Thurje Handmade is a brand of artisanal products. The innovation of Thurje Handmade stands on the networking of skilled Albanian artisans and the young generation of designers, introducing a renewed vision for made-in-Albania products. The culture of handicrafts has almost disappeared with the modernization of our lifestyle, but Thurje Handmade rediscovers traditional ways of doing, conserving the same quality and offering refreshed products, designed to fit into contemporary lifestyles.
Korça Region and Tirana
It addresses urban-rural linkages
It refers to other types of transformations (soft investment)
Participation at (1) Challenge Fund, 2nd Call (Sida Contribution No. 14250A0106) and (2) Matchmaking & Exposure Programme, both in the framework of 'Eu for Innovation' project, funded by the European Union, the German Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) and the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida), and implemented by Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH and Embassy of Sweden Tirana.
As an individual
First name: Mikaela Last name: Maçka Gender: Female Nationality: Albania Address (country of permanent residence for individuals or address of the organisation)<br/>Street and number: Pjeter Bogdani 10 Town: Tirana Postal code: 1005 Country: Albania Direct Tel:+355 69 668 0646 E-mail:email@example.com Website:https://thurjehandmade.com/
Thurje Handmade is a project of a new brand of traditional textile products handmade by artisan women of Korça and designed with contemporary style by young Albanian designers. ‘Thurje’ is an Albanian word that can be translated as ‘weaving’, but in Albania it can take different meanings according to the context. Based on the several meaning of ‘thurje’, the project represents a threefold idea: ‘thurje’ as a craft method for textile production; ‘thurje’ as a way of linking two or more professional paths; ‘thurje’ as a sustainable network of production and promotion of isolated tradition voices. Handicrafts have historical-cultural value as part of Albania's identity. Following the advent of democracy, two issues were identified: (1) significant depreciation of traditional products since consumers began to prefer imported products at a lower cost, bypassing the issue of product quality and its impact on the local/global environment; (2) the difficulty of artisans to keep up with the pace of the new market demand, due to the lack of new designs and coherent ways of marketing.
Keeping in consideration these issues, the project consisted in realization of 3 main collections, which used natural materials only, contemporary designs of young Albanian designers and artisanal work of local artisans of Korça region. The project implementation happened within a complete cycle including design, artisanal production, marketing, promotion of traditional techniques and products and a positive sales experience.
The innovation of “Thurje Handmade” lies in the vision of embodying traditional handicrafts, transforming them into exclusive design pieces. That’s exactly where the highest risk, and simultaneously, the strength of our project lies. We are grateful that the EU for Innovation seized our vision and supported it. In less than one year of Thurje Handmade, we are grateful to see our idea turning into something tangible, and we trust there is also potential to grow and expand.
1.The project returned to the traditional sustainable form of production, that of handicrafts. Handcrafts have been a very important part of the lifestyle of Albanians, especially women. Girls would master the traditional techniques as soon as they turned 10 years old. Crocheting, embroidering, and hand-looming were common skills for girls and women, but there was always competition on who would do the most beautiful and the most detailed work for their own dowry. The culture of handicrafts has almost disappeared with the modernization of our lifestyle, but Thurje Handmade aims to embrace and rediscover traditional techniques, with a twist of innovation.
2. Thurje Handmade aimed to increase the usage of local natural resources. Following the advent of democracy, significant depreciation of usage of materials of local production has been observed. Albania used to have an established textile industry and artisanal sector, but all these processes and infrastructure was abandoned after 1990. While there is no more local production of cotton, wool production has continued as one of the rural life activities, obtaining raw wool and processing it to be used for knitting and weaving. Thurje Handmade is focused on wool as main material for producing its products, as a fiber with many qualities forgotten in Albania, to be brought in a fashionable way in contemporary kilims.
3. Thurje Handmade has chosen to focus on production of qualitative products with a limited number referring to market demand. This approach contrasts with the overproduction of the latest years. Albania consumers began to prefer imported products at a lower cost, bypassing the issue of product quality and its impact on the local/global environment. A limited number of products were produced for each design, and some of the pieces were one-of-a-kind. Pre-order approach was applied to respond to the clients’ demand.
