Greece: Fashion in the aftermath of the crisis
Bella Hadid’s immaculate profile fronts the cover of Vogue Greece’s latest issue, which marks the fashion magazine’s return to the country. Surrounded by classic marble statues, the supermodel is transformed into a Hellenic goddess and the ambassador of the 26th international edition of fashion magazine’s relaunch after a seven year break. The move could be understood as a strategic decision taken by an editorial group, but in reality, it is part of a wider economic recovery. As told by Greek mythology, the phoenix rises from the ashes. And Greece is coming out of the crisis. A new generation of millennials, who have grown to live in worse conditions than their parents due to European Commission rules, are taking over. Without going any further, 29-year-old, Thessaloniki-born Thaleia Karafyllidou has become the youngest-ever editor-in-chief in Vogue’s history. Her first and evocative title is ‘Eyes on the future’. But is Greece truly able to dream of fashion again?
Looking for answers, Fashionnetwork.com travelled to the Greece on the occasion of the launch of Vogue Hellas and the 25th edition of the Athens Xclusive Designers Week (AXDW), which took place in the Greek capital from 27 March to 2 April. The event was led by chief executive officer Tonia Fouseki, and was held as one of the last stops in the international fashion week calendar. Although it has previously featured international fashion designers such as Zuhair Murad, the event is mainly dedicated to supporting and promoting local names both inside and outside its borders, with a large number of potential buyers attending from Greece, Italy and Israel. Six days and up to 27 fashion shows provided the perfect setting to get a panoramic view of the sector.
INCLUSIVE FASHION FROM ZAPPEION TO INSTAGRAM
To understand Greek fashion, Vassilis Zoulias' story is a must-know. The renowned fashion editor has become a national icon ever since he opened his couture and bridal fashion store in the old town of Athens in 2002. In the National Garden of Athens, the designer presented his first ready-to-wear collection, an acclaimed line inspired by French style and characterised by office wear and cocktail dresses, presented alongside designer hats by Katerina Karoussos. The models walked down the runway with dogs from the ‘Save a Greek Stray’ association, which was in charge of finding new homes for the dogs after the show.
It wasn’t the only inclusive social initiative to take place during the week. The AXDW demonstrated, as other smaller fashion weeks outside the main four capitals also do, that having a small size can be a tool to support freedom of expression. Inside the Zappeion, a conference and exhibition centre built for the modern Olympic Games, Dimitris Strepkos celebrated his 10th anniversary as a fashion designer. His brand, Celebrity Skin, highlighted the idea of inclusion by casting a mixed group of people including models of all ages and body types and models in wheelchairs. This modernity and diversity could be seen in most fashion shows, driven by a joy that made the catwalk vibrate, like in Mindy by Iliana’s colourful collection with gypsy vibes and plenty of prints, or in men’s tailoring brand Giannetos Handmade’s show.
On a more creative level, another local star boasts of an interesting artistic potential without neglecting the commercial side of things. It is Myrto Dramountani, who surprised the public with ‘Illusions’, his latest collection of minimalist shapes, geometric cuts and 3D textures on crepe, silk and leather. Meanwhile, designers Tassos Mitropoulos and Kathy Heydels stood out in the evening wear segment with styles that range from femininity to light bohemian fluidity.
The event’s main highlight came at the end of the day on Sunday 31 March with MI-RO’s new collection. For the occasion, the designer duo consisting of Dimitris Mastrokalos and Giannis Raptis selected the School of Fine Arts of Greece as their venue. Set against a backdrop of an industrial space dominated by anti-capitalist street art in response to the Eurozone’s rules, the country’s most successful fashion brand presented its latest collection. “It is probably the most commercial and profitable brand in Greece,” said a local buyer. The collection, full of tulle, exaggerated volumes, brightness and daring cuts, gave 80s glamour a new twist. A Greek reinterpretation of Saint Laurent and Alexandre Vauthier's nocturnal styles, destined to seduce the influencers and celebrities who packed the front-row thanks to their Instagram success.
