Against the background of social distancing and restrictions on group gatherings, demand for clothing and footwear has dropped considerably in 2020. Export of these items has also fallen, having previously reached record levels in 2019 with an increase of 43.6% making a total of 2,565 tonnes. Clothing produced in Georgia is exported to the wider Caucasus region, as well as Europe and the CIS countries. The Shavdia brand contributes, albeit in a modest way, to clothing and footwear export figures. With the help of buyers, its products are sold in the United States and in the CIS region, as well as in Georgia through their own stores. The story of the brand started with a single sewing machine around four years ago. Trained lawyer Elene Shavdia, who never got to build a career in the legal space, began producing her own clothing and footwear, into which she incorporated Georgian ornaments and Pirosmani-inspired elements. She did not initially view her undertaking as a business, but as demand began to grow, she quickly decided to turn her name into a brand and establish the small Shavdia atelier, which has since grown into a fully-fledged international enterprise.
Looking at the Shavdia brand before and after the pandemic. What impact has Coronavirus had on your business? How do you work during a lockdown?
The Shavdia brand was operating seven stores across the country before the pandemic, now there are only three. You can, therefore, easily guess how this situation affected us. We had to cut costs to stay in the market. This meant having to close four outlets and putting all my savings back into the business. Those funds had been earmarked for expanding the brand, rather than for keeping it alive. However, we soon came to terms with the new reality. In addition to operating the stores, we were also successfully making online sales before the pandemic. As a result, it was quite easy for us to adapt to the changed circumstances. From production to supplies, we quickly brought the whole sales process in order. This took a lot of effort, but we managed it.
How did the pandemic impact sales, and are you happy with your online platform?
Sales can be divided into two parts – before the pandemic, where tourists contributed significantly to the numbers, and after the pandemic, when we had to rely solely on local customers. If we compare the pre-pandemic sales to the current figures, the situation looks so bleak that it is hard to quantify. I would estimate that sales have dropped by 30-50% since the start of the pandemic. As for our online platform, it is operating very well, and we have nothing to complain about.
Were you forced to lay off staff?
We managed to avoid job cuts. We just had to reassign duties in order to retain all our employees. Most importantly, we acquired many new loyal customers and their number is growing each day.
You export your products. In which countries are you represented, and what is the current situation in this regard?
We currently do not have an official outlet anywhere else but in Georgia. However, this does not mean that our products are not sold abroad. We work with numerous buyers from the CIS countries and the United States. Unfortunately, like everywhere else, demand in those regions has also fallen. On the other hand, it has become easier and cheaper to send packages abroad, especially to countries that have a substantial Georgian population, meaning that we have acquired many new customers overseas. This has been one of the few positive aspects of the pandemic.
What determines the demand for the Shavdia brand?
First, the fact that it is ‘made in Sakartvelo’. Secondly, people enjoy wearing something that reflects their history and culture. We always try to create products that are close to our country’s history, culture, and self-expression. You should be able to tell straight away that these items are Georgian – i.e., ‘made in Sakartvelo’. We decided to create products with meaning; your very own little piece of Georgia that you can always have close to you. Our message is: “wear your very own piece of Georgia”.
Shavdia is a brand designed for the medium and high end. We produce men’s and women’s clothing, footwear, and accessories. However, we also have products that are affordable for everyone. Our prices range between 17 GEL and 1,000 GEL. Competition between Georgian brands is quite high, but we have our own signature and a vision that we are determined to follow.
How has the Shavdia brand developed over the years?
Initially, our range of items was relatively small. As demand began to grow, so too did our catalog. We invested everything we had into this business. Whatever profit we make, we put it back in the business to maintain continuous growth and development.
Finally, a few words about your plans – what can customers expect from Shavdia in the near future?
Our main news concerns our atelier, which we have been planning to expand for a long time already. The new facility will be located on the top floor of a building with a floor-to-ceiling window faзade. The views from the penthouse over the city are breathtaking. The enterprise will combine the production of clothing, footwear, bags, and other items. There will be a large showroom with a photo studio. We have started to purchase new production equipment, which will allow us to increase our range of goods and become involved in various types of commerce. The details are confidential for now.