1. One of the key objectives was the innovation of the design of traditional kilims. Culture is always in movement and enriched with the context changes. The old designs of kilims are still very appreciated, but since Albanian homes have changed towards a more western feel of design, we see that the kilims should make their design advancement as well to adapt with our modern homes. The techniques, inherited from hundreds of years ago, are at risk now and Thurje Handmade proposed them to be preserved through a modernization of design.
2. Ensuring the generational passing of handicrafts techniques by designing a new relationship between generations. In general, in Albania there are a lot of architectural designers, as well many graphic designers, but not many product designers, especially handicraft designers. Therefore, the designers contacted were offered a new field of learning and showing their talent.
3. Promotion of values of artisanal work has been carried out in different ways. Since the beginning of the production activities, Thurje Handmade has been posting photos and videos of the materials, techniques and the refreshed artisanal works. Social media activity was a tool to reach people and share the idea behind the project. Sharing the idea has had an impact on different groups, such as artisans, institutions, young people and journalists. The increased visibility made it possible to share the idea of the project through other channels as well as several TV programs, art installations, or invitations in other accelerators. Many new artisans and designers have approached to be part of the project as well. We consider these events as a step further towards the promotion of handicrafts to be seen as a dignified sector where youth can invest their talent.
1. In the framework of our project, the artisans were employed regularly with paid health and social insurance. In the current context, artisans work in the black market. A key objective of the project has been that the artisans work under the same conditions as all the other employees should do. Since artisans have always worked in their homes and isolated, only a handful of them sell their services through regular channels. A further objective regarding this issue, is for us to provide a long-term job contract with a salary that corresponds to their talent and the cultural values that they share through their work.
2. It was and is important to our project to create an artisan network. A group of artisans who collaborate, join forces with each other, can not only be heard more, but can undertake and satisfy bigger client orders. For example, certain handicrafts would not be possible to be realized by a single artisan, but from a handful of coordinated ones.
3. In the current circumstances, artisans are isolated not only in the way they work, but also are stuck only in old ideas of making products. Thurje wanted to spark this collaboration with the young generation, not only for the young generation to learn more about the potential of handicraft techniques, but for bringing fresh ideas to the artisans themselves. Beside working on products of Thurje Handmade projects, the experience is useful for their possible personal works in the future.
Our project functions in the best interests of the local and global environment, meaning it supports the community and economy dependent on a healthy planet. Thurje Handmade considers more than just profits, it considers its impact on society through several actions:
1. Firstly, by creating new job positions for whoever considers handicrafts or product design as a career of their choice.
2. Secondly, besides the project implementation is over, Thurje Handmade has planned the continuation of the support to new job positions, by offering paid internship for those who might be interested in following the textile crafts.
3. Thirdly, the project highly promotes cultural heritage, its traditional and ethical ways of production. During our national history, until the advent of democracy which reshaped Albanian lifestyle in many aspects, handicrafts had been an important part of our homes and spiritual world. Almost every woman could produce several types of artisanal work, such as rugs, handmade clothes, home décor textiles etc. Nowadays many Albanians long for these products which have a cultural and an emotional value, but they do not have the time to produce them themselves. Therefore, Thurje Handmade offers Albanianas high quality products with one-of-a-kind designs that could easily be considered as art pieces, adapted to today’s needs but at the same time protecting Albanians connection to their cultural identity.
Different stakeholders in Thurje Handmade include employees, such as artisans and designers, suppliers of the local materials, the community, different entities, local, national, and European who supported the project whether financially or through mentoring. The impact of the project would not have been what it was without the involvement of these actors who affected the project or were affected by the project.
