The first thing that welcomes the visitor to the tiny store of Olgianna Melissinos in the heart of Monastiraki, the old commercial district at the foothills of the Acropolis in the Greek capital, is the overpowering smell of genuine leather.
Against the backdrop of finely made sandals, belts and bags, old photos and framed articles that cover the walls floor to ceiling, and a radio playing calm instrumental music in the background, Olgianna and her husband Christos work tirelessly — but cheerfully — behind their benches.
Olgianna is a third-generation shoemaker, as her grandfather started the family business in 1920 specializing in climbing boots and luxury shoes. In the 1950s her father Stavros took over the business and, shortly after, an interesting proposal came his way.
“At some point, a choreographer came by his shop and asked him to make ancient Greek-style sandals for a performance. He did so, he liked the venture and made a few extra pairs for sale in his store,” Melissinos told Xinhua.
Extremely common during the ancient Greek and Roman times, sandals have a celebrated, centuries-old history in Greece, documented by various artifacts unearthed by archaeologists. But by the 1960s, when Melissinos took that order, the art of sandal making had almost died out, as open shoes were not popular or even considered socially unacceptable at the time.
“His neighbors made fun of him. They told him ‘no one is going to buy these things you make’. But he laughed and said ‘never mind, someone will’.”
Artistic by nature, Melissinos, dubbed “the poet-sandal maker” because of his talent for poetry and playwriting, saw the project as a challenge to his creativity.
“He started designing sandals on his own but also ‘stealing’ designs he saw on ancient statues, frescoes, depictions of ancient Greek sandals — he studied a lot. And he started experimenting,” Melissinos said. The first pair was sold in no time. “In a matter of a few years, this whole neighborhood changed and even those who were skeptical at the beginning started making sandals,” she added.
Greece experienced its first major tourism boom during that period and the liberal fashion trends of the time helped establish sandals as an iconic fashion item, a symbol of timeless simplicity and elegance, a shoe equally enjoyed by celebrities and hitchhikers, all basking in the Greek summer.
Nowadays, the sandal, in its countless variations, forms, materials and colors, remains the top go-to summer footwear. And the tiny store that was one of the first to make sandals again in modern Greek history is now featured in sophisticated travel guides and prestigious fashion magazines. But as Melissinos said, word of mouth is their biggest marketing weapon.
According to the sandal maker, quality and craftsmanship make the difference. In her store, everything is handmade of genuine leather by Christos and herself: sandals, belts, wallets, handbags. They do not give the impression that they are in a rush. They take the time to care for every little detail, to think of aesthetics, to add that tiny touch that makes every handmade product in the world unique. Their customers can have the sandal of their choice fitted on their feet, they can ask for little tweaks or even different color straps to create a sandal as close to their needs and taste as possible.
“There is a whole story behind this store proving that the shoes are made with talent and craft. There is an atmosphere, they adjust the shoes to your size, you can pick the colors. In 10 minutes, they can give you a totally personalized pair of sandals. It is a very nice souvenir from Athens,” confirmed French traveler Diane Petit just after she had her own pair custom-fitted by Christos.
“Approximately 70-80 percent of our orders are ‘sur mesure,’ because we also want to achieve the perfect fit… We want to have a personal relationship with our customers,” Melissinos stressed.
And just as the Melissinos family craftsmanship has passed down to the third generation, so has the loyalty of their customers.
“I was very moved one time when I made small sandals for the great-grandchild of one of my father’s customers. It really counts when you are being honest and straight with your customers. The loyalty and the love they show you can go a long way, for generations,” the sandal maker explained.
As most sectors of the Greek economy, small and medium-sized shoe making industries suffered a severe blow during the decade-long economic crisis. Several manufacturers were forced out of business or moved out of Greece to where labor was cheaper.
It was a very difficult time for her business, Melissinos recalled, but she refused to compromise on the quality of her products in order to lower the prices. As she said, what kept the small business afloat was foreign customers, but also a shift in the mentality of Greeks.
“We worked hard, and I believe that our customers –especially the Greeks — rewarded us, because they also returned to the mentality of buying one top quality product rather than 10, which are not of good quality,” she stressed, referring to a big part of Greek society that was prone to hyperconsumerism before the crisis.
Of course, making unique, handmade products when trends in fashion are changing fast is not an easy task. It takes time, it costs more and has a small profit margin — but for Melissinos it is a personal choice.
“You have to love it and then you can make your clientele love it too,” she explained.
Melissinos is confident that handmade crafts not only are not dying but are being reinvented and highly appreciated by more and more people.
