What do you do if you are a designer from a country that has no fashion industry to speak of? You create one! Following the dictum “Build it and they shall come”, Vahan Khachatryan, a 30-something Armenian designer with prior experience working with some of Italy’s best-known luxury brands, decided it was time for his homeland to join the global fashion playground.
The first fruit of his and his colleagues from the newly established Fashion and Design Chamber of Armenia‘s efforts was the country’s first-ever fashion forum held earlier this month, at which I was honoured to speak. Supported by the EU’s small business promotion programme, the event gathered experts from across Europe and the US in a bid to kick-start Armenia’s fashion industry.
The opening of the three-day forum featured a fashion exhibition titled “The Offspring of Noah”, which refers to the mythical resting place of Noah’s Ark on the snow-capped Mount Ararat, a national symbol of Armenia. Quite an appropriate metaphor for showcasing 47 Armenian designers hailing from as far as Lebanon, Syria and France.
The sense of possibility was indeed palpable on the streets of Yerevan, the capital of this small landlocked Transcaucasian nation that has seen major political changes in recent months. And with neighbouring Georgia and Russia making their mark on the international fashion scene, there is a feeling that the opportunity for Armenia may be ripe for the picking as well.
A year ago, five brands decided to join forces by opening the first made-in-Armenia fashion store, which I had a chance to visit during my stay. From ethereal Animra gowns by designer Armine Khachatryan (not related to Vahan) to the boho vibe of RUZANE dresses by Ruzanna Vardanyan, my impromptu shopping trip proved a great success. And it has also struck a responsive chord with local fashionistas who flock to 5 Concept store, according to its art director Irina Vanyan.
Sustainability was high on the agenda of Yerevan Fashion Forum, a personal crusade for co-founder Vahan Khachatryan who became a finalist in the 2017 CNMI Green Carpet Talent award with his upcycled ensemble.
Two Armenian brands are already active in this space: Loom Weaving with its handmade cardigans and dresses, and By Lili shoes made from vegetable-tanned leather. There are also ideas for developing a sustainable production of innovative textiles using waste from the country’s plentiful vineyards – investors take note.
Among the aspiring designers who attended the forum were Liana, whose funky Agape bags feature anything from Japanese anime characters to Christian saints, and Tarverdy, a bespoke tailor to Armenia’s finest gentlemen. They were looking for advice on developing successful business strategies, including online marketing and sustainable production.
While most recognize that Armenia’s transformation into a fashion hub won’t happen overnight, one may also recall a quote by marketing pioneer and department store owner John Wanamaker, who said: “One may walk over the highest mountain one step at a time”. Why not Mount Ararat?