While the project would not be possible without the involvement of artisans and designers, there were several other stakeholders that enhanced the project impact. Involvement in EU for Innovation Project led to an increased visibility. EU in Albania selected us as one of most successful projects in the Challenge Fund, inviting us two times to present in front of ambassadors of EU, Germany, and Sweden. This kind visibility was very important in the creation of the credibility of the project, which would be successively supported by other stakeholders. During the period of implementation, the project was noticed by the Albanian Ministry of Culture and an exhibition invitation was put forward. The exhibition featured products of the project, celebrating a good example of how innovation can be found in tradition. This encounter led to successive participations in public hearings and discussions regarding the upcoming Art Park in Tirana. The project was also noticed by the Municipality of Korça, where most of the project was implemented. The Municipality invited us to present the project during the inauguration of the Innovation Center in Korça, where there were present the mayor of the city, the Minister of Culture, and the Prime Minister of Albania.
The idea behind Thurje Handmade was heard much more than what we had imagined in the beginning. The chance to share the idea behind the project not only with friends or directly engaged people, but also with other personalities whose words have a different type of impact on the wide public was very important for
The discipline of handicrafts in Albania is one isolated in the creations of the artisan itself, while within this project it is considered as a area of collaboration between different approaches and different people. First of all the process of handmade production is detailed in different stages, interfering with each other in a loop: design, technical drawings, material selection, artisanal production, marketing, sales, and market demand feedback and personalized order demands with lead to a repletion of the upper product cycle. Designers and artisans are put in conversation with the help of the brand curator, who translates the design for the artisan, making the product production possible. The brand curator is in continuous discussion with the marketing and sales representatives, who translate the market needs and feedback to be reflected in the successive works.
This simple but necessary process has resulted successful because each actor has its own role within the loop. The designers learn to design in a new field helping the traditional products improve, the curator facilitates this conversation between generations, the marketing and sales representative establish and understand peoples demand and know how to communicate the values of artisan work. This scheme is very valuable to making a production process successful, but not only, to keep handmade traditions being shared and appreciated in our communities.
The category in which we apply is ‘Regaining a sense of belonging’. The project has worked with 7 artisans from the region of Korça. These artisans knew the craft, but they weren’t practicing it in a regular way. They all had different main jobs to support their lives. Despite being in the framework of a project, some of these artisans continue to work with us, while others have joined. The sector of handicrafts might be marginalized, but through promotion, marketing and product innovation, Thurje Handmade has managed to throw a new light to the artisanal work and their talent, providing a risk-free, secure and creative working environment for the artisans.
This would not be possible without inter-generational exchange. The Albanian artisans might be talented, but they are also middle-aged or seniors. Thurje Handmade helped them to connect and discuss with younger generations, especially with designers. It was a successful collaboration, even though in the beginning of the project the artisans were skeptical about the designs, being so different from the traditional ones they were used to. Lule, who is an artisan in her 80s, managed to hand-produce 4 beautiful pieces designed by Gea, a 30-year-old designer.
The project has highly promoted cultural heritage, its traditional and ethical ways of production. With handicrafts being an important part of our homes and spiritual world, nowadays, many Albanians long for these products, but they do not have the time to produce them themselves. Therefore, Thurje Handmade offers Albanians high quality products with one-of-a-kind designs that could easily be considered as art pieces, adapted to today’s needs but at the same time protecting Albanians connection to their cultural identity.
Most mainstream actions in the field of artisanal sector remain inside a theoretical framework. Networking, presentations, endless hours of mentoring sessions and how-to-s are part of the activities including artisans, but once the activities are over, the impacts fade quickly. Despite their talent and professionalism, the artisans find it difficult to manage the whole process of finding clients, inventing new designs, marketing, selling their products and it is too optimistic to pretend that one person or a group of the same type of experience would be able to do jobs that require a wide set of expertise.
Understanding these kind of difficulties artisans have, Thurje Handmade offers them a network composed of people with different abilities who each one does its own job according to its talent and expertise. Artisans get what they need, new work demands on their hands, but at the same time, they don’t have to take all the risks that an entrepreneur would have to take. Each employee inside the cycle of Thurje Handmade gets paid for its job and remains accountable for the tasks he can provide.
