Fashion is a litmus test for the cultural health of a society as it exhibits limits on freedom of expression and codifies conventional attitudes in dress and accessories. In the age of coronavirus, fashion industry’s response to the pandemic can often measure literal health status in any given country. Particularly when it comes to the current season of fashion weeks. Would it stay digital-only, adopt a hybrid model, or fully reopen?!
Mercedes Benz Fashion Week Tbilisi in Georgia launches in-person next weekend at a specially converted former Coca Cola factory. It is a welcome sign of recovery prospects for an economy heavily reliant on tourism. The sector lost at estimated 100,000 jobs in the last year which is a lot for a nation of 4 million citizens. Georgian spirit is renowned for its resiliency. As media readies to revisit one of fashion’s hottest emergent trendsetters, let’s spotlight a brand whose history and future are intertwined with Georgia’s global cultural footprint. Meet MATERIEL.
The label’s pedigree dates to 1949 and the establishment of Fashion House Materia, one of the oldest apparel manufacturers in Georgia. The company saved the textile industry from collapse during the post-Soviet economic crisis by refurbishing disused factories and focusing on export and international cooperation. In 2014, entrepreneur Maia Gogiberidze founded its premium line MATERIEL. From the beginning, the focus was on providing opportunities for young designers to showcase their talent in Tbilisi’s burgeoning streetstyle scene. The approach paid off in an avalanche of press. Strong tailoring – a nod to Georgian architectural heritage – and unconventional color palette resonated with the celebrity world. As the Jenner/Kardashian family championed a cool brand from Caucasus, the likes of Cardi B, Hailey Bieber and others followed. A star was born.
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“Materiel was built with the intention to collaborate with young, local creatives. Each one of them is responsible for creating a new chapter in the brand’s history. Their hard work and dedication have become predominant to Materiel’s international success,” said Maia Gogiberidze, Founder and CEO of MATERIEL.
What makes MATERIEL different from short-lived it-labels of the Instagram era is the fact that its cultural and industrial roots run several generations deep. In addition to business and creative leadership, 98% of the company’s employees are women. It would be an impressive statistic anywhere, let alone in a country with such strong patriarchal sentiments that when a film about a gay folk dancer came out in 2019, it sparked protests on the streets in Tbilisi. With manufacturing jobs secured in Georgia, 75% of the fabrics are sustainably sourced. This puts the label at the forefront of the global fashion commitment to sustainability as well. Last year we noted the brand was “worth the hype”. In a recent magazine story, the French media giant Le Monde positioned MATERIEL as “Georgia’s most important brand”. We stand happily corrected.
Under the creative direction of designer Tiko Pakashvili, the fall-winter 2021 collection lets the MATERIEL aesthetic and community principles shine. It was conceptualized in collaboration with Georgia’s top and aspiring models to highlight their recent experiences as women in pursuit of ambitions, dreams, and everything else. Among others, Ani Chikhladze explored a connection to nature, motherhood and building trust in the unknown. Elene Dolidze cultivated her determined persona of “an arrogantly calm, kind offender’. Nuka Karalashvili reflected on starting a chocolate business in the year void of any travel. Sesili Gachechiladze shared her practice of building career and character one small accomplishment at a time.
With such an intimate approach to developing a collection, no wonder the MATERIEL runway presentation is one of the most coveted invitations this (or any) season in Tbilisi. Judging by the early signs and feedback, Georgian fashion vitals are healthy and strong.