Fashion war in Riga

  • 2016-05-19
  • Michael Mustillo

An open letter requesting a review of the Latvian government’s funding policy of Latvian fashion industry events has been sent to Dace Melbarde, the Minister of Culture, by Jelena Strahova, Director of the Baltic Fashion Federation, organiser of the Riga Fashion Week (RFW).
The letter, sent to all media channels and circulated widely on Facebook, has been supported by leading Latvian fashion designers, RFW partners and sponsors.
“We are addressing you with the request to pay attention to this year’s situation in the Latvian fashion industry resulting from the decision on allocation of the financial funds by the State Culture Capital Foundation (SCCF),” stated Strahova to Melbarde.
“The purpose of the open letter is to raise attention to the current funding situation in the Latvian fashion industry as a whole, and concerns of the underfunding in particular of the RFW,” Strahova informed The Baltic Times.
“During 12 years, from the very beginning, the RFW has developed from nothing to an internationally recognised industry event, without government support,” said Strahova.
“Up until this year there was never money for fashion events like this, and now some funds appeared and they are spent unfairly.”
This year three projects were submitted to the SCCF for financial support and be allocated the status of “Cultural Events of National importance.”
The SCCF is not involved in the evaluation of projects and decision-making regarding projects, Linda Karlina from the SCCF informed The Baltic Times.
The SCCF is an independent state institution and the Ministry of Culture has no right to influence decisions made by experts of the foundation.
“State Culture Capital Foundation experts take their decisions on supporting projects independently,” said Baiba Kaulina, Public Relations Adviser to Melbarde.
 The projects receiving funding were Modes manifestacija, which in Feb. 2016, after having received initial SCCF funding, changed its name from the Latvian Fashion Festival Fashion Manifestation to Latvian Fashion Week Fashion Manifestation as noted in the SCCF application lodged by Dita Danosa. Danosa is project manager of the Latvian Fashion Chamber. The amount received was 40,000 euros, from a requested amount of 57,824 euros.
The second project the Baltic Fashion Week, lodged by Baltic Fashion Week Ltd.’s project manager Bruno Birmanis, received 20,000 euros, from a requested amount of 35,000 euros.
The third project was by Riga Fashion Week, lodged by the Baltic Fashion Federation and Strahova, producer of the event. The project was awarded no funding, although 9,000 euros was requested.
 Strahova noted that the documents submitted by the RFW were accompanied by a petition to support the project and signed by seven leading Latvian designers, regarded as the main exporters of Latvian fashion.
“It is very difficult to explain why SCCF so enthusiastically supports such new and inexperienced Latvian fashion industry market players, as Danosa and the project managed by her Modes Manifestacija in 2015,” stated Strahova.
“The first and the second event received state funds of 19,000 euros in total (12,000 euros was awarded by the Ministry of Culture, and 7,000 euros by SCCF.”
“In 2016 the financing of this project reached 40,000 euros, according to official data on SCCF webpage.’’
‘’In fact, Modes Manifestacija by its format is the presentation using state funds of collections of the Taste Latvia store,” Strahova alleged.
Danosa informed The Baltic Times that the activities of the Latvian Chamber of Fashion are in no way related to operations of Taste Latvia concept store, and funding does not apply to it.
 “The fashion week Fashion Manifestation, organised by the Latvian Chamber of Fashion, is a platform where Latvian fashion designers show their latest collections to the local and international public. By contrast, Taste Latvia concept stores are the retail chain where different Latvian fashion and design brands can sell their products to consumers,” said Danosa.
“In 2011, fashion designers came up with the initiative to create Latvian fashion festival Riga Fashion Mood as a platform where latest Latvian fashion designers’ collections to be shown in order to promote the Latvian fashion in the local and foreign markets,” said Danosa.
The RFW which staged its 24th season in 2016, has been operating in Riga since 1999. In its two and a half decades, it has gained much professional experience in arranging a high calibre international industry event in the Baltic region, which corresponds, according to Strahova, to international standards and is included in the International Calendar of the Fashion weeks.
The issue which Strahova wishes to raise is that the RFW only received an official letter refusing support, meaning that this project, as stated in SCCF’s letter, is not a “Cultural event of National importance.”
“This is in spite of the fact that attendance of the Riga Fashion Week is 15 times bigger than of Modes manifestacija, and thanks to the RFW, during the last 12 years the name of Riga and Latvia was mentioned in more than 800 foreign media publications,” Strahova states.
