Erika Varga, a founder of ROMANI Design builded up together with her sister Helena Varga internationally known fashion brand with social value. Their aim is to design clothing and accesories reflecting modern interpretation of Roma folclore.
And not only that. They provide local education for disadvantaged children. We spoke with Boglárka Fedorko, Romani Design´s PR manager about how the Covid – 19 changed their activies and plans for the future.
What is the situation with CoVid-19 in Hungary?
As far as we know, the infection rate in Hungary is pretty low: in Roma settlements we haven‘t heard about any big outbreak, which is really good.But what we hear about is that people are losing their incomes totally; they did not have much before CoVid-19 and now they have basically nothing. What we now feel more is economic impact.
How did the CoVid-19 influence activities of Romani Design?
The major impact of the whole situation, I think, is on the projects that we have beendoing. For example we planned a big exhibition this year at Khamoro festival in the Czech Republic, then in Slovakia and in Budapest.
We are still working on a Collection, which is planned to be a Czech-Slovak-Hungarian-Roma fussion.So we have to reschedulethis and other big events that are also important because they are really good basic sources of sales revenues. Usually sales happen at our events; our sales strategy is based on personal interactions, not just online or through the website. Thus, not only our planned events, but also the sales are consequently pretty much affected.
We had to postpone everything, basically to the second half of this year. We are considering to do things online and are exploring how to organize this exhibition for the 10th anniversary of Romani Design. But it´s quite costly to do online exhibitions, so now we are in touch with a couple of people, who could do it pro-bono. But those are only a part of things that we are working on.
Do you still focus on mentoring and education of young people?
We were able to continue our mentoring programme online. Both Erika and Helena are mentoring young Roma girls between 9-14 years old; they managed to move on to zoom as well. I think that for these youngsters it was really important to do this, because they are excluded from online education for a variety of reasons. Roma students are really unfortunately affected by this. I would say, in general, education has moved online very well, given resources. But of course Roma families are out of it, due to not having access to internet, including that now, they lost income and are not able to pay for internet fees. Besides, they have overcrowded living spaces, such as the girls we are mentoring, four sisters actually, who are part of this programme, living in a one-room apartment, where it´s impossible to study for long periods of time. They have been part of our mentoring programme for two years now and we focus on their individual interests and skills. One of the girls is very talented in sewing, so Erika is following her development online, sending her materials. The youngest is learning the basics of design and craft, rather young, and that´s where she can learn a lot.The other girl is good in designing; so she is making sketches. Erika is also doing a lot beyond teaching design to liaise with their schools: helping the family in negotiating with the school administration, whether there is a conflict such as on financial issues.
Another thing that we could not really continue is our work in a Detention Centre for young under age girls who comitted what is called juvenile delinquencies and are detained there. It´s close to the Romani Design studio and we have been involved for the last two years or so holding regular trainings and other programmes. About 90-95 percent of the girls are mainly Roma teenagers and because there were such restrictions, they couldn´t leave the Centre and no one was allowed to visit them during the last two months. They are in rather desparate situations, psychologically, but unfortunately, we couldn´t do much. But lately we started to talk to see how we could ease the restrictions, start doing something online.However, they are also a part of the public administration system, so the bureaucracy is slow to respond. Some things were ruled out from the beginning, so it was difficult to make any kind of advances.
We are also planning a summer camp in our programme for 20 Roma kids and others as well, but we will see what and how the government responds, whether or not summer camps can be held.There are restrictions on events until mid-August, but it is not clear if summer camps are categorized as an event.
Do you also create face masks?
Helena and her mother were designing face masks,distributing them for free to support Roma communities,. Several fashion companies here in Budapest and in Hungary started to sell design masks, charging 50 € for three masks,justifying that price to support small businesses.
We were considering doing the same but after discussions among ourselves, we decided not to do it, because masks are health essentials for Romani communities and charging for them did not feel right. So we are not making masks for sale. Upon request we make and send them as online orders.
You mentioned, that Romani Design has its 10th anniversary. How do you look back at the past years?
I found a picture from 10 years ago, and I was at the first official picture with Erika. It was amazing to see that. I lived in different countries ever since, mostly in Germany for 5 years, but we stayed connected all the time. Romani Design is more like a family. I think we have come a long way, if you take a look at the photos from 2010 and if you see our most recent collection, it´s an amazing development. Quality wise, the whole collection comes to life: how do we make PR around it and how the media reacts are like two completely different realities and I´m really proud to have been part of all that journey. It´s significant to see that Romani Design stays a socially conscious brand: Roma, women, family oriented; it didn´t go to other directions and the core values remain.
What are future plans of Romani Design?
We are working on generating revenues from online sales, so now we are re-designing our website for that purpose, with advertisements and marketing attached to it. We are also busy on launching a capsule Romani Design fusion collection: mixing Slovak-Czech-Hungarian and Roma motifs. And then, of course, we would love to meet our clients, supporters, our relatives, families and partners at the large scale exhibition in Budapest sometime around October or November this year. Also we were planning the fashion show and many photo shootings but which had to be postponed.
And, it would be great to see the kids we haven´t seen since the beginning of the year; so it would be nice to have them come to the summer camp for design-focused and other activities that could interest them personally.