From: Alice Taylor
Two Companies Bringing Albanian Traditional Fashion into the 21st Century

The weaving of wool, silk, and cotton has been an integral and fundamental part of Albanian ethnography. Thick woollen rugs adorned with geometric patterns, red and white table linen, and intricately woven and embroidered traditional dress are staples of Albanian life throughout the country. 

Each location has its own traditions and motifs, but all have one common thread that binds them. The styles used, while different from village to village, are all made by hand, with love, and faithfully according to centuries of developed techniques.

Sadly, in recent years, the demand for such handmade items is dwindling. No longer in fashion, Albanians seek out more modern and minimalist designs. They look to Italy and the US for inspiration, shunning the designs that have not changed for hundreds of years. Instead, those that weave do so for foreigners and tourists. Their rugs and tablecloths are sold in bazaars and souvenir shops on the busy streets of Tirana.

But not all of them.

One woman in the northern city of Lezhe is weaving together the old and the new and creating modern items with a traditional twist. Tereze Gega has a small studio- Artistike Zadrima- tucked away down a small side street. With a team of local women she has trained up, they weave the most beautiful fabrics. Blue, green, purple, silver, striped, red, and pink yarns all pass through her loom and a box of silkworm cocoons sit ready for use by the door.

Using the method she learned many years ago that has remained unchanged for generations, she is crafting new styles and products to appeal to the younger generation. Of course, she still creates incredible traditional dress and wedding costumes and her tablecloths grace many of the finest eateries in the country. But her desire to preserve this art form has resulted in the creation of something rather wonderful.

She started by making laptop cases, makeup brush wraps, and wallets made with her woven fabrics. Then she developed a range of bags including totes, backpacks, and cross-body bags. Each utilising the traditional fabric but injected with jewel-tone colours and a few other modern twists.

From there she developed a range of babywearing products. Babywearing has been prevalent in almost every culture in the world but died out as prams and buggies became more popular in the 1800s. Now, in Europe and the US, it is seeing a resurgence in popularity with women shunning buggies and opting to hold their babies and toddlers close with the help of lengths of fabric.

Tereze designed meh dais, based on a traditional Japanese design that comes in two sizes. She also created ring slings that go over one shoulder, and wraps that can be tied in countless different ways, allowing you to position the child at the front, the side, or even on your back. This venture has been a success with several shops in Italy selling her items and orders flooding in from around the world.

In Albania, there has been interest but it is a parenting technique that is yet to pick up momentum.

In addition to her accessories and childcare items, Tereze has been busy designing a range of capes and jackets. Inspired by a foreign visitor to her shop who asked for one of the colourful priest’s cloaks she made to be customised for her, she has let her imagination go wild. Capes of varying lengths, with hoods, collars, and buttons became top sellers through the winter period, offering clients the ability to cover up and get warm quickly.

For Autumn 2020, she is launching some shorter versions, similar to blazers, in a range of autumnal colours. A perfect complement to one of her handwoven cotton and silk scarves.

But the beauty of Tereze’s work has not gone unnoticed. She has teamed up with Albanian fashion house ‘Amargi’ to create the fabrics they use in their high-fashion, couture collections. Now in their second season, Amargi creates incredible clothing using traditional fabric and influences but reimagined in a 2020 way.

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Their SS20 collection is an ethereal mix of structured lines and billowing sleeves and ruffles. Pale pink, off white, and the unmistakable lines of fabric woven on a tezgjah are present throughout, creating some of the most unique designs I have seen in recent times. The work of these two young women, combined with Tereze’s talent for creating fabric has resulted in two collections that have received widespread critical acclaim.

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@arditatusha and the sun 🌻

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Amargi is modern, feminine, innovative, but unmistakably Albanian in the best possible way.

Seeing the reemergence of fashions founded in tradition is a comforting thing. For too long now we have been consumed by ‘fast fashion’ made of nylon, in runs of 1000s, produced at low cost and sold for 10 times the price. Our throw-away approach to dressing has many negative side effects including unethical labour, environmental damage, and pollution.

This isn’t the case with Artistike Zadrima and Amargi. Tereze’s weavers and seamstresses are from underprivileged backgrounds, they have been trained to be the best at what they do and as such, have gained financial independence. The fabrics are sustainable, locally made, and fair trade. The same for Amargi. The money made remains in the local economy, everyone is paid fairly, and most of all, these are items you would never want to throw away. 

But even better than that. By creating a demand for traditional fabrics, it is helping to keep these crafts alive. More women (and maybe even men) will be incited to learn the ways of the loom and to hone their skills in the traditional way. Hopefully as well, Albanians will become more proud of their heritage and see the value in mixing the old and the new. Because if they don’t, sadly, these beautiful garments will be no more and the ways of making them will be lost forever.