Terezë Gega — The Queen Of Albanian Textiles

Down a small side street in Lezhë, in the northern part of Albania, lies a hidden gem. Located between a billiards club and a school, the entrance to Artistike Zadrima gives little indication of what lies behind the door- a veritable Aladdins cave of textile treasures, headed by creative genius Terezë Gega.

Tereza met us with open arms and a warm smile- the proper Albanian way, and took the time to show us around her workshop and the adjacent retail space.

Twenty six years ago, Tereza opened a studio creating handwoven fabrics and traditional Albanian items, all crafted by hand. Using techniques and skills passed down through generations of her family she sought to keep them alive, as well as developing traditional methods and applying them to more modern pieces.

Today, she creates traditional garments for weddings and traditional events and robes for religious ceremonies as well as handbags, makeup bags and brush holders, baby carrying wraps, scarves, and items for the home.

But her business is not just about making money, nor is it about keeping these artisanal traditions alive- there is an important social aspect to her studio as well.

Tereza employs 17 staff both on site in the workshop, and in their individual homes. She reaches out to local women who due to social, health, or familial reasons are unable to seek out employment, and she teaches them how to become more sufficient and independent, whilst nurturing a useful skill.

Women and girls in rural areas in Albania lack equal access to productive resources and assets, and public services such as education, training, infrastructure. Much of their labour remains unpaid and invisible. Tereza, takes them in, teaches them a craft and helps them to better themselves, as well as create additional income for their families.

Immaculately dressed and enthusiastic in her manner, she explained what the different machines do, and proudly shows off the fruits of her labour. As well as reams and reams of handmade fabric in a rainbow of colours, she also has a collection of traditional items that date back hundreds of years.

Originally from Mirdita, she married a Lezhe local at the tender age of 18. Studying economics at school, her path changed after her mother in law presented her with a loom and taught her the traditions of Zadrima. As she explains her journey from then to now, the way she speaks about her work is full of passion and it is clear to see that she does this work, not just for financial reasons, but out of love.

“I work hard and I’m not rich! If getting money leads to happiness, making other people happy leads to super-happiness.“

She explains the hours and hours of work that go into hand embroidering wedding clothes, weaving expansive tablecloths, or stitching custom made laptop cases.

“It is a hard job that takes a lot of time, and the money I make doesn’t always do justice to this but it is worth it to me”, she explains as she shows me a selection of cloaks, similar to ones that have just been sent to the Vatican and have been worn by Pope Francis himself.

She shows me a box of small, white, soft looking silk worm cocoons and the machine that she uses to spin them into the silken thread that is present in many of her designs. The bead work, the stitching, and the quality of the products she produces is startling. The work she creates surpasses that of anything a machine could hope to create, and all pieces without exception strike a balance between delicacy and practicality, style and traditional charm.

Whilst her work is sent all over the world and is in demand from those looking to purchase top quality products, she still struggles to make ends meet.

Despite employing local women and abiding by her legal requirements, she finds little support from the government. Higher taxes, unfair competition, and no financial aid or support from politicians or policy, there are times that the future of her business has been on the line.The demand is not high for these products from Albanian’s, and with profit margins as low as 100-200 lek per item, it can at times be a struggle.

Tereza tells me that her children, whilst appreciative of the work she does, chose different career paths because of doubts of their being a future in this line of work.

But despite this, she continues. After all, her primary objective is not just to run a business, but to empower local women through employment and professional formation, In a time when younger generations are increasingly shunning the work done by their elders, she is forging ahead with trying to keep the spirit of Albanian crafts alive, both locally and internationally.

You can visit her Instagram here.

Tereza will be displaying her work at the Spring Bazaar held at Urban Roots, Tirana on the 11 May.

Her website is here.

This article was originally published on The Balkanista.