Unlike so many others who left Greece amid the brain drain during the country’s 10-year crisis crisis, photographer Yannis (John) Pitsakis and his architect sister Garyfalia came back home after working respectively in London and Rotterdam for several years and decided to start their own business. The siblings are both vegetarians and share a love of cats, dogs, cycling and bags. The latter was to become the cornerstone of their business, 3Quarters.
Yannis and Garyfalia upcycle used materials to make bags and backpacks by hand. In order to imbue their products with a sense of the feel and look of Athens, they use old balcony awnings or scraps purchased from manufacturers which would otherwise end up in the trash.
“Throwing away a regular awning, which is made of polyester, is tantamount to binning around 500 plastic bottles,” says Yannis.
Where did the brand’s name come from? “When you look at a balcony from across the street, three-quarters of what you see is awning. The other quarter is balcony railings, potted plants and maybe a glimpse of the secrets inside the apartment. It’s not something anyone really observes, but all of our bags have two colors in those proportions,” he adds.
They do everything themselves, from designing their products to assembling them at their zero-waste workshop in the downtown Athens district of Psyrri (19 Aghiou Dimitriou) and selling them. The response has been extremely positive, especially abroad, and they have already started exporting, with destinations ranging from New York to Malaysia.
I ask Yannis if they regret coming back to Greece. “Even though it’s still giving us a tough time because of its... issues, no,” he says. “This is our response to fast fashion and overconsumption: ecologically conscious and socially aware business. We don’t recycle, we upcycle, meaning that we take something with a specific use and transform it into something more complex and more valuable than what it was originally.”
After Psyrri, I head to Kriezotou Street near Syntagma Square. Here, across the street from the Benaki Museum’s Ghikas Gallery and right beside the Zoumboulakis Gallery, is a small piece of the city that hasn’t changed in decades, with a window that’s straight out of a 1960s fashion magazine: the Palavidis women’s shoe store.
The store was opened in 1965 by Iosif Fyrigos, a Greek shoemaker from Istanbul who had moved to Athens with his family the previous year during the expulsion of Greeks from Turkey. To make the enterprise work, Fyrigos teamed up with Dimitrios Palavidis, a well-known and successful businessman at the time. This is why the brand was named after his partner, even though Fyrigos was responsible for production, according to Maria Fyrigou, his granddaughter.
Maria has heard a multitude of stories about the many successful women from the spheres of politics and business who had shoes made here, as well, of course, as many famous stage and screen actresses, including Zoe Laskari, Mary Chronopoulou and Rena Vlachopoulou.
Have they thought of shaking things up after so many years? “No. This is what we are and this is what we do well. Why should we try to change it?” says Maria.
“Our shoes are made to measure by hand, to our designs, with high-quality Greek leather, depending on the needs of each customer. We produce a range of sizes from 33 to 43. It takes a week to make a pair. We have clients who came to our store with their mothers and grandmothers and are now coming with their own daughters. And don’t think that we mostly get older ladies. Just a few days ago we had a young woman who wanted to celebrate getting her master’s degree and her first job with a pair of handmade shoes,” she explains.
“You see, vintage is very in right now and we are a real vintage store,” she adds.
Reaction to crisis
Designer Ioanna Eleftheriou went into business in 2012, despite that time being right in the middle of the economic crisis. She was working as a waitress after having been left unpaid for several months at her previous job, when she crossed paths with an experienced jewelry maker.
Jewelry was something she was interested in and she had already designed a few pieces but didn’t have the knowledge or the means to execute them. She learned the craft at his side and then took the next step, which was to open her own workshop for handcrafted jewelry.
“Sure it was a risk, but at the end of the day, what did I have to lose? At least I’d be doing something I really loved. I had some savings, so I took a deep breath and took the plunge,” she tells Kathimerini.
She named the business Liberta, after her family’s childhood nickname for her, and two years ago opened a small store at 4 Ypatias Street, behind the Athens Metropolitan Cathedral.
“I started with some skulls; I’m a goth, you see. Along the way, though, I realized that I had to compromise, to put myself in my customers’ shoes, but without suppressing my creativity,” says Ioanna.
She makes earrings, rings, bracelets and some very special necklace pendants: Hermes’ sandal, owls and a series of human hearts, hands and ears, like modern votive offerings. She has also designed a winged donkey for the Ippothesis association for the protection of equines. It costs 25 euros and all the proceeds go toward the care of abandoned or abused horses, mules and donkeys.
“For many people my age, handmade jewelry was a reaction to the crisis, a way out,” says Ioanna. “The issue is how we define handmade. Are we talking about original creations, copies or readymade patterns that come in from China and are just cobbled together with a piece of string, labeled ‘handmade’ and sold as such?” she says.
“Working with your hands is so liberating. Making a living from it and being able to give work to others is even better. I really hope I will be able to continue doing this.”