The production of knitted garments and carpets is growing in Armenia, drawing inspiration from the traditions of generations and from elaborate patterns of dragons and eagles that reflect the rich history and culture of Armenia. One producer of knitted garments - LOOM Weaving - thanks to assistance provided by the European Union, has not only developed its own style that is feminine, national, unique, modern and at the same time traditional, but also expanded its business beyond the borders of Armenia to the EU, U.S. and Russia.
One of the world’s oldest garments, a woman’s straw-woven skirt, was discovered in Armenia in 2010, estimated to be 5,900 years old. Over the centuries, straw has been replaced by thread, and instead of wrapping yarn around the index finger and knitting with needles, modern weaving equipment now does the work. Equipped with state-of-the-art weaving machines and inspired by the beauty of Armenia, LOOM offers its unique knitwear on international markets, having received coaching and practical support through the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development’s (EBRD) Women in Business Programme funded by the European Union under its EU4Business initiative, as well as Sweden, the Early Transition Countries Fund* and the Small Business Impact Fund*.
The co-founder, director and designer of LOOM LLC, Inga Manukyan, had always been into painting and batik; she was also in love with woven garments but had no skill for knitting. Her sister Elen played a key role in helping her to take the first steps in entering the fashion industry. “For years, I wanted to push Inga to take her talent into clothes design. And as I had experience in business consulting, I helped her to take the first steps, and we opened a studio, moving Inga from online sales of paintings to the weaving,” says co-founder Elen Manukyan, remembering the time in 2014 when the company was established.
The company, which produces cardigans, jackets, vests, dresses, skirts, sweaters, scarfs, trousers, turbans, blankets, coverlets, and accessories, started with just one weaving machine. Elen said her market research suggested there was room for success, but a proper presentation of the brand was needed. “EU support made it possible. With that support we developed the full package of the brand on the basis of the logo idea we had. On top of that, professional photo sessions, market research and presence on social media enabled us to enter the market in a professional way.”
LOOM became specialised in knitted garments, having started from the idea of knitwear. Elen is convinced that the market study was of vital importance for their company. “We managed to do the proper calculation of the cost price, and based on that to define correctly the marketing strategy – where we wanted to go, our steps and actions,” she said.
Elen says the co-investment of around €9,200 within the programme led to a 25% growth in turnover, made the company more confident, and saw a 30% rise in customers, and 20% increase in sales.
Women-led LOOM moved to a bigger space with a showroom, and with the growth in sales, found they needed an even bigger showroom. While bigger space would have led to higher expenses, the solution came in 2016 with the establishment of the 5CONCEPT joint outlet store of Armenian brands, enlarging the company base and networking, as LOOM took a first step towards becoming a retailer.
Inga recalled the days when many designers in Armenia were designing clothes, but no one was dealing with knitted garments. “Now some do combined design with knitted elements, but no other firm is solely working with this. We took advantage, but the local market is very limited, so expanding to international markets was a primary goal. Thanks to the contacts we established with the support of the EU, quality threads as well as international markets became part of our work,” said Inga.
A second EBRD project, supported by EU funds, came in the form of business coaching over eight months, aiming to support LOOM in dealing with finances, sales and networking. The ongoing advisory project resulted in several ideas, ending up with an establishment of a network of designers linking one EU project to another, with Inga one of the designers visiting the Mercedes Benz Fashion Days in Kyiv in 2017 as part of the ‘Support to SME Development in Armenia’ (SMEDA) project, also under the EU4Business initiative.
“The Kyiv visit was a great success for becoming known and preparing complete collections. In Kyiv I got an offer to visit Pitti Imagine in Italy. That was a great experience that led to another invitation to the Florence thread fair. We got many catalogues of threads and contacts, and even though the quantity and clearance were in issue, we managed to find the ones matching our needs. As a result, we have already imported threads that are not very expensive but the quality is of the best,” said Inga.
Now LOOM has started working online, a presence that resulted in the company joining an Armenian brands’ store in Los Angeles, USA. LOOM products are now on sale across the world, from Paris to Moscow, Tallinn and Kyiv.
Lucine Ayanian is founder of the HAY-HAY concept store – a shopping destination for Armenian fashion that promotes Armenian designers products online. “LOOM Weaving is presented on our online store. Most of our clients who purchase LOOM items aren’t Armenians, so this means the brand has a good visual identity that can be sold anywhere,” said Lucine.
She says HAY-HAY is the platform to make Armenian design known all over the world. Chunky knit is trendy nowadays: “As the quality of LOOM’s products is high, people definitely want to buy it for the winter. LOOM makes fashionable and cosy models that can fit any women, so it’s easy to promote it on the market.” Lucine adds that LOOM is meticulous in its approach: “They always have collections before the season approaches, so it’s easy to pre-book them.”.
Elen is sure that EU support really kicked off the promotion and development of LOOM, allowing them to move from studio production into a real brand, and through strong marketing towards an established business. “At the beginning, in 2016, we were supported in preparation of look-books which made us presentable. After that, we had issues with stocks and management. Coaching and mentorship allowed us to develop a database where you can easily see the shelf-price, internal stock of where and what you have.”
Elen believes this is only the beginning: “We started with one machine, now we have five. We have a bigger space and a joint store and are present in many countries. Quality threads and a well-thought strategy is the way we want to develop knitwear production in Armenia to meet and exceed the expectations of costumers.”
LOOM Weaving is an Armenian brand of knitwear clothes founded in 2014. Each item is a unique handmade piece created by mixing Armenian handmade embroidery with modern style. The company uses traditional shapes, silhouettes and distinctive colour combinations in its beautifully designed knitwear collection of cardigans, sweaters, dresses, scarves, jackets, skirts and hats.
LOOM has its own outlet showroom, a combined outlet with 4 other Armenian brands, the 5Concept store, online channels/official pages, and is presented in special boutiques in Moscow, Kyiv, Tallinn, Los Angeles, etc.
The EBRD Women in Business Programme is funded by the European Union, Sweden, the Early Transition Countries Fund and the Small Business Impact Fund. The project works with women-led small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to help promote women’s participation in business from accessing finance to business advice.
EU4Business is a European Union umbrella initiative which brings together all the EU programmes in the Eastern Partnership region offering support to SMEs to develop the private sector. In Armenia, EU4Business supports 12 ongoing projects for a total of over €30 million that provide improved access to finance and new markets, training, advisory and consultancy services for SMEs, targeted support for women in business, start-ups, technology-based enterprise and cluster development, as well as regional development and social entrepreneurship.
*The contributors to the EBRD Early Transition Countries Fund are: Canada, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Japan, Korea, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taipei China and the United Kingdom.
This article was produced in the framework of the EU4Business initiative.