Reinvention. It’s a quality praised in pop stardom (hat tip to Madonna), though less lauded IRL. But maybe that’s just because we don’t always know when a person has shifted his or her life’s course in a significant way; that kind of change isn’t as obvious as a bold new hair colour or a songwriting revamp (or a hamburger dress, apparently, if you’re Katy Perry). Less public reinventions, however, are just as interesting. Sometimes more so.
Take Elle AyoubZadeh. She left a career in the finance world behind in order to launch Zvelle, her line of luxe footwear, in 2015. Because she has been a self-professed “shoe person” since the tender age of three and was born with a natural self-starter spirit, her transition is ultimately unsurprising. Sitting in her downtown Toronto office, she eloquently shares her perspective on purpose, luxury, and social impact, and how they all intersect.
After studying luxury marketing at New Zealand’s University of Otago, AyoubZadeh—who was born in Shiraz, Iran and raised in Dubai—wanted to travel, so she bought a one-way ticket to Australia without knowing anyone there. That might be a frightening proposition for some, but not for the likes of AyoubZadeh. “I’ve always been very entrepreneurial and very aware of my limited time in the world,” she says. “I have a brother who’s autistic. That played a big role in my life; he’s my biggest inspiration.” She quickly landed a job at the Commonwealth Bank of Australia, and eventually gleaned that while she “had a very good life, I didn’t want to die doing that. It wasn’t feeding my soul.”
Now with 12 years in her adopted home of Toronto under her belt (today she’s wearing Roksanda, so it’s a gorgeous belt, too), AyoubZadeh is full-steam ahead with Zvelle, a shoe brand dedicated to giving women the power to get on with their days, and to do so beautifully—think patterned nude slides, sexy slingbacks in deep plum, and black ankle boots with blue stripes running up the sides. The best part? The beauty of her shoes does not sacrifice wearability.
“I’m constantly fighting with factory owners about comfort,” she admits—but it would be safe to wager that AyoubZadeh’s outsider status in the industry has actually been her biggest asset. “I’m teaching them to think in a different way,” she says of the centuries-old Italian factories where Zvelle’s pieces are produced. These facilities make shoes for some of the style world’s most coveted brands, but anyone who’s endured fashionable footwear pain knows that cost doesn’t equal comfort. AyoubZadeh highlights that Zvelle is for “multi-dimensional” women: those who are active in their lives and don’t have time to stress about their shoes. The approach is not only inclusive, but presents the opportunity for a more sustainable business model. “We’re only producing things that add to our woman’s life,” she asserts. “We are serving her.”
And what does it mean to make things for a modern woman who wants the best things in life? AyoubZadeh notes that living in a place like Toronto, she has the ability to be more thoughtful about her business. “We really look at the factories that we work with—how many women do they have, how do they treat their employees?” she says. “I don’t think that luxury is just a matter of price point. Luxury is many things. It’s how something is crafted. Time is a luxury. And being able to think about your impact on the world is a luxury.”