and we discovered an old, so called "friendship book" with our dreams for future. In 2006, my dream was to have my own company one day. This has turned into reality now.
How can one imagine one of your typical days as a brand owner?
There is no typical day and that’s why I love my job! Right now I'm actually waiting for boarding my plane to Istanbul where I have a meeting with my manufacturers.
My job makes me travel very often as we attend around 20 fairs per year. There are little design fairs and the big wholesale fairs in Hamburg, Munich and Düsseldorf where I meet my retailers. Half of the year I’m abroad for fairs, meetings or visiting my retailers. A typical office day starts with a morning walk with my dog. A big part of my business is processed via email, Whatsapp or online.
I’m in charge of the product and the overall company development, marketing and social media. As an owner of a small brand you have to do a lots of things by your own. I also do the not-so-glamorous things like handling issues with the bank and accounting. Salesmen and fashion agencies are helping me with the distribution in Germany, Austria and Switzerland. For web design, graphic design, shootings and so on I’m working with a talented crowd of freelancers.
My father is retired now and does the accounting and logistics and my mother does quality control. We are a real family business.
It’s definitely not a seven to five job. I’m often working seven days a week. In the office on weekdays and attending fairs in the weekends, but I’m living my dream and that’s why many parts don’t feel like working that much. My office changes every day; desk, café, car or airport – I’m working where my Mac is and where the WIFI works!
What made you eventually decide to start your own business?
I had not the best boss in my last job I had, so that made it easy to leave. And then there were so many people who supported my idea of the label from day one. Every time I met the right people at the right time. For me, this was a sign to go on and continue. For example, another former boss of mine liked the idea of VACA VACA so much that he helped me with the complete business plan. And my first contact of the German-Turkish chamber of commerce is now one of my best friends. Last but not least I had always the support of the family.
Vaca Vaca's designs are produced by small, local manufacturers who Carolin knows personally. They use up to 70 year old wooden looms.
Did you have difficulties with some parts in the start? And what are the most fun aspects of having your own brand?
I would lie if I said that there are no difficulties. It’s always an adventure being an entrepreneur with new challenges each day. But that’s what I like – finding solutions. In the beginning, we started with cow skin accessories. Very quickly I discovered that it’s hard to rely only on only one very particular product. That’s why we had the idea for the scarves. We are selling them under the slogan “Let me wrap you" (in German: Lass dich von mir einwickeln) and it it’s now our bestseller. Also it needed time to adapt our order rhythm to the old looms and the manufacturer's schedule.
The most fun is to work with a traditional product and to translate a traditional design into modern fashion and marketing. My company is giving me the possibility to meet so many interesting and inspiring people: Entrepreneurs, designer, artists - and I get to visit places all over the world. Also, there are proud moments when you discover your products in fashion magazines like InStyle or MADAME or in the ProIdee Catalogue.
For Vaca Vaca, you work with many different textile looks. How do you decide on the designs and colors - is there a particular process behind it?
I love to work with moodboards filled with inspirations from my travels, fashion magazines and web finds. We are mixing traditional patterns with modern influences like Pantone colors or modern trends like Patches or velvet.
The old wooden looms are very important! Their techniques have an important influence on our patterns. And the colorful and crazy boho-spirit of Istanbul is of course also very important.
Some of Vaca Vaca's beautiful interior products.
Which colors do your customers like the most?
Turquoise, the classics in black and grey - and at the moment everybody is totally into rose and pink.
The pink trend is definitely also a thing at Mermaid Stories right now! So, going a bit more forward: What plans do you have for VACA VACA in the future?
To continue this inspiring journey round the world! Our newest products are our cushion collection: Hand-woven cotton combined with velvet.
Do you have some recommendations for Instagram accounts or blogs which inspire you?
A German blog I really like is the one of Masha Sedgwick.
Thank you so much, Carolin!
➸ You want to see what we have talked about? Take a look at the Vaca Vaca website to discover a world of handcrafted textiles.
If you have liked this interview, you might also enjoy reading about the founder of Isangs Hair and Body Shop and her very interesting journey from studying law, traveling the world and ending up opening her own store in the heart of Copenhagen.
Interview by Mermaid Stories
Photos by Vaca Vaca