The strangest point in the SCCF decision, according to Strahova, is the allocation of funding to the Baltic Fashion Week project, which at the moment exists only on paper with the event having no history.
The projects manager Bruno Birmanis, who staged a number of fashion events back in the 1990s, has, according to Strahova, not organised a fashion event in Riga or internationally for the past 10 years.
The Baltic Times contacted Birmanis for comment, but received no comment.
Strahova has requested from the Ministry of Culture a full explanation as to the situation on the allocation of funds given, as well as urging the Ministry to reconsider its decision and make changes which could be considered adequate.
“We hope that taxpayers’ money in future will be spent efficiently and fairly and the members of the State Culture Capital Foundation expert commission will be objective,” said Strahova.
“We would like to add, that such a thoughtless allocation of state funds to weak projects and leaving the Latvian fashion industry’s leading project without financial support, may rather lead to the destruction of the industry rather than to its development,” Strahova states.
Strahova further believes that she can only guess about the errors made in the entire funding process by the SCCF.
 “I understand that there are many projects and there is not and never will be enough money for all of them. But this is the job of the commission to correctly evaluate the applicants and also to see the prospects of every project and how realistic it is,” said Strahova.
“Another error might be, and this is common for many things in Riga, because Riga is small, that if you don’t have any relative or friend among the jury members or if your husband or wife doesn’t work in the government institutions you definitely have much less chances that your project will get funds. You also definitely will have even less chances if your surname is not Latvian,” Strahova speculated.
Strahova considers it absurd that a small country such as Latvia is developing three fashion industry events..
“One fashion week is more than enough for such a small country, taking into account the number of designers we have.”
“And if we already have a strong enough event in the Riga Fashion Week isn’t is wiser to invest in it and to improve it, so it can compete on an international stage?”
“In each country there should be one strong event which serves as the face and the business card of the state and its capital and becomes the industry’s driving force. Other smaller events are formed around this main event, not calling themselves a ‘fashion week,’ in order not to mislead neither local industry representatives nor the international industry environment and media,” Strahova believes.
Danosa believes that in the context of the Latvian fashion industry development, it is essential that fashion brands are given the opportunity to showcase their latest collections to the largest number of audiences in Latvia and abroad.
“It increases awareness of each brand and Latvian fashion as a whole and in turn, an increased knowledge about the fashion design offers is the basis for fashion consumption growth,” said Danosa, who is lecturer BA School of Business and Finance, and program director of Creative Industries Management.
“Positive is the fact that the Latvian fashion brands have the opportunity to participate in both annual major events in Riga, smaller-scale developments in the regions, as well as new initiatives.”
The Baltic Times has learnt that Dita Danosa is currently the head of the Latvian Design Council which was established in 2013. The council works under auspices of the Ministry of Culture, and gives advice to the Minister of Culture of Latvia on how to develop the industry and which kind of projects to support.  
It has been alleged that a conflict of interest could be seen as being evident in Danosa’s 40,000 euros funding  for her project.
The Latvian Minister of Culture stated, “We would like to clarify that the Design Council Chair position similar to other sectors chairperson of the Council is a social obligation, it is not a salaried position of the Ministry of Culture. Dita Danosa has not previously occupied any positions in the Ministry of Culture, nor currently holds a position.”
The Baltic Times contacted Danosa to bring up the allegations of a conflict of interest.
“The Latvian Fashion Council’s is a consulting institution with the objective to coordinate and facilitate cooperation between the state organisations and sector professionals in strategic issues related to the development of the design sector and formation of high quality cultural environment in Latvia,” said Danosa
“Allocation of financing does not fall within the competences of the Latvian Design Council, and it is not making any decisions on financing from the Culture Capital Foundation of Latvia or any other funding institution.”
 Inese Baranovska, Head of the Latvian Decorative Arts and Design Department Latvian National Museum of Art / Museum of Decorative Arts and Design, who is on SCCF expert committee for the Design and Architecture branch, believes that there are problems with the way that the Latvian fashion industry is being promoted.
“In my personal opinion, I would like to have one big international festival in Riga with the special day for Latvian designers, one day for upcoming designers from Baltic countries (Art Academy students etc.), special educational program with lecturers from Paris, London, Tokyo, specially organised talks, discussion, workshops, fashion film programs,” said Baranovska.
“Let’s hope for better strategy in the future,” said Baranovska.