A classic – sandals from Athens

Traditional craftsmanship in Greece – sandals from Olgianna Melissinos from Athens

Before Olgianna Melissinos opened her sandal workshop and thereby continued the family tradition she was working in IT. Melissinos sandals are famous all over the world. For film stars and celebrities of the 60s they were part of the Greek flair. Nowadays Olgianna cooperates with international fashion companies.

In the small Normanou Street, not far away from Monastiraki Square, Olgianna Melissinos’ little shop is hidden away. Already in the third generation the Melissinos siblings run each their own sandal workshop in Athens. Olgianna studied business administration and computer systems analysis in London. Afterwards she worked as an IT administrator and later as an IT teacher, before deciding to continue the family tradition, a sandal workshop. “I had a good job in IT and I actually liked it, but when my father told me he wanted to retire in 2004 I realised that I wanted to continue in his footsteps” Olgianna tells us and adds “I wanted to open my own shop.” Olgianna hasn’t regretted this decision to date. When we ask her whether she sees her brother as a competitor, she coolly tells us: “We are so different, we could never run a business together.” Olgianna prefers the simple and pure, her brother is more about the show.

“We are a team”
Olgianna is very happy to be her own boss, work with her hands and she is very lucky her husband Christos Tsaoussis is sharing her passion. It’s a small operational structure, only for sewing they cooperate with leather workshops in the neighbourhood. Everything else Olgianna and Christos do the two of them. They create 20-30 pairs of sandals on a normal workday. For some orders they have to double or triple their workload. In these situations it would be good to have an employee, but actually Olgianna is happy to work in her workshop without being disturbed and is willing to accept the occasional extra hours until late at night in turn.

A passion turned into a tradition
Her grandfather, George Melissinos, opened his first shoe shop with a leather workshop in Monastiraki in 1920. When her father, Stavros Melissinos, also known as the ‘sandal poet’, took over the business in the 1950s he reinvented the classic Greek sandal from the period of Athenian democracy. “My father made a pair of these typical sandals for an order placed by a choreograph”, Olgianna tells us. Inspired by many visits to museums Stavros Melissinos developed various models and started to sell the sandals. “It was the 50s, people were still very conservative. When neighbouring shops saw my father’s sandals they told him: “No one will by those, you are just wasting your time!” and they laughed at him.” Ten years later Melissinos’ workshop became famous all over the world. Stars and celebrities from culture and society, including the Beatles, Jacqueline Kennedy-Onassis, Rudolph Nureyev, Anthony Queen and Sophia Loren, enjoyed the Greek flair wearing Melissinos sandals. Stavros Melissinos worked as passionately on his sandals as he did on his poetry. “He was an artist” Olgianna describes her father. “During the summer months I helped out in the workshop. I remember making my first pair of sandals when I was twelve years old. I was so proud.”

 

Clients that include neighbours and celebrities
The workshop is only at a couple of minutes walking distance. It is located in the artisans district Psiri. Over here they cut leather, punch soles and emboss the signet. These base forms can then be finished in the shop. When you buy sandals in Olgianna’s shop in Athens, they are fitted to your foot. “All of my clients are treated the same way, whether they are Hollywood star, tourist or neighbour” and she adds, “my regular customers are the most important, I have to take care of them. They say hello when passing, we have a coffee together and talk about everyday problems. That’s what really counts in life.”

 

Made in Greece
Olgianna is an intelligent and resolute woman. Critically but idealistically she is determined to help her country out of the crisis. She cooperates with international fashion brands in Spain and France. It is important for her that these cooperations equate the name Olgianna Melissinos to the name of the brand. For her, ‘made in Greece’ is a hallmark of quality. “In the course of the financial crisis some people told me to save on the quality of the products and sell them for a lower price. I cannot offer cheaper quality.” Olgianna’s sandals cost between 30 and 35 euros; it is important for her to keep an adequate price. Olgianna is realistic and very political. Resolutely she tells us: “We are not giving up – we won’t accept to be squandered.” Our discussions reach from the Greek education system to cooperations between artisans and designers. The country is in crisis, but it’s good to meet people like Olgianna that are not afraid of upheaval and demand a positive change in thinking.