IS THERE A FUTURE FOR GREECE AFTER AUSTERITY?
Greece has had a difficult couple of years. In 2018, after eight tough years of crisis, the country emerged from the European Union’s third rescue programme. It was a $98 billion bailout, approved in 2015, when the country’s unemployment rate reached 24.4%. And it was another consequence of the crisis, which meant a 20% fall in domestic GDP between 2008 and 2014, when its public debt reached 316 billion euros, 185% of DGP. “We are emerging, but it will take time,” was a notion shared by many on the streets when asked if the end of the crisis has had any effects on their everyday lives. Analysts agree, predicting that it will take the country a decade before everything returns to normal. And the Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras insists that the economic improvements have to benefit the population, starting with employment. Last December, the unemployment rate stood at 18% and the minimum wage was set at 683 euros per month.
The complex economic situation has significantly affected the domestic clothing sector in recent years. According to the latest data from ICEX, there was a drastic fall in the number of companies in the sector between 2014 and 2015, falling from 7,168 to 4,879. In 2017, the country continued to depend to a large extent on other countries, with a clothing trade balance of 30.23% and a footwear trade balance of 20.94%. That same year, exports of Greek clothing rose to 318.75 million euros, compared to 1.05 billion euros worth of imports, led by Spain (229 million euros), Italy (168 million euros) and China (95 million euros). But according to Eirini Lykou, buyer at the Mystore platform, “Greece’s main fashion market is local. Exports are very complicated for designers.”
Inditex and H&M dominate the market with a 16.4% and 6.8% share respectively, followed by Adidas, Nike, Greek brand BSB, Benetton and Calzedonia, which have market shares ranging from 3% to 1.9%.The data shows that the evolution of the market is moving towards an increasingly concentrated structure, which is hurting small businesses. That is something that is already reflected on Ermuo, Athens' main shopping street, which is practically dominated by foreign brands.
But, despite clothing sales are showing a positive trend, expected to grow by 3% between 2019 and 2022, demand for clothing at reduced prices is forecasted to increase, which gives fast-fashion multinational companies a clear advantage over smaller brands and enables the expansion of chains across the country.
“Domestic designers are currently having a hard time selling in Greece. That is why, to lower prices, they are trying to create collections with cheaper materials,” commented Eirini Lykou on the challenges facing Greek designers when it comes to offering a high quality and profitable product.
In the textile sector, production levels have decreased significantly since the beginning of the crisis, despite the important role the industry has always played in Greece, particularly cotton. Imports are growing, up to 231.2 million in 2017, with products coming mostly from China, Turkey and Italy. Together, these countries have a market share of 47%. Meanwhile, Greece’s shoe manufacturing companies, mainly based in Athens and Thessaloniki, are producing less and less. Indeed, in 2017 the country reported exports worth 106.43 million euros, while imports, mostly from China, Belgium and Spain, reached 508.15 million euros. The textile market, like that of clothing, is led by large multinationals such as Nike and Adidas, wich have a 16.7% and 15.2% market share respectively, while Greek companies such as Lemonis F&K or Tsakiris Mallas show a more timid 3.6%.
So how can local fashion brands grow? First, via the online channel, which is progressively gaining ground with sustained growth in recent years (up 125% between 2014 and 2016, according to ICEX data). Second, through initiatives providing support and nurturing to the new generation of designers.
“Improving the design schools is fundamental,” said the editor of Condé Nast International Omi Chowdhury, who knows the market after several seasons attending AXDW (Athens Xclusive Designers Week). He is also there on this occasion to celebrate the launch of Vogue in the country. “The future lies in supporting emerging countries,” he said.
After a long crisis, Greece begins to see the light at the end of the tunnel. And with it comes the opportunity to rebuild the country’s immediate future, as well as a competitive local fashion scene. This would have been unthinkable a decade ago.
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