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By Diane Small
Along with energy and agriculture, the fashion industry is one of the biggest in the world, but with great power comes great responsibility, and it’s only recently that some designers and producers have come to realise that they need to deal with the environmental consequences of what they do.
This stands true for most of the world, and the Balkan region is certainly no exception. With waste increasing each day and with inefficient waste management and recycling programs, as well as inappropriate education on sustainability, the negative impact fashion could have on the environment within this region is frightening.
On the bright side, trends like recycling clothing and the emergence of vintage style have changed the perception of how fashionistas living in the Balkans think about about what they wear–for the first time ever, wearing granny’s clothes can be cool.What’s more, high-profile eco-fashion designers like Henrietta Ludgate and Daniel Silverstein have challenged Balkan-based designers to ‘green up’ their work.
Inspired by these advances, Bastet Noir has created the first online portal to offer sustainable Balkan-made clothing. The goal of this retailer is to aid struggling young eco fashion designers by showcasing and selling their designs, while also highlighting the challenges eco-designers here face: “most of the factories didn’t want to collaborate (with eco-designers) at all,” says Baset Noir’s founder, Daniela Milosheska. “They would rather throw leftover materials away than give them up for upcycling.” Daniela explains that there is a tax on companies who give away materials rather than trashing them. “It’s sad and absurd that there are no rewards for factories that do want to give away the materials,” she laments.
Ivana Knez, owner of Macedonian eco-clothing brand DRAMA, agrees that there is little incentive to go green in the Balkans, but she thinks it’s mainly down to lack of demand for good fabrics: “Most people are not educated enough and can’t tell the difference between a natural fabric and a polyester one,” she says. “We are responsible as designers to make them see the difference and educate them about what’s better for both them and the environment.”
Sofia Design Week, now in its fifth season, also aims to raise awareness about fashion, quality and ecology.
The organisers of the event say: “Until recently, we were surprised at the growing interest of large-scale design platforms into the region. With its fifth edition, Sofia Design Week counteracts the skepticism and scant availability of information by putting (spectators) in contact with the new wave of Balkan designers. Here and now Bulgarians, Romanians, Turks, Greeks, Serbs, Kosovars, Slovenians, Albanians, Montenegrins, Croatians, Macedonians, Bosnians and Herzegovians are creating a surprisingly interesting, different and potentially characteristic design.”
Part of this ‘characteristic’ design is created by Nikolay Bozhilov, a Bulgarian designer whose geometric, minimalistic forms and innovative use of recycled materials won him his first “Golden Needle” award for his “Recycling Fashion” collection. “I think the idea was very well received,” he says.
Indeed, with such design-led collections, plus a new focus on home design, artwork and a strongly eco-friendly ethos, Sofia Design Week has built up an increasing following and has generated a buzz over its five years of presentation. But despite the best efforts of Balkan eco-fashionistas, the levels of hazardous and toxic chemicals in the area is increasing, partly because most countries here are not part of the European Union so don’t need to follow the strict regulations and standards of their EU neighbours.
For that reason, it’s more important than ever to give our support to the likes of DRAMA, Bastet Noir and Sofia Design Week, all of which are really trying to make a difference.
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