SOUFLI, GREECE: At Kostas Mouhtaridis’ silk factory in Soufli, the non-stop “clunk-click” of the weaving machinery is a loud but welcome sound.
The factory is a few hundred meters from the Evros River, which forms Greece’s natural border with Turkey. It is one of Europe’s most heavily militarized areas, patrolled constantly to deter illegal immigration into the EU.
Soufli, a once-booming silk factory town in Greece’s remote northeastern Thrace region, saw its centuries-old tradition of silkworm rearing, weaving and dying nearly snuffed out during Greece’s decade-long financial crisis. The town had already suffered a heavy blow when cheaper Chinese and Indian silk flooded the market in the 1990s. The companies that managed to survive then were later finished off during the financial crisis that erupted in 2008. By 2012, there were only two silk makers left in the town, eking out an existence by supplying small home furnishing stores.
Yet seven years later, Mouhtaridis has few complaints. The company founded by his father in 1977 has been revived by Greece’s resurgent fashion and luxury goods industry as well as by technology that helps small-scale producers.
“We used to give (silk products) to stores that took five, 10 meters (32 feet), or 50 meters (165 feet),” Mouhtaridis said, speaking at his factory, which employs 10 people. “The maximum (order) we would get was 100 meters (320 feet).” He now produces more than 200 times that amount annually for his largest customer.
Silk is the staple of offerings at Zeus + Dione, a luxury Athens label that prides itself on reinventing and incorporating laboriously made elements found in traditional Greek garments onto its easy-to-wear women’s line.
Craftspeople were scouted out in rural areas around Greece to make it happen, as the company sought to inject glamor to dying trades that typically struggled to connect with city dwellers.
The label’s flagship store is now in a trendy shopping area in central Athens and the company’s co-owner, bank executive Mareva Grabowski, is married to newly elected conservative Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis. She founded the company with her friend Dimitra Kolotoura, a former PR executive.
Kolotoura remembers walking into Mouhtaridis’ silk factory as her company was just starting out seven years ago. He was skeptical when asked for 20 meters (65 feet) of ‘spathoto’ — an embossed silk that has become the firm’s signature fabric.