A fashion company in Hungary wants challenge secular ideas about the country’s Roma minority. Another goal of the company, Romani Design, is to make a place in the world of high fashion for this historically outcast group.
In 2010, when Erika and Helena Varga founded Romani Design, their goals were clear. They want to use fashion and other arts to build the social and cultural position of the Roma community. They also want to re-establish Roma culture in modern terms.
The two sisters spoke to the Associated Press in Hungary.
“We were among the first Marche which actually gave the answer to how to reconstruct (Roma) traditions in a contemporary, in a modern way, ”said Erika Varga, co-founder of Romani Design.
Roma are the largest minority in Hungary. They represent up to 10% of the population of the central European country. Like other Roma across Europe, Hungarian Roma often do not have the same social and economic opportunities as others. They also face discrimination, segregation, and poverty.
Present in Hungary since the 15th century, many Roma traditions are deep in the wider Hungarian culture. Yet many of their customs, occupations and languages are slowly dying due to centuries of official and unofficial marginalization.
Before starting Romani Design, the Varga sisters worked as jewelry creators and designers. But they said they still didn’t feel accepted in the wider society. Their work was not accepted in the world of high culture. They were also concerned that precious Roma traditions were being lost.
Erika Varga said they want the social majority to get used to the Roma as part of the community and high culture. He said this was important because those with high social status in Hungary often decide, in his words, “who is valuable and what position they can occupy in the social structure”.
Erika added: “We also wanted to communicate messages to our community that we shouldn’t give up on our traditional values.”
Romani Design creates clothing, jewelry and Accessories which show Roma culture in a modern way. They use a lot of flowers and colors. And images of the Virgin Mary are common in traditional Roma clothing and old stories.
Helena Varga oversees the design of their products. He said many of the clothes and accessories – such as jewelry, bags and belts – show their experiences growing Roma in Hungary.
“When I design, I absolutely live my gypsy identity and my roots are absolutely here in my heart and soul,” she said.
The term “gypsy” for Roma is seen as an insult in some places. However, it is commonly used by Roma in Hungary as well as by Roma living in other places.
“I’ve seen how (Roma communities) live, what they wear, what kind of houses they live in …” Helena thinks of these memories and experiences when she designs something.
Some human rights groups in Hungary are pushing for the acceptance of Roma music and dance. However, the Varga sisters claim that fashion is one of the most powerful means of changing the relationship between their culture and the rest of society.
“Fashion – the way we dress, the clothes we wear on our bodies – can send a message so fast and so intense that it reaches its target audience very, very quickly,” said Helena. “It’s very effective.”
Most of the people who buy from Romani Designs are “people who want more from fashion,” said Erika. He explained that they want to “represent the values that are important in their personal lives and communities, such as the values of multiculturalism”.
Six Romani Design dresses are on display at an exposure in the Museum of Applied Arts of the Hungarian capital, Budapest. After being exhibited, the new contemporary works will become part of the museum’s permanent collection. This will secure their place for others to see and consider for generations to come.
Judit Horvath is the head of the museum’s contemporary design department. He says it is the museum’s mission to shape social problems. Romani Design’s appearance at the show, he said, did so successfully.
Horvath said the social problems the museum wants to show are clear in the exhibition. “What is this problem? The conflict, the fear, discord and the anger that often exists between Roma and non-Roma communities, “he said,” … things we wish were not there. “
I’m Caty Weaver.
Justin Spike reported this story for the Associated Press. Anna Matteo adapted it for VOA Learning English. Susan Shand was the editor.
Words in this story
challenge – v. say or show that (something) may not be true, correct, or legal
marginalize – v. placing or keeping (someone) in an impotent or unimportant position within a company or group
brand – n. a category of products that are all made by a particular company and all have a particular name
contemporary – adj. that live or occur over the same period of time
segregation – n. the practice or policy of separating a race, class or group from the rest of society
accessory – n. an object or device which is not necessary in itself but which adds beauty or utility to something else
exposure – n. an event where objects (such as works of art) are displayed in a public space for people to view : a public show of something