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NJAL In Eastern Europe
... follow along as our very own Stefan Siegel goes to Slovakia, Poland, Ukraine, Latvia and Serbia: Part 2 - Poland
As I continue on our tour of Eastern Europe, I woke up this morning smack-dab in the middle of Poland. Less than two- hours drive southwest of the Polish capital Warsaw is the city of Łódź. As the third largest city, one would think it to be an almost sleepy sort of place, but indeed it is quite the opposite. The daily hustle and bustle holds a certain purpose and almost mechanical quality about it that would lend itself towards manufacturing. In truth, this city’s history has rarely been far from fashion. Having centuries old connections to fashion and textile manufacturing, Łódź is often referred to as “Polish Manchester”. Acting as a production hub, the city saw enormous growth throughout the earliest part of the 20th century and evidence of that chapter is everywhere.
Sprawling red brick factories line wide cobblestone roads that could easily have horse-and-cart or transport trucks moving goods from here and there. My hotel, is part of Manufaktura, a gargantuan former industrial complex that covers almost 54 football pitches. This former factory has seen a restoration with culture and fashion at its centre. Shops, restaurants, and cinemas are just a small sample of what the complex houses; and why many natives refer to it as the new city centre. It is the biggest and undoubtedly most unique centre of its kind in Poland with an estimated 20 million visitors annually, transforming the city from a fashion manufacturing hub, to one of fashion consumption.
So important is the factory, that The Central Museum of Textiles is housed in Ludvik Geyer’s ‘White Factory’. First erected in the early 1800s, this sprawling collection of classist architecture was one of the first multi-department factories in Poland; housing mechanical spinning, weaving and printing steam driven machines. These factories, employing sometimes hundreds of thousands of workers, were the backbone of the city if not the nation. Set up by wealthy business men, whose names still adorn streets and squares throughout the city, these factories were a draw for thousands of skilled German, Polish, Russian and Jewish workers from throughout Europe to come and make a name for themselves. The museum both recognizes these industrious peoples and all aspects of textile and fashion manufacturing process. It stands as a testament to the industrial nature of Poland and serves as the clean slate for contemporary designers to build something new again.
Since the 1990s, much of the manufacturing in Łódź has been outsourced with only a patchwork cottage industry remaining. This is the setting for Poland’s largest and only international fashion event - Fashion Philosophy Fashion Week Poland! The bi-annual event is used as a platform for designers to highlight their avant-garde views of fashion and for Polish and international press to discover emerging talent. With catwalks, showrooms installations and a fashion film festival, Łódź is at the epicentre of the mounting Polish fashion scene.
I was not alone in the front row and noticed other international fashion press who are starting to notice this emerging market. Alongside the fashion week events, the European Regional Fund has invited international investors and key fashion players to consider the Polish city as a production haven, easily accessible via plane or road – we are 4 hours drive away from Berlin. In fact, NJAL was asked to bring one of its most promising talents from Berlin along. Mads Dinesen, known for being a finalist for the latest Mango Fashion Awards in collaboration with NJAL, has used the opportunity to meet local production houses alongside landing the spot for the most anticipated show on schedule.
Mads thrilled the audience with his mnemonic perception of clothing. The characters of this particular collection were developed, he says, around a psychological experience, the inner image of our self, the otherness and the imagination and how this translates into reality. Inspired by Louis Thomas Hardin, also known as ‘Moondog’, the American composer, has influenced his work greatly.
An array of exciting off-schedule shows sweetened our experience in Łódź; Malgorzata Knopik, Jankowska & Tomaszewski, as well as the graduates of the local Arts Academy ASP, confirm the creativity at hand. Unfortunately this still goes undetected when these morning events are hardly attended as the main aim of the evening shows are still the celebrities, the events and parties. The two worlds – creativity and show business – as in so many Eastern countries still do not go hand-in-hand here in Łódź.
I leave with a feeling that we’ll come back, perhaps less for shows and the glamour, but much more to discover the production opportunities in this region. Łódź, with so many talented European designers on your footstep, you might see a renaissance coming your way…