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The Weekend Neos Kosmos : 15 December 2018
FASHION 16 THE WEEKEND NEOS KOSMOS | SATURDAY 15 DECEMBER 2018 DIGITAL.NEOSKOSMOS.COM Two family-owned factories in Soufli putting Greece on the silk production map A woman looks at silk fibres as she visits the silk museum in Soufli. PHOTO: ARIS MESSINIS/ AFP t was Greece where silk was first produced in Europe after Byzantine monks smuggled silkworms out of India back in the sixth century. The monks reared the silkworms and started weaving, turning the small town of Soufli into a centre of silk production. Being on the Greek-Turkish I border and following the Ottoman occupation as well as the two World Wars, silk production in Soufli subsided until the 19th century when a tiny factory, Mouhtarides decided to revive the trade. Since then, local silk Soufli silk museum. production became the town's main source of income, sustaining over 4,000 inhabitants for decades, despite the number of factories in the region decreasing throughout the years. "Silk is making a comeback. A man works at a silk printing fabric factory in the Greek northern town of Soufli on 10 October, 2018. Photo: ARIS MESSINIS/ AFP Fashion designers are asking for it. We are trying to maximise the quantity and quality of our production," the Mouhtarides factory marketing manager Despina Bakarou told AFP. Same goes for one of Soufli's last two active producers, Yiorgos Tsiakiris, the owner of the namesake factory who agrees that silk is again extremely sought-after on the world's most prestigious catwalks, and demand of ethically produced silk from designers is on the rise. "Penetrate into the world of fashion, this is what Soufli is trying to do ... there is no haute couture without silk nowadays," he says. "The area's great advantage is its long experience [with sericulture] ... This is where silk was first produced in Europe ... we should exploit this advantage," he adds. With current trends pushing towards the luxurious fabric even more on catwalks, both Tsiakiris and Bakarou believe that there is a great change for Greece to dominate the European market. Many Greek families in Soufli have been involved in silk production, with the art of silk growing and weaving having been interconnected with another family's history, the Greek Jewish Givre brothers who took the art as far as France by exporting their top- garments to neighbouring Bulgaria, Slovakia and Cyprus. While the two factories still produce enough silk themselves, mainly to fulfil design orders from British stylists and brands, most of the silk they use for production is imported from China. According to Tsiakiris, there is a real opportunity for European sericulture to bounce back amid China's increasing industrialisation, which has led to a decline in its rural-based silk production. "There is great demand for silk. And there is a shortage...," he adds, explaining that as people in China are moving out of rural areas, thousands Penetrate into the world of fashion, this is what Soufli is trying to do ... there is no haute couture without silk nowadays. quality goods all the way to Lyon and Bordeaux, supplying the best dressmakers. "Every family grew silk," Matina Lekka, a local pensioner, whose mother worked at the Givre factory before it closed in the 1960's, noting that after World War II, textile makers made the switch to synthetic materials such as nylon to cut down cost which resulted in the local industry going dormant. "A further blow came at the end of the 1990's, with the opening up of the silk market," added the two Soufli-based factories that now export most of their silk of hectares of mulberry trees are not being used anymore. With Soufli currently being surrounded by 300 hectares of mulberry trees, there is an abundance of a raw material waiting to be used for silk production, given that each silkworm cocoon can yield a continuous silk strand of up to 2.5 kilometres in length, which could be a very reliable crop of silkworms in the next three years. Taking into account the constantly increasing demand from the fashion industry and the market's worry in terms of the future of silk in China, this could prove to be a major opportunity for Greece. "There are thousands of mulberry trees still in the area, it's a basis to build on. There are European investors standing by, ready to spend up to €20 million ($23 million) here," he stresses. Such is the interest that the Hermes Foundation, the public benefit arm of the famous global luxury brand, recently financed the purchase of a reeling unit for the factory, but it is still insufficient to cover mass production with a large amount of the cocoons having to be sent to Italy for processing. It is not only European high-end brands that are interested in what Soufli-based factories have to offer to the international silk road, but several Chinese investors are visiting the area, exploring potential forays in Greek sericulture. A group arrived in Soufli less than six months ago, and performed a tour around factories and surrounding areas alongside Greek Development Minister Stergios Pitsiorlas. Silk has not only helped Soufli survive by boosting its industry, it has also turned the town into a hub of historical and cultural significance, with four local museums already dedicated to the silk industry. Due to the region's 14 century tradition in silk production, the town is also a great destination for tourists. As a result the municipality has started an old mansion that will be turned into a resort where guests will enjoy the Souflian hospitality while learning first-hand how silkworms are raised.
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