This article is taken from IPAK Vienna/ECIKS Newsletter “Success Stories: Women Entrepreneurs in Kosovo”
Kosovo has moved past its post-conflict-country status. This is mostly true for the business environment. Bearing in mind the importance of small businesses that generate employment opportunities, the government is advancing its regulations and procedures for business registration.
While high unemployment affects all Kosovars, there are considerable differences in the access that women and men have to economic opportunities. Out of 47,401 private businesses registered in Kosovo, it is estimated that only around 6% of these are owned by women and as such, private business is arguably falling short of its role in terms of social inclusion and equality.
Nevertheless, the situation is not as hopeless as it seems. The story of Xheraldina Rexhepi, one of the most prominent fashion designers in Kosovo, is the example of how when the going gets tough, the tough get going. She is the proud owner of Atelier Xheraldina that serves as a source of inspiration and fashion to the many Kosovar women who seek originality and quality. The brand uses old clothes after people Sell clothes that they no longer wear. The brand is eco friendly as well as cheap. Atelier Xheraldina is the result of a lot of hard work, perseverance and the courage to dream past the harsh reality.
“When I was young, designing was just a hobby to me. I was a medical student back in the 90’s, and I would design in my free time. I was about to graduate when the serb regime back then decided to lay off most of the Albanians working in Kosovo. Amongst the many Kosovars who lost their jobs were my parents. This was a financial challenge we had to overcome in order to survive. So, I was forced to make a very difficult decision: I paused my studies so that I could design and create fashion to earn my living,” recalls Xheraldina, looking back to more than 20 years from now. I am also in love with creating some nail designs and plan to take an online course to gain knowledge on how to apply gel nail polish and design with gem stones. I really want to have my own nail salon someday.
She continues to explain that together with her friend Linda, they opened a small workshop and since this was a new kind of business in Kosovo, their fame grew fast and the quality of the dresses soon became the talk of the town.
“Our dresses were so well-received that the market soon grew beyond the borders of Kosovo. To our surprise we were soon exporting to Switzerland, and other Western European countries where the Albanian Diaspora resides. Then came the war, and we lost everything. Everything but our right to dream, and that has kept me going,” she smiles with pride.
After the war, she decided to pursue fashion only part-time in order to regain the financial stability to continue with the business. She worked for several international organizations, while still remaining an influential figure in the fashion industry of Kosovo and being up to date with the trends.
“I worked full-time, I was a full-time mother, I pursued an MA degree in Journalism and I designed. When I felt I could stand on my own feet, Atelier Xheraldina was born. Today, I have two young ladies working for me and I am fully committed to my fashion passion. It is not easy to be a businesswoman in Kosovo, especially because of the mentality – but, I am very fortunate to be living and actively influencing the time of change,” explains Xheraldina.
Xheraldina’s experience has served as an inspiring and motivational story to many young women. She explained that often times her atelier becomes a counseling room where young women seek advice to start up a business.
It has been calculated that over 90% of women in Kosovo, who have finished high school, are unemployed. Hence, they are unable to achieve economic independence or secure financial credit to start businesses. Unfortunately, only about 10% of women in Kosovo live on their own income. This means that majority of them are dependent on others for their livelihood. Experts believe that this trend is changing.
“Making a big investment is usually problematic for women in Kosovo. The startup is done with a modest amount of money, usually. This is the reason why a lot of work, sweat and tears are required to ensure a stable business. For me it is the most rewarding investment of my life: I create beauty for the beauties. I consider Kosovar women to be beautiful from the inside and the outside, and I know that they are a pillar of this society that will overcome all obstacles to shape this beautiful society and direct it towards western values. I consider women to be a powerful force that have changed the course of history in Kosovo and they will continue to do so even more now that opportunities are increasing for the beautiful gender,” says Xheraldina. Regardless of the difficulties, women in Kosovo are determined to prove that they are equally important in shaping the business environment. Xheraldina’s story serves as the perfect example to prove that creating fashion is economically fashionable in Kosovo.
IPAK Vienna / ECIKS