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Slovakia enjoys handmade revival

Handmade is about more than just products. It connects people with ideas and creativity, who together form a community.

The traditional Čičmany decorations featured on the clothes of Slovak olympians.(Source: SME)

In the past, it was a common practice that people made different products at home and exchanged them with their neighbours in the form of barter. Now, handmade products are experiencing a revival, creating demand for their originality and natural quality.

“As soon as I realised that the production of blueprint in Slovakia had disappeared, I set a goal to revive this craft,” said Matej Rabada, a producer of traditional blueprint.

Blueprint is a special technique of dyeing linen cloth, using a mixture of kaolin and gum Arabic and a cold dying solution. When exposed to oxygen in the air, the cloth changes colour to blue.

Originally, craftsmen spread their trade by word of mouth, now they can utilise online potential. The internet portal SAShE was started by Saša Miklášová in 2009. Miss Slovakia 2005 and fashion model Silvia Jusková opened a brick and mortar shop Slávica at Laurinská street in Bratislava.

“All around the world designer shops similar to Slávica are common,” said Jusková, adding that Slovakia is little bit stagnant in this sphere. However, people are getting used to the designs and leaving the shop positively surprised. “People react to the designer products positively and I felt sorry that the quality designers do not have a place to sell their products.”

Jusková decided to open such a shop to make designer products available to more people. Prices of handmade products are often higher than the products available in ordinary shops, due to their origin and manufacturing conditions. On the other hand, they offer a higher level of quality.

“Handmade work is appreciated by people who know what it entails and who can rate the uniqueness of the product, because each piece is original,” said Rabada.

Cultural message

Rabada has been devoted to art since high school. Later, he studied textile art at the Academy of Fine Arts and Design in Bratislava but he was interested in something more specific.

Cloth patterns for blueprint are inspired by the nature of Rabada’s native Orava region.

“I try to carry over the emotion from the nature to my designs and blueprint,” said Rabada.

Some customers prefer traditional blueprint, others are happy with a new design combined with traditional technique.

The handmade products usually have simple design, including natural and folk motifs with a cultural message. Shops and portals are also a good way to promote local products.

“We sell exclusively the products of Slovak and Czech designers, we have over one hundred of them,” Jusková said.

The top selling products of Slávica are jewellery, followed by china, ceramics, leather products and clothing.

“Modern folklore is very trendy now,” said Broňa Molnárová, project manager at SAShE. It is characterised by the use of traditional folk motifs, but processed with modern techniques. “This trend started about two years ago with furniture, jewellery, everyday objects and it is part of the mainstream.”

Folk patterns also decorate the tracksuits and formal garments of the Slovak Olympians since the Games in London in 2012. The majority of the garments of the Slovak Olympic team were supplied by the Dare2Be brand of the Garetta company. The design, inspired by the traditional village of Čičmany, was chosen in cooperation with the athletes, who are positive about the pattern.

Puojd company, which cooperates with graphic designers and supports environmental-friendly materials and local production, supplied socks for the Slovak Olympic team in Rio. Leggings of the athletes were designed by Aida Style, which promotes their products via social networks and the SAShE portal.

Time and energy

“Many designers must have an additional source of income, they teach and give workshops,” listed Jusková, adding that the income is sufficient unless you aim for a higher standard of living.

Molnárová agrees saying that it is possible to make a living from handmade products but like in any business, creators must set the price well and cover the costs, in order to make the business activity sustainable.

“Like each type of enterprise, also the sale of handmade products is a business and therefore the people (producers) are gradually developing business skills,” said Molnárová.

As the initial investment is only time and energy, Molnárová would advise everyone to try it, because the market is leaning towards handmade and Slovak products meet with huge demand. Particularly with SAShE, she stresses that the quality of the product is really important.

“Designers should make contacts with producers and look for someone who can produce the same quality goods as them – a design partner,” said Molnárová. “Also, you must have good photos, because a good picture increases the chances of online sales.”

Similarly, producers should know their customers and “tailor” products to their needs.

“For me, the contact with the potential customer is important,” said Rabada, who does not even have an eshop. He communicates directly with each customer and tries to spread the message through workshops, lectures and presentation of the products at artisan fairs.

He sees several advantages in starting the trade “head-on”.

“First, you believe in your work and no argument would discourage you,” he said. Further on, you do not have any plan B, so that you have to push hard and succeed at all costs.

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