Collaboration and community amongst Moldovan fashion startups
Every startupper struggles with something. Be it getting funding, finding work-life balance, learning how to bookkeep or finding the right suppliers, running your own business is hard. At ZIPHOUSE Fashion Innovation Hub, a shemakes lab in Chișinău, Moldova, Carolina Tulgara got talking to female entrepreneurs in the fashion industry and understood the problems they faced, having also addressed many of these issues herself as an entrepreneur. She also realized there was a solution: create community.
In shemakes labs, one of the most important operational values is to create a “safe space” where women can feel that they are not alone. Labs like ZIPHOUSE can provide this space, in this case, a neutral space that was able to bring together local entrepreneurs who helped each other!
Carolina told us about how, with Moldova being quite a small country, there is a lot of competition amongst designers for a slice of market share. “We have a lot of young designers who have developed their companies separately, and they might have heard of each other, but they don’t talk to one another,” observed Carolina. “Many have been quite successful, but they also feel like they can’t share their more negative experiences. Maybe they have had trouble with sourcing, or legal issues, and probably another entrepreneur has a solution to that same problem, so all they would need to do is talk to each other.”
Carolina came up with the idea of a Fashion Brunch. “We had the idea to create a nice and simple event, with coffee and croissants, somewhere really nice on a terrace, something that they couldn’t resist, even if in these times it’s so hard to get together, and there are so many excuses, between work and family obligations – it’s hard to get so many people to just say ‘OK, we’ll come and discuss together’.” In the end, the women who participated in the brunch – which also involved a workshop using post-its - “were really open and they discussed all sorts of issues, from technical to simple ones.” A Viber group was created to continue discussions online; participants understood that in a community like this, it’s okay to share problems.
“We have the feeling that each company is obliged to struggle with its own problems, but that’s not true, with collaboration and exchange of experience it’s possible to get through tough times,” says Carolina.
The community created through the shemakes networking events was such a success that Carolina and her lab took the collaboration a big step further: they organized a collective fashion show to spotlight almost entirely female Moldovan designers. “UNZIP Moldovan Designers” was an event in September 2022 that drew hundreds of people, with the support of strategic partners such as, USA and Swedish consulates, UNFPA and UN Women Moldova and other local sponsors.
Carolina told us about the event in her own words: “By organizing for the first time such a big event for our local young fashion community we learned a few things. As a team, we realized that we can gather more than 500 people for a fashion event. It became so clear that our talented young designers and start-ups need support and communication on a local and international market. The guests of the show, on the other hand, also learned a few things. They had a unique opportunity to discover local brands and perhaps to become their future customers – so they start to understand that once they buy something to support one small designer, this pays one local seamstress or one accountant from that brand.
All we can do to progress and to develop new businesses is to support each other and to become strong local fashion community. A few weeks after this fashion show, the brands decided that the event should be repeated twice a year, so the next edition is already in preparation and it will take place in March 2023.”