CUTE AND COLORFUL: Eliza Drazniece (kneeling center) with models at a recent Riga fashion presentation.
RIGA - The old saying that one man’s trash is another’s treasure is particularly apt in times of recession, when people give more thought to what they spend their scarce money on. And some Latvians are capitalizing on shrinking wallets and shifting values by offering alternative ways of being dressed to kill.
Eliza Drazniece is one such entrepreneur. The 27-year-old Riga resident spent five years in Paris studying and working in the fashion industry. But rather than becoming addicted to haute couture, she fell in love with vintage fashion, the process of unearthing interesting items made from the 1920s to the early 1990s and marketing them to today’s consumers. This passion has turned into a business of selling rediscovered classic items to women in her home country.
“New ideas are the products of the crisis,” says Drazniece. “In these times, people like to emphasize their individuality and stand out from the crowd in all sorts of ways, including their clothing and lifestyle.”
Drazniece is at pains to point out that vintage fashion is not retro styling, where old designs are made from scratch. Nor is it just a glorified form of second-hand clothing. The global apparel trade has made sure of that, because massive sorting operations mean that the good stuff goes to people who are willing to pay for them. These are the customers who Drazniece meets at alternative markets in Riga, and through her website www.vinylvintage.ly.
With prices ranging from two to 25 lats (35.70 euros) an item, her prices are not extortionate. What she finds challenging is getting local customers who spent the boom years gorging on imported clothing to accept the idea that old things can be stylish. Some adjustments have to be made for local tastes; midi and maxi skirts from the 1970s and 1980s need to be shortened to accommodate the sexier approach that some would say is the hallmark of the post-Soviet look. However, Drazniece says that people are moving away from a consumerist, throwaway approach to life and are open to more ecological solutions.
“People are realizing that Dolce & Gabbana is not the be all and end all of life,” says Drazniece. “At the same time, they are not afraid to mix a flowery sixties dress with some D&G items. It’s all about a shift in values.”
If one looks hard enough, one can find examples of Latvian retro fashion around Riga; the author of this article recently found an elegant fedora made in Riga in the 1930s in an antique store. Drazniece has considered setting up a network to collect such items from old people. But Drazniece says these pickings are thin, because Soviet-era shortages meant that most prewar clothes were worn to rags decades ago. As for apparel marked “Made in the USSR,” Drazniece says the synthetics typically used gave them a short shelf life. So her business plans focus on selling stock from abroad. However, she believes this could add value to the local economy – tourists love to pick up quirky things on their travels, she believes.
At present, Drazniece is juggling a day job managing a conventional fashion store with raising a young child – all of this multi-tasking is why the Web site is a little chaotic, but she has IT experts working on improving this. She admits some customers have a barrier to purchasing clothing online, and the present situation where her apartment serves as a warehouse makes it difficult to let potential buyers feel the quality. However, she has plans for going into business full time. She had hoped to open a store in central Riga back in June, but had to back out at the last minute because of disagreements with the investor behind the project. She is open to offers from other investors who would to get in on an innovative concept in its early stages. And she also likes a project being planned by SEB Bank, in cooperation with Riga property owners, to lease empty retail space to young entrepreneurs for just the utility payments, creating a slew of small galleries and innovative stores in place of empty windows.
It seems that the smaller waistlines induced by the economic doldrums can lead to creative new looks.