What connection could there be between snail mucin cream and a handmade court shoe? Or between organic beverages and a decorative yellow octopus?
What these items all share is that they owe their existence to passionate creators, who strive to offer something special, going against the grain of mass production and guided by new trends that focus on expertise, quality, originality and the use of sustainable materials.
Thessaloniki is home to a plenitude of talented people who make beautiful things, and we toured the shops and workshops of the city to meet some of them.
Organic beverages, sustainable design
Katerina Chatziangelaki from Orestiada and Vagia Mitsiou and Harry Kazas from Thessaloniki met while studying agronomy at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki. They bonded over their shared love of nature, and the idea that the products we consume should be produced following eco-friendly criteria, too. After their postgraduate studies in Britain, they decided to return to Thessaloniki and set up a business that meets these criteria, creating organic herbal teas made exclusively from Greek herbs.
It took an entire year and lots of research to decide on the blends that they would introduce to the public under the name Rhoeco, a portmanteau that combines Greek and English terms (“rhoe” means “flow”, and there’s “eco” and part of “cooperation” in there as well.)
Tel. (+30) 2310.673.087
Available via e-shop or at collaborating retail stores.
They launched their first range of six different herbal blends in May of 2016, one of which is available only at Christmas. Each one is named after an ecosystem (for example, Sea, Field, Forest) and has different properties. For instance, Sea contains lemon balm, linden flower, lavender and chamomile, has a sweet taste and soft woody aftertaste, and is best consumed as a pre-bedtime beverage.
All Rhoeco products, including the newest range of single-variety herbal teas, contain no sweeteners or flavor enhancers. They are made with certified organic herbs from Greece, collected by hand.
Serving the principle of sustainability, with the motto “drink it – plant it,” the packaging has a novel recycling feature. The lid contains a packet of organic seeds that can be planted in the container once empty. When the first seeds start sprouting, the fully biodegradable container and its contents can be transplanted to the garden or a larger pot, and the original packaging will break down and disappear completely.
The inspiring sea
On a white wall, a series of red, yellow, blue and green octopuses seem to be ascending, as if they want to reach the surface of the sea. In front of them, two small blue sailboats and a tanker prepare to sail away. A bit further down, a multicolored school of sardines comes together on a wide counter.
Clean lines, colors, bronze and silver, and marine themes – these are the basic ingredients that make up the world of 36-year-old Yiannis Gounaridis, a third-generation jeweler who in 2011 founded Bord de l’Eau, a workshop that creates jewelry and useful everyday items.
Having learned the secrets of art and commerce from his grandfather and father, and having traveled to see how other cultures perceive jewelry, Gounaridis decided to create his own line with an aesthetic that balances the natural with the industrial.
Tel. (+30) 2310.520.911
Workshop: 45 Egnatias, Thessaloniki
Available via e-shop, at collaborating retail stores and at the workshop exhibition space.
Quick to realize that the traditional jewelry industry would struggle as the cost of gold continued to increase unchecked, he turned to more affordable materials from which to produce his items, many of which have practical everyday uses – from keychains and wall decorations to platters and lighters.
Everything created in his workshop is unique, as the use of handcrafted techniques means no two designs are identical.
The miniscule “imperfections” in his work are the only ones in the highly ordered universe he has created, a world dominated by multicolored items and silver jewelry whose reputation has traveled far beyond Thessaloniki, with his creations exported as far afield as the Middle East and the US.
As soon as she finished her studies in accountancy, 30-year-old Georgia Vlachaki started working in her chosen field of expertise.
However, she soon realized that numbers and spreadsheets did not interest her, so she returned to the family business. Her father, Dimitris, one of the last in his trade in Thessaloniki, had been in the shoemaking business since 1982, and Georgia had practically grown up in his shop on Antigonidon Street. There, she’d learned to discern good materials from bad and to eschew imitation leather. She’d learned, too, how to cut leather so as to take full advantage of each piece, and she’d realized the importance of details, noting, for example, that a hard sole might be durable, but wouldn’t be comfortable.
