Sofianka Merges High Tech and High Fashion

The brand was started by Ann Arbor computer programmer Tanya Atanasova
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Tanya Atanasova, photographed in her home studio space: “If I don’t trust my brand, no one will.” // Portrait by Joe Vaughn

Some might see computer science and fashion design as polar opposites, but to Tanya Atanasova, the two fields aren’t all that different: “Mathematics is important in technology, and fashion — especially pattern-making — involves lots of geometry.”

Atanasova fell in love with dressmaking as a child, watching her mother work as a seamstress in Bulgaria. But her mother, who worked two jobs to combat the family’s financial difficulties, didn’t exactly encourage her daughter to take up the trade. “She saw it as a difficult profession,” Atanasova says. “She pushed me more in the direction of programming.”

So Atanasova left her home country in 2004 to earn a computer science degree from Boston University. She now lives with her husband in Ann Arbor, where she works as a programmer for Amazon Web Services. While she loves computer science, Atanasova never lost her passion for clothing design. In 2018, she began using her tech know-how to make patterns via computer-aided design, or CAD, software. She launched her own brand, Sofianka, in 2020. 

Atanasova’s mother was also a source of inspiration for the brand’s name and design philosophy. Memories of her mother dressing for work in jackets, trousers, and high heels helped shape Atanasova’s chic and sophisticated big-city style. Those influences are evident in Sofianka’s inventory, which features sleek dresses, structured blazers, and pleated trousers in predominantly neutral tones. Even the brand’s name is a nod to that aesthetic. The Bulgarian word sofianka refers to a woman from Sofia — the country’s capital city.

Sofianka burst out of the gates in 2020, securing an order during its very first showroom appearance in New York City. “No brand gets an order from its first season,” Atanasova says. “It gave me a push to keep creating.” But then COVID-19 hit, and small boutiques shuttered in droves. And those that remained open weren’t buying much of anything, aside from small batches of loungewear. Wholesale demand nearly vanished. “It’s hard to put a brand on the market in normal conditions, let alone in a massive pandemic,” Atanasova says. “It took a toll on us.”

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A model dials up the style with a shirt and skirt from Sofianka’s Fall-Winter 2021 collection. // Photograph courtesy of Sofianka

Those hardships were among the many reasons Atanasova made it a top priority to launch an online store for Sofianka. While many brands create their web stores using the Shopify platform for its ease of use, Atanasova is building her own site from scratch, to avoid Shopify’s fees. She hopes to have it up and running by Sofianka’s next launch in September. 

As that decision suggests, Atanasova isn’t the type to take the easy route. Despite recent challenges, she’s plugging ahead with a new collection. She believes that with a little bit of patience and perseverance, things will turn around. “I’ve realized that if I don’t trust myself and my brand, then no one will.”

Sofianka’s upcoming collection is fueled by one of Atanasova’s overriding inspirations of late — nature — but she says her influences are always evolving. “I may be big on floral prints right now, but fashion changes based on what we’re experiencing during a given time period.” 

The Great Depression, for instance, was a time when utilitarian sentiment born of hardship reversed the progressiveness of roaring 1920s fashion and brought back a more practical and traditional aesthetic. Conversely, Atanasova predicts that upcoming seasons will deliver an array of wild and whimsical trends. “I feel like, after the year we’ve been through, we need to live a little.” 

That applies to Sofianka too. While Atanasova hasn’t completely shied away from flashy elements in the past, the bold prints and vivid colors of her latest designs pulled her out of her comfort zone. Right alongside the fun dresses and blooming florals, though, we can expect to see the kind of classic pieces that are hardwired in Sofianka’s DNA: “We’ll always have a light cotton shirt, a blazer, and a nice trouser.” 

View Sofianka’s collections at sofianka.com.

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