Hidden away in one of the shortest streets in downtown Sofia, is the bustling hub of a business that seems exotic not only for Bulgaria but also for the cap table of a venture capital fund.
Here, among the stately mansions of embassies and some of Sofia’s finest restaurants, is the headquarters, design, and prototyping hub of Eirene Studio, a Bulgaria-based startup making its mark in the quickly growing market of high-end children’s apparel. The company occupies a floor so beautifully restored, remodeled and furnished that you can forget why you came here and just savor the space as you would a stylish lounge or gallery.
The new home of Eirene Studio
One reason why the business of Eirene Studio is remarkable lies in the numbers. The global market of children’s apparel has not only not slowed down in the year since the Covid-19 pandemic started, but has grown over 5% and is forecasted to expand with a staggering 50% in the next 5 years.
Add to this the very special numbers that this market has in Bulgaria. It’s not a well-known fact, but with over 200,000 people directly employed in the textile sector in Bulgaria, and hundreds of thousands more in the supply chain and auxiliary services, the entire industry accounts for such a significant share of the country’s workforce that it makes for Bulgaria’s biggest after the tourism sector.
And there’s more. Due to Bulgaria’s history in apparel and our geographical location as Europe’s gateway to Turkey and beyond, Bulgaria’s value-added share in the sector is over three times that of the EU average. Which explains why the 3,000 firms producing clothing in Bulgaria are filling the high streets of the world with brands like Hugo Boss, Tommy Hilfiger, Lise Charmel, Esprit, and other household names, all Made in Bulgaria.
Given these preconditions, it’s only a matter of time before a formidable entrepreneur puts all the pieces together and builds the next and final stage of the value lifecycle: a local brand taking the high streets on with its own product.
And that formidable entrepreneur is exactly who we found in Irina Nedkova, the founder and CEO of Eirene Studio.
Max Gurvits and Irina Nedkova @ Eirene
This is a hectic week for Eirene Studio: the relocation to the gorgeous new space on Tulovo street just wrapped up, new employees are waiting to be onboarded, as the company is doubling its workforce this year, and the first summer collection shipments are on Irina’s desk, waiting to be approved for dispatch.
Irina is a veteran in the European fashion retail business; fifteen years ago she was part of the founding team of Bulgaria’s first high-street fashion retail outlet center, and spent years as the MD of Sofia Outlet Center, perfecting the business and building skills in dealing with sourcing, manufacturing, logistics, marketing, and sales.
Spending well over a decade working with dozens of upscale brands, anchoring them in new markets, and building distribution channels, Irina believes that much like in tech, the leveling of the market has passed the point of no return. “From the point of view of sophistication of sourced materials, manufacturing technologies, design, packaging, and marketing, we have gained parity in Bulgaria with the strongest players on the global playing field”, says Irina.
The positioning of Eirene Studio specifically in the high-end segment of children’s and teenagers’ apparel is the result of a previous company Irina founded, that targeted a broader market of children’s fashion, without a focus on the high-end range. But as Irina says, “we quickly realized that the competitive angle in the high-end part of the market is much more lucrative, and it is exactly where our expertise lies through our previous work”.
Today Eirene Studio produces hand-crafted fashion for girls and young women, with the main markets in Austria, Switzerland, Germany, UK, Gulf countries, Moscow, and Hong Kong. With our investment from Vitosha, the company will expand its distribution network mainly in EU markets where demand is strong, as well as develop its budding direct-to-consumer channels online.
The truly exciting part is the fantastic growth the segment is enjoying, and the very limited number of competitors so far. But that’s only temporary, knows Irina. “Here we’re talking about people who buy their daughters dresses for EUR 200 and up, six or seven times a year. Right now that market is almost exclusively served by brands like Dior, Balenciaga, or DKNY. The segment is so new that mainstream non-premium fashion brands are struggling to catch up; after all, the quality, branding, and distribution are on a very different level. So you have these famous designer brands trying to serve the parents who, after buying something for themselves, also want to buy something for their kids. And that’s where we come in: Eirene offers the highest standards in design and tailoring, with a skillset validated over two decades of regional experience, combined with a brand and collection philosophy that is uniquely positioned globally towards the age group and segment”.
The dresses remind us more of pieces of art than what we would expect from children’s and teenagers’ apparel. When we visited the new Eirene home, we witnessed artists in a gallery working hard to produce the best piece rather than messy fabrics all over the place, justifying it's positioning in the most premium segment.
The new home of Eirene Studio
And it’s with that sentiment that we wrap up our tour of this beautiful new home of Eirene Studio: excited about the prospects of high-end fashion for youngsters, and particularly thrilled about a Bulgaria-based company’s potential to position itself as a globally recognized name for luxury.