Tel. (+30) 2310.548.655
Available via e-shop or at collaborating retail stores.
Five years ago, she took all that knowledge with her as she and her father moved into a new space to launch the Fabrica Fabrica range of women’s shoes.
Vlachaki’s handmade shoes, made exclusively of leather (usually cow or goat), are inspired by an older, more romantic era and characterized by bold colors and retro lines.
The elegant designs, though rather youthful, are suitable for all ages because they cover the needs of all modern women – from daily activities to special evening outings. Pumps, monochrome ballerinas, boots and sandals adorn the displays of this renewed family business, and are delivered to collaborating retail stores every day.
Fabrica Fabrica recently opened its own e-shop as well, to help cope with a considerable increase in demand.
Spyros Nikolaidis grew up in his father’s pharmacy, where he watched his dad use a pestle, mortar and precision scales to create his pharmaceutical products.
His own favorite was tincture of iodine because, in the process of making it, father and son would end up splashed with color and, to Spyros’ imaginative eyes, come to resemble artists. Back then, in the 1980s, pharmacists would prepare their own galenical creations (named after Galen, an ancient physician, and denoting medicine made using natural ingredients) to fill medical prescriptions.
At his father’s side, Nikolaidis saw the benefits of using natural ingredients and, most importantly, realized that every client-patient is special.
With this in mind, he imagined a workshop where he could take advantage of nature’s bounty to benefit everyone’s physical and mental health. Spyros’ father passed away while the younger Nikolaidis was at university earning his pharmacy degree, but Spyros did not abandon his dream.
With his wife, Olga Akrivou, who changed career paths to become a medical technician, he created Physis Laboratory.
Tel. (+30) 2310.311.528
66 25is Martiou, Thessaloniki
Today, their company produces medicines and operates a state-of-the-art laboratory unit where they develop new types of formulas and create homeopathic products.
Together, they create quality products that focus on wellness: from natural dietary supplements, such as their Amino Amino organic proteins, to La Coquille de la Vie, their more recent premium skincare range.
This range, whose name means “the shell of life,” is based on the unique regenerative qualities of snail mucin. In a similar act of regeneration, Olga and Spyros have been working for the past 22 years to fulfill a boy’s childhood desire to meet the most important responsibility of pharmacists: To treat each person as an individual.
Innovation in clay
When, in the late 1990s, Thessaloniki native Giorgos Vavatsis traveled to England to study visual arts, he intended to follow in the footsteps of his painter father, Kostas Vavatsis. From a young age, Giorgos had enjoyed oil painting.
During his second year in college, however, he decided to specialize in ceramics. He learned how to mold clay, became familiar with many different types of soil and rock and, most importantly, was introduced to a starker aesthetic.
When Vavatsis returned to Thessaloniki in 2000 to set up his own workshop, ceramics in Greece were synonymous with either terracotta or souvenirs. There weren’t many household objects or even larger items that were made of clay. His aim was to create a new type of Greek pottery art, one that conveyed a sense of lightness with works that defied solidity and weight.
Today, at the age of 46, he has achieved this goal, and more. Vavatsis’ range of everyday items, from mugs and plates to pitchers and decorations, are known internationally under the brand name Hakah Ceramics.
What’s more, he teaches pottery with his partner, Ifigenia Tsirou and has often participated in exhibitions in Greece and abroad. He shares his creativity with the public at 6exi Ceramics, a space he opened in 2017 that hosts exhibitions, seminars and other events.
Motivated by his curiosity to understand how materials work, he tours the country in search of special minerals that he combines with clay.
The black sphere flecked with “gold” spots that he proudly showed me in his industrial-style workshop in Oreokastro is but one characteristic example of this technique. Made in part from bauxite he found in Delphi and in part using minerals from Mt Pindos, this is an excellent example of the ceramic art of Giorgos Vavatsis, a master of his kind, whose nickname as a young child, funnily enough, used to be “Clay Pot.”
Tel. (+30) 693.699.0052
6 Danaidon, Thessaloniki