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How North Macedonia’s fashion labels aim to reduce textile waste

North Macedonia’s fashion industry has come a long way in the past few decades. Designers such as Marjan Pejoski, Toni Maticevski, Elena Luka and Risto Bimbiloski have made a name the world over with some of their designs making it to Hollywood. 

Their outfits have been worn by the likes of Björk, Rihanna, Beyonce, Jennifer Lopez, Natalie Gal and Bridgit Mendler at the Oscars, Grammys and other high- profile events. 

But what has really caught the attention of fashion enthusiasts is a brand, which is challenging the way textiles are manufactured. 

Skopje-based Bastet Noir is a zero-waste clothing label that relies on single mothers as seamstresses. 

The company collects pieces of clothes and garments discarded by factories around North Macedonia and then reuses the material to make trendy dresses. And it’s not just that. 

As Bastet Noir’s founder Daniela Milosheska explains, the company makes clothes only on orders based on the body measurements of the clients – there is no mass production. This helps reduce waste, which damages the environment and expedites climate change.

Daniele’s story is nothing less than inspirational. She started the company in 2013 as a platform to showcase North Macedonian fashion designers to the outside world.

“At that time I was working with a woman-run studio and the seamstress I was working with became a single parent. As someone who was working hard to provide for her child, I was not only impressed by her strength, but I was also inspired by her tenacity and an iron will to provide her child with better circumstances than she was born in. This made me think long and hard about what kind of legacy I wanted to have. So I decided to make Bastet Noir a socially responsible brand.”

Bastet Noir relies on five women-owned studios where single mothers work as seamstresses to prepare its orders. 

Every year, more than 90 million tons of textile waste end up at landfills and dumping sites around the world. Some of the discarded shirts and pants are made of synthetic fibers, which take a very long time to decompose, exposing our natural habitat to irreparable damage. 

In this context, a new breed of designers is pushing the idea of sustainable fashion – but they say their business needs a lot of public support to survive. 

In the United States, Europe and other high income countries, customers are willing to pay a premium for clothes, which are manufactured in a socially and environmentally friendly way. 

But within North Macedonia, the support for such brands is still missing. 

Another Skopje-based designer Rosica Mrsik’s brand produces sustainable and authentic fashion collections, which uses  organic materials. “The negative side of the local scene is that due to the lack of any support, designers find it difficult to maintain new trends and a constant presence in the market,” she tells TRT World.

There are around a thousand textile manufacturers in North Macedonia, with the largest factories located in Stip, a city in the east. 

Textile makers are an important part of the Macedonian processing industry, which employs over 37,000 people and makes up for 10 percent of the country’s exports.  

But there are multiple challenges that Bastet Noir and other eco-friendly textile manufacturers face. 

Challenges and opportunities

Laws and regulations  necessary to make sustainable clothing ventures profitable and help them move in tandem with the global trends are missing in North Macedonia.

“The situation regarding sustainability in the clothing industry is more complicated,” says Nikola Eftimov, who has been affiliated with the fashion industry for 25 years, “Textile manufacturers who work with western brands have been dumping leftover fabrics for decades.” 

With no regulations on how to take care of this waste, some designers took it upon themselves to reuse them at their own workshops. 

Difficulty in receiving online payments is hindering the growth of Macedonian textile brands.

“There are many challenges running a business from North Macedonia. The most important one for us at least is having no access to payment processing systems such as Stripe or Paypal. This is very limiting in terms of expanding your business globally,” says Daniela Milosheska. 

Also, a limited access to investment funds  can oftentimes leave a founder discouraged and overwhelmed, she says

Designers say for eco-friendly brands to succeed, it’s essential to continuously train the textile workers and keep an eye on evolving buying habits and changing lifestyle trends. 

The industry also needs sustainable fashion-conscious followers and supporters, designers say.

Teodora Mitrovska, the owner of highly conceptual London-based brand T*MITROVSKA, tells TRT World: “I think there needs to be both a cultural and an economic push for some real positive change to be seen. As far as I am aware, in North Macedonia, fashion education needs a lot of development from its current state.” 

Finding textile materials that sustainable clothing manufacturers can use is an uphill task in North Macedonia.

Emili Pisheva Godjirova, the owner of EMILI Exclusive Design, says to TRT World: “Unfortunately there aren’t available materials in North Macedonia that can be used to produce sustainable clothing.” 

Latest research shows that pineapple leather is more eco-friendly than traditional leather. Wool is a biodegradable fabric. Linen, better cotton, lyocell and other natural fibres are used in the sustainable clothing industry. However, North Macedonia produces little or no quantity of these materials. 

Most of the raw materials are imported from Türkiye, Germany, Italy, Romania  and other countries. 

“Also there isn’t any incentive for the sustainable industry to expand. The issue of raw material can be overcome if we get some support,” Godjirova adds.

Designers feel that the government must do more to support them. 

Rosica Mrsik, an internationally established fashion designer, says : “So far, the local fashion scene is promoted  either by the designers themselves or by certain individuals willing to organise events, and unfortunately there haven’t been any government initiatives to promote the industry.”

Although there are those who argue that fashion has nothing to do with luxury, people’s low budget deeply affects sustainable fashion. 

According to Teodora Mitrovska “In North Macedonia, you will find most fashion ateliers doing bridal and evening wear because, due to the low standard of living, most of the people can only afford to pay extra for clothes for special occasions. So, by improving the living standards, people can enjoy new fashion trends.”

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