Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Greek silk road town finds itself back in fashion world



Greek silk road town finds itself back in fashion world

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
A woman works at a silk fabric factory in the Greek northern town of Soufli. ARIS MESSINIS/afp

Greek silk road town finds itself back in fashion world

INSIDE the machine-crammed Mouhtarides factory near the Greek-Turkish border, Ioanna Pistola deftly spins a silk thread in a loom, ignoring the deafening noise around her.

“I’ve been working in this hall for 20 years,” the middle-aged weaver shouts above the din.

The dormant, isolated town of Soufli has been a key centre for Greek silk production since the 19th century.

This was also the first area in Europe to rear silkworms after they were smuggled by Byzantine monks out of India in the 6th century AD.

Silk, much of it homemade, has sustained the town of around 4,000 inhabitants for decades, although the number of factories has fallen.

Now though, say the town’s last two active producers, silk is again de rigueur on the world’s most prestigious catwalks, and demand from designers for the luxurious fabric is on the up.

“Penetrate into the world of fashion, this is what Soufli is trying to do . . . there is no haute couture without silk nowadays,” says Yiorgos Tsiakiris, owner of the factory that bears his name.

“The area’s great advantage is its long experience [with sericulture] . . . This is where silk was first produced in Europe . . . we should exploit this advantage,” he adds.

His production site is not far from the Mouhtarides factory, where marketing manager Despina Bakarou also talks of concerted action to make the most of current trends.

“Silk is making a comeback. Fashion designers are asking for it. We are trying to maximise the quantity and quality of our production,” she says.

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
A woman shows silk cocoons at a silk fabric factory in Soufli. Afp

Drawing on experience

Silk has played a role in the family history of practically everyone who originates from Soufli.

“Every family grew silk,” says Matina Lekka, a local pensioner, whose mother worked at the Givre factory before it closed in the 1960s.

In its heyday, the factory, founded by two Jewish brothers, Bohor and Eliezer Givre, exported silk as far as the French cities of Lyon and Bordeaux.

But after World War II, textile makers turned to cheaper synthetic materials such as nylon, and the area’s once-prided infrastructure fell into disuse.

A further blow came at the end of the 1990s, with the opening up of the silk market.

The town’s two factories currently export silk clothes and handicrafts to Bulgaria, Slovakia and Cyprus, and fulfil design orders from British stylists.

China leaves an opening

While the two factories produce a small amount of silk themselves, most of what they use to make their items comes from China.

Now, says Tsiakiris, there is a real opportunity for European sericulture to bounce back amid China’s increasing industrialisation, which has led to a decline in its rurally-based silk production.

“There is great demand for silk. And there is a shortage . . . China in recent years has given up thousands of hectares of mulberry trees, and people are moving out of rural areas to the cities,” he said.

Soufli is surrounded by 300ha of mulberry trees – the leaves of which are eaten by the silkworms – providing an abundance of a raw material waiting for revival.

Each silkworm cocoon can yield a continuous silk strand of up to 2.5km long.

“There are also thousands of mulberry trees still in the area, it’s a basis to build on,” says Tsiakiris.

With enough trees, a reliable crop of silkworms can emerge in about three years, he notes.

“There are European investors standing by, ready to spend up to $23 million here,” he adds, declining to divulge names.

“There is major interest, these people are worried about the future of sericulture in China,” the factory owner tells AFP.

Scaling up

To make it big, the town also needs an industrial-size silk reeling machine.

The Hermes Foundation, the public benefit arm of the global luxury brand, recently financed the purchase of a small reeling unit but it is insufficient to cover mass production.

As a result, the cocoons must be sent to Italy for processing.

Chinese investors are also showing an interest. A group visited the area in June alongside Greek Development Minister Stergios Pitsiorlas.

With four local museums already dedicated to the silk industry, the town is also ripe for further development as a tourism destination.

The town municipality plans to renovate an old mansion to be used as a hostel and an area to demonstrate how silkworms are raised.

MOST VIEWED

  • Cambodia to waive quarantine requirements Nov 15, no PCR test required

    Prime Minister Hun Sen has decided to lift all quarantine requirements for fully vaccinated travellers and visitors – both Cambodians and foreign nationals – effective from November 15 onward. In a special message addressed to officials and relevant authorities on November 14, Hun Sen said this policy will enable

  • PM: No more quarantine for vaccinated travellers

    Cambodia is lifting all quarantine requirements for vaccinated inbound travellers entering Cambodia by air, waterway or land border checkpoints effective from November 15. Travellers will be required to take a rapid antigen test on arrival rather than waiting for the results of the lengthier polymerase chain

  • No payment required for travellers taking rapid Covid tests on arrival

    Ministry of Health officials said there would be no payment required for the rapid Covid-19 tests given to travellers who arrive in Cambodia from November 15 onwards after the quarantine requirement is lifted for fully vaccinated people. Health ministry spokeswoman Or Vandine told The Post on

  • General’s gun smuggling ring busted

    The Military Police sent six military officers to court on November 22 to face prosecution for possession of 105 illegal rifles and arms smuggling, while investigators say they are still hunting down additional accomplices. Sao Sokha, deputy commander of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces and commander of

  • More Cambodians studying in US

    The number of Cambodian students studying at US colleges and universities in 2020-21 increased by 14.3 per cent over the previous year despite the Covid-19 pandemic, according to a recent US government report. The 2021 Open Doors report on International Educational Exchange showed that 848 Cambodian students studied

  • Cambodia, Thailand to discuss border reopening

    Cambodian authorities from provinces along the Cambodia-Thailand border will meet with Thai counterparts to discuss reopening border checkpoints to facilitate travel, transfer of products and cross-border trade between the two countries. Banteay Meanchey provincial deputy governor Ly Sary said on November 22 that the provincial administration