“We have customers who tell us ‘I was very happy that I kept these (sandals) for 10 or 15 years. We had a great time ‘together’ and they refer to all the places these sandals took them to, and how they connected emotionally with them,” she said.
Over the past years, more and more travelers have visited Melissinos’s store with a travel guide in their hands. Tourists today are more sophisticated, they are looking for authentic experiences and products, they do not shop randomly, the sandal maker claimed.
And lately, visitors from China have joined the store’s most valued group of customers.
“They are always on the lookout for good quality products. They even take more time to decide because this is something new to them. But once they trust you, they become your best customers. I think you have to gain their trust,” Melissinos said.
This year, the coronavirus pandemic has made things much more difficult for this small business. With approximately half of their customers coming from abroad, and with travel restrictions that are prone to change at any moment, Olgianna and Christos are faced with uncertainty. But combining art with technology, they run an e-shop that ships worldwide and are optimistic that they will be able to welcome their friends back in Athens soon.
Nigeria High Commission in Canada reopens after six-month closure
The Nigerian High Commission in Canada says it will resume in-person immigration and consular services on Thursday.
This is coming six months after it shut its doors in compliance with the host country’s guidelines for the prevention of the spread of the novel coronavirus.
The reopening of the commission is contained in a statement, which indicates a number of rules that applicants must comply with to access the services.
However, it has been issuing Emergency Travel Certificates (ETC) and visas to applicants needing urgent travels, via email since then.
One of the guidelines required applicants to apply online and request for interview appointment through email.
“Everyone coming to the chancery has to come in with face masks/covering and sanitise their hands.
“You are also required to practice social distancing. These are public health measures put in place to limit the spread of COVID-19,” it stated.
Warning against gate crashing, which is common at Nigerian missions abroad, the High Commission said only those with printed interview invitations would be attended to.
Canadian authorities are expanding restrictions on gatherings amid a surge in COVID-19 cases to unprecedented levels in the country since May.
According to its Public Health Agency, the North American country has reported a daily average of close to 1,000 infections within the last seven days.
Tally by John Hopkins University puts the country’s caseload at 148,411, including 9,283 deaths.
Edited By: Dianabasi Effiong/Emmanuel Yashim
Sanusi calls for diversification of economy to address poverty, inequality
Former Emir of Kano, Muhammadu Sanusi II, has said that Nigeria must diversify its economy in order to address the high rate of poverty and inequality in the country.
He also said governments at all levels must invest on human capital development and create enabling environment for investments, instead of borrowing to finance development.
Sanusi gave the advice in a presentation during the virtual Kaduna Economic and Investment Summit, on Tuesday.
The former Governor of the Central Bank, however, said the Federal Government has minimal role to play in rejigging the economy.
“While everyone looks to the federal government for solutions, the truth is that its role in the economy is small – both in absolute and relative terms.’’
Sanusi noted that the nation’s economy has not been diversified, years after the discovery of oil.
He added that though Nigeria has generated an increase in wealth from $345 in 1985 to $2,655 in 2015 GDP per capita, but there has been no structural transformation in what the country actually produce.
According to him, though the economy is growing, but its non diversification has resulted to the high rate of poverty and high level of inequality in the country.
He explained that the difference between African countries and those in Asia is that they have diversified from primary to secondary and tertiary sectors of the global economy.
“The major difference is that they have moved on but we have not,’’ he lamented.
Sanusi pointed out that Malaysia has the same factors that Nigeria has been using as an excuse for having not developed, adding that both countries are multi-ethnic and have fought wars.
The former Emir lamented that Nigeria is still a consumer nation instead of being a producer, by seizing on the investments that the government has done in technology.
“Africa’s failure has been in not leveraging on the underlying infrastructure – towers and under sea cables- to catalyse the development of other and new industries,’’ he said.
‘’If you use your smart phone which is made in China and order shoes from France and they are delivered to you at home, what have you actually gained? You are just a consumer,’’ he added.
The ex-CBN Governor argued that the same phone can be put to productive use, when it is used to shoot a Nollywood movie and the film clip is distributed.
Sanusi noted that the success of Nigeria’s pre-oil economy was based on the dynamism of its trading sector and the diversity of its export base, which ‘’meant that it was less vulnerable to terms of trade shock driven by any one export.”
Edited By: Maharazu Ahmed
Food Council to ensure reduction in fertiliser price – Gov. Bagudu
The National Food Security Council says it will ensure the reduction on the cost of NPK fertiliser from N5,500 to N5,000 per bag as earlier ordered by President Muhammadu Buhari in April to boost food production in the country.
