The Baltic states have more models per capita than almost anyplace else in the world, so it would seem natural that designers and fashion labels are also starting to set up shop in the countries. While Tallinn, Riga and Vilnius will never be on par with Paris, Milan or Tokyo, the fashion industry in the Baltics is starting to emerge as a serious money-making business. In this week's Industry Insider, The Baltic Times delves into the region's emerging fashion industry and takes a look at some major companies working with Baltic fashion.
RIGA - Ten years ago, the Baltic fashion business was nearly non-existent. During the collapse of the Soviet Union, such non-essential luxury industries were the first to crumble. Now, with a decade and a half of strong growth fueling the economy, fashion is starting to move from a hobby of the arts community to an actual business.
Baltic fashion still has a long way to go, however, before it can be considered a bona fide industry.
"The whole industry collapsed after Soviet times, and for a while there was no industry at all. Now with the Riga Fashion Week coming twice per year, people are starting to think that they can do this all the time," Dmitri Doubovik, multimedia project manager at the Baltic Fashion Federation, told The Baltic Times.
"The whole business of designing clothes in the Baltics is getting to the point where you can start to call it a real business. The designers are opening their own shops and this is the first time they are getting into the business aspects [of fashion], quite a few new shops are opening up soon," he said.
Designers in the Baltics are starting to move away from wildly creative but impractical clothes to more down-to-earth apparel. Doubovik said that the transition from the gaudy creative exercises in fashion of previous years to the more "sellable" works that many Balts are producing today 's with the mindset to sell the clothes right from the start 's has been the driving force behind the emerging industry.
"[There is] a new generation of designers, in terms of those who have not been Soviet trainedâ€¦ they are starting to think in terms of how to sell the products," he said.
In fact, some fashion labels have become so successful that they have started to export clothes in huge amounts.
Meet Natalija Jansone, a prominent Latvian designer who has just recently started treating fashion as a business.
"My major [at university] was not fashion design. We had this kind of competition, sponsored by Smirnoff Vodka, and everybody participated. [There we] could make clothes from anything, just be creative. I learned there that anyone can design clothes, and then I started to do it myself," Jansone told The Baltic Times.
Her collections have already met with wild success on the Asian market. Last year, she pitched some of her apparel in Japan, China and Korea, and the clothes were so popular that this year she has received a massive order for thousands of garments from China.
Jansone agreed, however, that despite the fact that the Latvian fashion business has just established a foothold and is growing rapidly, it still cannot be considered a true industry.
"It is not really an industry, it is more that this is a creative country and there are lots of designers. It is not like Italy, France or China with strong industries and long traditions of fashion," she said.
The growth of Baltic fashion labels is also being spurred by the large number of well established Western labels which are moving into the Baltic states. The Western labels have helped drive up demand for high-quality goods and show the Baltic labels that there is money to be made in the fashion business.
"In the near future, we aim to open more stores in Lithuania, one of Europe's fastest growing clothes marketsâ€¦ We've enjoyed excellent sales in Estonia and Latvia since opening our first store in the Baltics in 2004," Lindex's CEO Goran Bille said in a press release earlier this year.
"This is a rapidly growing market with a fast-evolving fashion industry. We're seeing high demand there for both fashion and accessories," he said.
These fashion labels, however, have also provided the emerging Baltic fashion business with some stiff competition, and many stores still carry only imported goods.
"There is a large segment of Latvian people who have gotten a lot of money from the overheated economy, and they are spending their new money on these expensive brands from Italy and France, which is of course perceived as better in terms of quality," Doubovik said.
Though these massive international companies still dominate the small Baltic market, Balts hope that the fashion industry will soon be strong enough to compete with the major world players 's both domestically and abroad.
"In Lithuania the fashion industry exists, and we have some quite famous designers. We make goods for foreign countries, [and export to] Sweden for example. In my opinion, maybe five or 10 years down the road people will see that we are quite fashionable and quite well known," a spokeswoman for the Lithuanian National Design and Fashion Gallery said.