Lots of design-focused small businesses have emerged in the Georgian market in recent years. But while some owners are experienced, others need to gain more knowledge to succeed in both the local and international markets.
Now Eurochambres, which supports local chambers and business communities across the European Union and beyond, is stepping up to help through its EU4Business: Connecting Companies (EU4BCC) project. Funded under the EU4Business initiative of the European Union, EU4BCC aims to support sustainable economic development and job creation in the EaP countries by helping small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) grow. It focuses on bio-food, creative industries, textiles, tourism, and wine.
Four Business Support Organizations and 12 SMEs from Georgia and Estonia travelled to each other’s countries to meet up and work together. Through various types of activities – networking meetings, B2B meetings, training sessions, fairs, and experience sharing – the project helped the final beneficiaries increase connections with their counterparts in the design field. As a mark of the success of the initiative, some of the Georgian companies managed to place their products in design shops in Estonia.
Couple turn Georgian alphabet into ornaments, prepare to export them to EU
When artist-designer Nina Slepchenko was working on one of her pieces, she discovered something unique – by rotating letters of the Georgian alphabet, she could create eye-catching designs. The result was a collection of beautiful and delicate Georgian ornamental designs that could be used to decorate objects. She decided to start with plates, and that’s how their business Saini was born.
Slepchenko became interested in font painting back when she was a student at Tbilisi State Academy of Arts. However, she started her career by designing advertisements for print media. Then she developed a passion for interior design, and together with her husband, Levan Vateishvili, worked on numerous projects involving designs for cafes and restaurants. But the couple always wanted to create something of their own, and finally managed to turn their experience in art and design into a family business.
“Saini” is Georgian for “plate,” and the first collection that the team created back in 2015 consisted of porcelain plates. Today their products include porcelain and ceramic dinnerware, interior design objects, natural-stone engraved wall decorations, ceramic tiles, jewellery, watches, and other gifts – all featuring ornaments created from designs based on letters of the Georgian alphabet. To date, Slepchenko and her husband, together with their team, have created more than 6,000 ornaments (up to 200 variations for each letter) and contributed to the popularization of the Georgian alphabet and culture both within the country and beyond.
The artists use decal technology to place their designs on porcelain dinnerware. The technique, in which prints are transferred onto various surfaces with the help of heat or water, is rarely used in Georgia.
“The process is as delicate and difficult as painting by hand,” Slepchenko says. “Sometimes we even put on encrypted words, such as ‘I love you,’ at a customer’s request, given that each ornament represents a letter.”
In 2018 Saini won the Creative Business Cup Georgia competition, and with the award money the couple created their second porcelain plate collection. Slepchenko and her team took this collection to the Creative Business Cup Global Final in Copenhagen, Denmark, and presented their products to the jury – made up of guests and previous competition winners from 54 different countries. Their first successes had pushed the company to develop and generate new ideas.
But then came the pandemic.
Like many other businesses, Saini had to go online. “It’s interesting, but the challenges that the pandemic presented brought us some good results,” Slepchenko says. “I guess in those difficult times people were sending gifts to each other more often, or just looking for something for themselves,” she says. The company’s sales actually increased – by 30%.
A new era in Saini’s life started in 2021, when through the EU4Business project implemented by Eurochambres Slepchenko got the chance to attend a training session where she learned about the demands and requirements of the European market. Saini also participated in the Tallin Design Week, presenting their products to a broader audience and expanding their connections with their counterparts in the field of design, bringing about a productive exchange of ideas.
“It gave us a lot of information to think about, in terms of materials to use, demands from the European market and how we can enter it,” Slepchenko says. “Such opportunities are crucial for a business operating in a small country like Georgia. And we’ve never been involved in a project more informative and helpful than Connecting Companies.”
Saini is now embarking on a new journey – to the EU. Slepchenko says the company’s plans include increasing its product range, and starting to export them to the EU.
Georgians sell silver jewellery in Estonia with help from EU4Business and Eurochambres
Two Georgian friends, Tata Kapanadze and Mariam Khukhunaishvili always wanted to create a business of their own, even though they didn’t have any entrepreneurial experience. But Kapanadze, an operation manager for an Asian food restaurant, and Khukhunaishvili, an actress, managed to combine their visions and strengths to start a silver accessories brand named Kaleisi.
The name Kaleisi has an ancient meaning – in Baltic mythology, it refers to a divine blacksmith. The two friends who created the brand had one goal: to create jewellery that would be distinctive, yet affordable. First, they researched the Georgian and foreign markets to make sure that no similar jewellery was already available. Then, combining their vision and taste, they worked together on their designs, and with the help of a jeweller, produced their first collection of ten rings. Since then, the business has taken off.
“It turned out to be not only an additional source of income for both of us, but an opportunity to fulfil our wishes,” says Kapanadze, whose love for silver accessories had been well known to her friends for many years.
Today Kaleisi produces minimalist-style jewellery from high-quality silver (925 purity Sterling silver) both for men and women, and each piece comes in a wooden presentation box and branded bags. As Kapanadze says, the simple design means that Kaleisi jewellery suits every person in every situation. Over the last five years, the two entrepreneurs’ jewellery has become popular among Georgian customers, and the company’s yearly turnover is currently GEL 100,000 or about EUR 34,000.
Now Kaleisi’s products are reaching beyond Georgia’s borders with the help of a project between Eurochambres and EU4Business. As part of the project, Kapanadze participated in various training sessions, networking meetings, and experience-sharing activities, and went on a study trip to Tallin, Estonia. There she conducted market research, which enabled her, together with Khukhunaishvili, to create a jewellery collection specifically for Estonian customers in the future.
“The mentors even helped us establish work relationships with the shop owners,” Kapanadze says. “Before, I couldn’t have imagined selling our products outside Georgia. But after participating in the project, I became braver and more confident about what I can do. Now I can take Kaleisi anywhere in the world.”
Kaleisi jewellery is now sold in two shops in Tallinn.
But Estonia is hardly the final destination: Kapanadze and Khukhunaishvili are constantly working on new designs and upgrading their collections, preparing for bigger markets than Georgia and Estonia.
“We want our products to be sold in every European country,” says Kapanadze.