Syrian Armenians set up shoe production in Yerevan

Syrian Armenians set up shoe production in Yerevan –

Armenianow – Different shoe insoles and outsoles, ready or semi-ready models, tools… On one of the walls there is the Armenian tricolor, next to it – General Andranik’s picture, on the opposite wall there is Aznavour smiling. This is the very workshop where with the efforts of three Syrian-Armenian fellows most modern and most comfortable Armenian new AVA shoes are born. 

“We choose the type of leather, the color, and the models together, mix them and make new things. But it is very important for us that in the most visible part of the shoes one can see the sign AVA and Made in Armenia,” 28-year-old designer Andranik Safar said. “We knew each other as friends still from Aleppo, and here we decided to start a business together.”

AVA stands for the initials of the friends – Andranik, Vigen, Arto. They opened the shoe factory five months ago. They have already managed to produce 100 pairs of shoes which now are being sold in different Yerevan stores.

The men moved to Armenia with their families from Syria at different periods of time. Safar said that his family moved first from Aleppo to Moscow, and then to Armenia. 

“We thought Armenians from Armenia move there, and so we went there too, but it was hard, we could not get accustomed to life there, the language was not ours, it was all too foreign. In 2013 we came to Armenia. I didn’t think I’d stay here, but I did and we started this business. My grandfather did this same ‘heel’ job in Aleppo, then my father opened an outsole factory in 1957-58, they made shoes there. We sold them in Syria, Iraq, Iran, and Egypt. The factory occupied a space of some 3,000 square meters, with 35-40 employees, during one season we made 700 pairs of shoe outsoles,” Safar, whose ancestors are from Ayntap, says, presenting his previous life.

The Syrian war went through this family as well – they lost the factory, cars, tools, all equipment. Comparing Syria and Armenia in terms of difficulties for entrepreneurs, Safar said: “Those who do not work would not know the difficulties, it’s been five months that we work, and we started the production for a month already. As I compare I must say that we lived a king’s life in Syria, we started from zero here, if we do compare, our ancestors migrated to Syria as well and started everything from scratch, passed through all the same difficulties.”

Andranik’s business partner Arto Elejian, who was engaged in different businesses in Syria, said that Syria did not have particular difficulties with the borders, the circulation was great, the population was large, and that brought to a huge market.

“Armenia has border issues, wholesale trade is very difficult. Everyone says it is difficult here, but there is another thing as well, did they ever try? Why do they speak without trying? Every job has its difficulties, you cannot say it is impossible to work in Armenia, if you want to, you can. We hope that when Armenia enters the Customs Union, the borders will be open, better for us, we will enter the Russian market,” Elejian, 30, said.

The AVA small factory is located inside the fashion house of the famous Soviet-ear Masis shoe factory in Yerevan. The Syrian-Armenian friends rent the factory with its equipment, hired six locals. Before they started production, to better understand the shoe market, they dealt with the import of necessary materials for production.

“But we realized that the job is difficult for this city because there are not that many producers, we decided to launch our production. There are few local producers, the demand is big, but the market is full of Chinese and Turkish products. Our goal is to have a good quality and affordable price in the market,” Safar said. “The most expensive shoes are 50,000 AMD ($125), but prices start from 15,000 AMD ($38). We have female shoes that cost 30,000 or 40,000 AMD ($75-100). They are leather, orthopedic shoes.” 

Since the beginning of November AVA shoes have already been in Yerevan stores, there is the AVA shoes Facebook page, there are already numerous suggestions from Italy, Germany, Canada.

“We stand out in the market by our style, our colors. For now we have only one male, five female model, also one for children. We stand out by the Made in Armenia sign on our shoes,” Elejian said, smiling.

The young men intend to open their own store where they will sell their own products by lower price, at the moment many customers come and buy directly from the factory.

“It is difficult, but we will work, this business demands some time, it is important to keep the quality and work properly, it will be good,” Safar said.

The tailor master of the factory, Gurgen Ghazaryan, worked at the Masis shoes factory during the Soviet times.

“This is the fashion house of the Masis factory, Masis had 8-9 factories, and all models from all factories were approved in this very house, here it was decided to produce or not. Armenian shoes kept the whole Soviet, freedom must be given to the producers, let’s remember that in the 1990s we kept this country by shoe cooperatives, all electricians and repair workers made shoes and took them to Russia. Armenia has that potential – to become a shoe producer in the region,” Ghazaryan said.

He agrees with the fellow producers that Armenia must become a leather producing country, while at the moment all materials flow to Turkey. And then Armenian businessmen go and buy expensive materials and import them to Armenia paying high custom duties.

“If we have raw material production locally, then the cost price of shoes will be reduced. If it is 60,000 AMD ($150), it will become 30,000 ($75). There is talk that they want to restore the old leather factory, with God’s will, I hope it does happen,” Ghazaryan said. “And our employers are responsible and loyal fellows in their job, this country must give them privileges, liberty in order to get back to its feet.”

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