Gov. Atiku Bagudu of Kebbi, who is also the Vice-Chairman of the National Food Security Council, disclosed this when he, alongside Gov. Abubakar Badaru of Jigawa, briefed State House correspondents at the end of the meeting of the National Food Security Council at the State House, Abuja, on Tuesday.
Bagudu explained that the implementation of the president’s directive was informed by the fact that production of the commodity had been normalized in the country following the reopening of Indorama plant in Rivers.
He said the plant was closed because of COVID-19 related deaths.
The governor also expressed optimism that prices of food items and goods would soon be coming down judging by the data obtained and made available to him.
He explained: “Yes, I said food prices for crops have started coming down. That was from data collated and made available to me in my state and from a pre-meeting with all the commodity association and farmer groups prior to the National Food Security Council meeting.
“I have been going round my state in the last one week and have seen further drops in prices and it makes sense and is self-explanatory. Harvest is coming in, harvests of millets, maize and of rice.
“Yes, we had a lot of devastating floods that affected the rice crop but again, there is upland rice that is being harvested that has not been affected by flood.’’
The governor attributed the increase in the prices of foodstuff to bulk purchase of food commodities for distribution as COVID-19 palliatives by the three tiers of government and wealthy individuals.
“The CACOVID was buying food items for the coronavirus pandemic response in bulk at a peak of the beginning of the season, at a time when demands are not high. So, it contributed to the high cost.
“The global lockdown also contributed because of lack of movement of food items. But now, harvests are coming in and it is good.
“Yes, there are some states that experienced huge draught but that has been overcome by the food coming from elsewhere.”
Bagudu assured that despite the flood disasters in parts of the country this year, which he said was worst that previous ones, “there won’t be food crisis’’.
He added: “Is there going to be goods crisis? No, by God’s grace. Yes, flooding is devastating. Unfortunately, that is part of life. We have a good eco-system where immediately after flooding we can plant again.
“In fact, the farmers are more confident because the risk of flooding has reduced.
“So, what is important is for us to mobilise and ensure we time properly and is part of the reason Mr President has been working very hard because that is what bothers him most, how to deliver to Nigerians.
“That is why since last week and a week earlier, the challenge has been ‘come up with how we can intervene so that farmers, fishermen and those in husbandry can resume economic activities as quickly as possible.’
“In fact, one of the key initiatives as the very first intervention of the national food security council, was to recognize how to support people to resume economic activity following the disaster.
“That is why in 2018, N23 billion was spent to support farmers in 14 states as well as another N8 billion to support some states that were affected by conflict and the need for people to resume economic activity.’’
Also, Gov. Abubakar Badaru of Jigawa, expressed confidence that the prices of food items would come down as harvest season has begun and more commodities are arriving markets across the country.
Edited By: Felix Ajide
Spurs’ League Cup match called off due to COVID-19 cases at Orient
Tuesday’s League Cup third round match between Leyton Orient and Tottenham Hotspur has been postponed after a number of Orient players tested positive for COVID-19, the Football League has said.
Orient announced on Monday that some of their players had tested positive and that its Breyer Group Stadium and training ground facilities would be closed until further notice.
“Tonight’s (Tuesday night’s) Carabao Cup match between Leyton Orient and Tottenham Hotspur is not taking place this (Tuesday) evening as scheduled,” an EFL statement said.
“Discussions are ongoing between the relevant stakeholders with regard to the implications of the decision not to play tonight’s game and a further update will be provided in due course.”
Tottenham also confirmed the match was off.
It was not clear whether Tottenham had been awarded victory by default or whether the match would be re-scheduled.
Orient, who play in the English football league’s fourth-tier had also informed Mansfield Town, Plymouth Argyle and Oldham Athletic prior to the public release of the information.
They are three of their most recent opponents.
It is a bitter blow to Orient who would have been looking forward to a 150,000 pound (190,935 dollars) windfall with the game scheduled to be screened live on Sky Sports.
Orient owner Nigel Travis said they had been looking forward to a welcome financial boost.
This is because the coronavirus pandemic ended last season early and continues to rob small clubs of matchday revenue with fans not permitted to attend games.
“The coronavirus has added 1.5 million pounds to our losses and this game would have contributed about 150,000 pounds to offset those losses. So, this is a big blow,” he said.
“We think the appropriate action is for this game to take place,” he added.
“If we don’t play the game and are forced to forfeit, it’s a demonstration that doing the right thing doesn’t work. It would be an incentive not to test.”
Tottenham actually paid for the COVID-19 testing of Orient’s players and staff which produced a significant number of positives, Travis confirmed.
“We are working with the EFL to see how it happened and the possible cause,” Travis said.
Edited By: Olawale Alabi)