Ia, the traditional Romanian blouse, has definitely got its fame worldwide. However, each business focused on producing and promoting the notorious Romanian blouse has its own story. Cristina Chiriac, founder and owner of Flori de Ie brand, told us how her idea has come up, why her blouses are so special, the hard work behind each handmade item and why are foreigners so in love with them.
There comes a time in the life of any entrepreneur when you want to make everything only with passion. In the spring of 2014, the idea of making something special with all of my traditional, authentic Romanian costumes collection was already in my mind, but I still hadn’t got any particular idea of what exactly I should make. One morning, I woke up and I instantly knew what I had to do, more exactly, what I wanted to do. It was quite a crazy, risky and involuntary thing. I have always been a “number person”, with economic studies and I didn’t know very much about fashion, trends or ethnography. But I knew that I wanted to learn, with small stapes, my soul made me try it. I think that deep in my soul there was an amazing desire and love for my ancestors, because there are times when even I can’t even explain to myself how there can be so much passion in one project. Even more than words and passion, this story hides a beautiful friendship between two people who gave life to such a courageous project.
Flori de ie is the story of our ancestry, taken from the sun and painted on the Romanian blouse, it represents all of our wishes, desires, the prosperity of this land where there still are blood drops of our ancestors.
How was competition when you first joined the market and what has been changed ever since? How is Flori de Ie positioned compared to other similar players on this traditional clothing segment?
In the moment when we appeared on the Romanian market, there were few competitors, yet, today the things are differently. There have appeared a lot of firms that produce the Romanian blouse. Unlike the others, Flori de ie is unique in the Romanian landscape and even in the international one, we produce only Romanian blouses, 100% handmade, unique models and patterns that cannot be found in other places, mostly due to the difficulty and the richness of the pattern. We have already positioned ourselves very well on an international level, so that our clients choose us no matter that the completion is, because we have high quality products and produce everything entirely handmade.
What is behind your story? What this type of business needed the most to reach this point? Consistent investments, originality, assiduous marketing?
There is no pattern or standard formula that can assure your success, but what I can certainly say is that each business wears a unique and own mark. We have put a lot of importance on originality and uniqueness. It is very simple to identify the Flori de ie products because they are unique due to the pattern and branding, since we are the only brand on our category that has chosen to sewn by hand the logo of the brand on the back of our products.
What has been the initial investment, by the way, and what was the turnover last year?
We have started with an initial investment of EUR 30,000, but year-by-year we have continued to invest, being aware that the only right solution to keep us on the international market is to continually invest. This is how we managed to grow and evolve, by believing in this project, by supporting it no matter what. And step-by-step, we met a lot of beautiful people, we got into a lot of projects, both on the fashion and on the cultural side.
I know Flori de Ie has been touring several countries worldwide in the past year. How was the feedback? How is seen the Romanian “ia” among foreigners, like something exotic and high couture or it’s more like pret-a-porter actually?
Along our journeys, we travelled with the “ia” from London to New York, Moscow, Vienna, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Shanghai and so on. Images from our journeys can be found on Youtube platform – https://www.facebook.com/FloriDeIE/. I have to admit that people are very impressed by our products when they hear and realize that they are all entirely handmade and that each and one of them has a story behind. People nowadays want to be unique, to be courageous and to try new things. Within the exhibition we took part of, people first stopped and starred the blouses, then they start admiring all the hard work the Romanian women put into them and all of their cultural significance, since each one of our blouse has a unique story to tell. We had a lot of foreigners who fell in love with our beloved Romanian blouse and bought it especially looking at it as at a high couture element, something special and unique that catches everyone’s attention.
Offline vs online seems to also rule in business in the past years. What has been more efficient in your case, the online or the shop? What is making more money? in terms of sales, I mean.
In our business, both – the online and the offline – rule together. For the international market, of course, the online shop (www.florideie.ro) is the best connection between us and them. We focused on the online area for both the international and national customers, but lately, there have been a lot of international requests. For the national customers that live in Romania both the online store and our shop go hand in hand. Sometimes people want to come to our store and see all of our stories, to get in touch with their values and traditions, while for other people is more easier to order their favorite blouse online. Therefore, we have to focus our attention on both areas – online and offline.
What was the top novelty of this year’s collection? What comes next? Could you reveal us some short term plans in terms of expansion, new collections, new products, new plans?
Our top novelty of this year’s first collection was the Romanian “ia” made with metallic thread, which is a unique thing for Romania nowadays. Once upon a time there were a lot of Romanian traditional blouses, entirely handmade, with metallic thread. Nowadays, unfortunately, this metallic thread cannot be found in Romania anymore. I managed to find it abroad, brought it to Romania and tried to remake the old, authentic, vintage blouses, on new fabric, fighting for the true traditional art and values of our country. We have just started a new project, “Romania Centenara” with the Romanian Government – Centenary Romania and one of the best Romanian photographers, Zainea Alexandru, the model – Laura Cosoi, and the support of many other beautiful people. Soon, you find out many more other details about this project, we are very excited about it!
Who designs the pieces and what is the source of the raw material, is it made in Romania as well? Where is the workshop based, how many women work there, as I suppose the dressmakers are all women?
All of our pieces have an old, vintage piece as a model. I have a collection of around 200 Romanian traditional, authentic blouses and dresses and those are the models after we make the new ones, so that we keep alive the Romanian traditions and history. We have about 40 women, from rural areas, who work for us, and make each and every one of our product, entirely by hand, with love and passion. Our office is in Bucharest, people can come and visit us and our handmade stories at our showroom and the women who work for us are from different rural areas of Romania.
How long does it take to make a handmade item?
This is a very common question. To make a handmade item it requires quite al of time. The time really depends on the model of the item. There are simpler models that can be made in 7-10 days, and there are items that are made in one month because they are more difficult and a woman puts a lot of time and effort in making it exactly as the vintage model. So, as each beautiful thing, it takes time to be done.
Clothes and tradition are the core business of Flori de Ie. What could be more pleasant than working with fshion, women clothes and with the Romanian traditional spirit? But what are the difficulties your business is facing at the moment?
At the moment, I want to show the entire World the true Romanian values and traditions, to show others that Romanian people aren’t as bad as they think. We have a beautiful country, full of history and I think that the Romanian “ia” is the best ambassador from Romanians from all over the World. People may not be very pleased when they hear you are from Romania but I want to change this together with our beloved “ia”.
The Romania Journal is mainly addressing the expat community in Romania, they are our main readers. Foreigners living in Romania are usually attracted by our traditions in terms of food, customs, handicraft. But where the traditional blouses and clothes rank? Have you had a feedback so far, did the items stir their interest, too? Are expats among your target customers? What would you tell an expat in Romania to make him/her buy the traditional Romanian blouses?
Indeed, there are a lot of foreigners who live in Romania and who discovered the beauty of our country and who love our traditions and values. They are eager to know more and more about the “ia”, they believe that our Romanian blouses are unique, special and give you a distinct look and a positive vibe. They are attracted to the uniqueness of the ia, they want to hear the story behind the patterns and colors, they want to be part of our culture and to be proud of discovering the bright sides of our country and our people. I don’t even have to say anything but the story that each one of the blouses hides. The story and the fact that they are handmade get to the customer’s heart.