In the heart of Monastiraki, Olgianna Melissinos’ little shop is hidden away.
Olgianna’s grandfather, George Melissinos established the store in 1920, at the foot of the Acropolis- adjacent to the ancient agora of Athens. From the early 20s to the early 50s, the store served as a small-scale shoe factory that produced a luxury line of shoes as well as rubber-sole climbing boots.
His son, Olgianna’s father, Stavros Melissinos -known as the poet-sandal maker – inherited the business. In the early 50s, he made the very first Greek sandals since the fall of the Ancient Athenian Republic. In 2004, after 50 years, he had to move out from the shop at Pandrossou Street.
Olgianna recalls her father “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 told Xinhua.
The first pair was sold in no time. “In a matter of a few years, this whole neighbourhood changed and even those who were skeptical at the beginning started making sandals,” she added.
Nowadays, the sandal, is an iconic fashion item and remains the top go-to summer footwear.
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 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 colour 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 colours. In 10 minutes, they can give you a totally personalised 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.
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,” Olgianna explained.
During the decade-long economic crisis, small and medium-sized shoe making industries suffered a severe blow. 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.
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.