Therefore, the project does not remain isolated within the official implementation period of the project, but has all the capacity to insure that the project can reinvent itself and its processes can continue independently of outside quantitative or qualitative providers.
Offering and perfecting the functioning on a network, helping artisans to practice and become better in what they are talented and are experienced to do, rather than asking the creation of new difficult abilities, constitutes the innovative character of Thurje Handmade
Having creativity supported and undisturbed by external factors was, and still is, a very important approach to the project.
The relationship with artisans, crucial in the project, is mutual in many aspects. When we first approached the artisans, they felt unsecured for the sincerity of the job that was being offered to them. This was due to their previous negative experience that they had had with different interested parties, who might have not paid for the ordered work, or had made speculative promises to them. This is where the offer of our project differed from the other previous offers - it was regular employment where their conditions were taken into consideration, accepting the price that they put to their work without making negotiation to reduce their work monetary compensation. Keeping the craftsmen happy, accepting their timeframes of work (which are quite long in comparison to industrial production), created an environment where they could make their work with pleasure and without unnecessary worries.
Designers are important actors as well. Three different designers were engaged during the project. They were chosen for their individuality of their creations, as well as their engagement in the youth and artistic circles. The designer’s work was instructed to fit the artisanal approach, but their creations and their individuality were protected and left free to exploration. In this way, three distinctive collections were produced inside the frameworks of handicrafts.
Another important approach in our project was sustainable production. We chose to produce less, with better quality, and products that represent more artistic, cultural, spiritual values, to raise awareness of these values through a practical example rather than through a theoretical initiative. Though kilims are a luxurious type of product, the clients who were enthusiastic to purchase the products appreciated these approaches that led to the final handmade products.
One of the characteristics of the implementation of the project is the production cycle and the inclusion of different types of experts in each of the cycle phases. Though this is a simple scheme, it is innovative when placed in the context of the Albania artisanal sector. The implementation of the projects was focused on the region of Korça, in south-east of Albania. The tradition of handicrafts is present in every town of Albania as well. After the end of the implementation period of the project, we managed to approach other artisans in Elbasan or Kavaja, working with them through the same methods as with the artisans of Korça.
While the artisans are placed in a stable workplace, the designers, on the other hand, are in movement and can work remotely. We have collaborated with Albanian designers based in Tirana, but also with Albanian designers who live abroad. In the future, the designers might be foreign as well and approaching them with our project would be a good way to share our ideas and Albania handicrafts abroad. Though creating a foreign market might be challenging, we believe that the continuation of the project will bring collaborations in Europe. Though Albania has a long tradition of handicrafts, European textile artist are many steps in front of us and we have many things to learn from them.
As European Green Deal is motivated of the challenges and threats that climate change and environmental degradations pones on us, the idea behind “Thurje Handmade” contributes to the protection of the environment, as all the materials used to create the products are natural and/or recycled.
The main material used for the creation of the carpets and kilims is wool. Unfortunately, wool is nowadays the only material that Albania processes in house. The major part of the products of Thurje Handmade are made of local wool. In order to diversify, we have been experimenting with using different materials, such as flaxseed ropes and recycled cotton imported from our close neighbors. There is the possibility of a further and wider search within the Albanian territory for the replacement of these imported materials with local materials. However, this would require time and more resources to give a concrete result in finding local materials.
These materials and the artisanal way of working by hand through tools such as hooks, needles, spears, looms, do not create a negative impact on the environment, thus the energy used to create the products themselves is 100% clean energy, but the transportation, until now, has been done by conventional means. That said, Thurje Handmade operates within a context where transformations are happening at a very fast pace and on the cost of environment. Thurje Handmade can be an isolated attempt to preserve the environment here, but having support from different local, national and European stakeholders, we have always tried to push and influence the citizens towards a more sustainable choice, such as our products, that have a lower impact on environment and reflect cultural and spiritual values.