Fashion inspied from Rhodopes mountain



*Ilka Ahiu, Yordan Mihalev and Jose Mari are the three finalists in the contest

**In April 2024, we will see the collections dedicated to Bulgarian folk costume


The first stage of the “ECHO Academies” project took place on the 26 October, handled by the “Open Space” foundation, aims to promote young and emerging European talents. Concerning the participation in the competition, which was held in the Art Gallery in Smolyan town, ten young designers from Bulgaria, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands, Lithuania, Turkey, Kosovo, and Albania have been shortlisted.

A few days ago, the professional jury consisting of: Prof. D.Sc. Lubomir Stoykov – chairman of the Academy of Fashion and teacher at the National Art Academy, Maria Georgieva-Savova – editor-in-chief of Elle magazine – Bulgaria, Albena Sveshtarova – fashion designer, Simeona Savova–Korueva – artist and Galina Ganova – a specialist in artistic textiles, selected only three fashion collections to be funded for production. The selected designers from the jury are: Ilka Haxhiu (Kosovo), Yordan Mihalev (Bulgaria) and Jose Marie Sta Iglesias (Netherlands), who relented with criteria such as creative, innovative and fascinating transmission of the theme, experimental elements and potential of the collection to be realized and worn.

Ilka Haxhiu (Kosovo) presented a collection characterized by vitality, color and vivacity. In a very nice way, it incorporates the traditional square of Rhodopes costume and felt as a technique that enlivens and gives a playful character to the clothes. Her work is dominated by color and ethnic aura.

Yordan Mihalev (Bulgaria) presented refined fashion offering good fusion between traditions and the new age. The details borrowed from the Rhodopes costume are present in the clothing, but with a modern reading, not intrusive, but giving refinement. The collection showed garments that sell and would be worn.

Jose Marie Sta Iglesias (Netherlands), reminded with his collection that the great designers know how to read the codes and masterfully transfer them to the new age. A bold and interesting decision in his work is the new life he gives to the decoration with gaitans. The creator showed playing with the shape of the costume and experimenting with geometry.

Pepa Veleva – Chairman of the Board of Directors of the “Open Space” Foundation, shared the following about the final of the first stage of the ECHO Academies competition: “I find the selection of the jury as very precise and careful. All three collections successfully integrate traditional folklore elements into their works, giving them freshness and modernity. These designers have the potential to enrich contemporary fashion through innovative and interesting ideas. Their selection is the epitome of fashion creativity and potential for future innovation. I wish them success in the next stage of the project, and also for who will receive funding for the production of their collections. At the end of the month April 2024, we expect to see their results.”

“There are three reasons why I am satisfied with the final results of the competition for young designers, organized by the “Open Space” foundation. First, everyone participants demonstrated a drive to learn, analyze and interpret the Rhodopes folklore and the Rhodopes costume in their projects. Second, most of them offered original concepts alongside the heavy use of manual labor and complying with sustainable and ethical criteria for clothing creation. Third, it appears the interactive motivation of candidates to creatively bridge tradition to modernity, on the one hand, and on the other – to adapt the modern style to the timeless values ​​of Bulgarian folk culture. Along with the three finalists, I also congratulate Emma Milicewitz (Netherlands) and Erika Zhanavi (Lithuania) who performed excellently for their professional design and high quality of projects. Special admirations for the Open Space Foundation for the great idea and the perfect one organization of the competition”, emphasized the chairman of the jury, Prof. D.Sc.Lubomir Stoykov.

Maria Georgieva-Savova – editor-in-chief of Elle magazine – Bulgaria, shared: “As the editor-in-chief of the Bulgarian edition of Elle magazine, it was a honor for me to participate in the jury of a competition for young artists from several European countries who skillfully  combined the modern world fashion and the characteristic elements of the Rhodopes folk costume. Special admirations for Ilka Haxhiu from Kosovo, in her models I saw the color of The Rhodopes, for Yordan Mihalev from Bulgaria, who showed the jury a professional and creative approach to the subject, as well as for Jose Marie Sta Iglesias from the Netherlands, whose sketches feel the elegance of the Rhodope woman through the prism of the modern 3 readings. I was extremely pleased by the fact that most of the contestants were bet on sustainable practices in the concept of the task!”.

In April 2024, the winners will present their finished collections in front of an audience. Participants must comply with the making of the outfits with the required quality and presentation strategy, as well as manage to reach the audience. Based on these two indicators, all three collections will be awarded and granted with cash prizes.  In the coming months, they will work with  professionals from CUMEDIEA (Belgium), ECHO Academy Smolyan and micro organization from their countries of their own choice. The project is implemented with the financial support of the “Creative Europe” program of the European Union and the National Fund Culture of Bulgaria.


1. Project by Ilka Haxhiu (Kosovo).

2. Project by Yordan Mihalev (Bulgaria).

3. Project by Jose Marie Sta Iglesias (Netherlands).

Photo: Personal archive of “Open Space”

4. Pepa Veleva – Chairman of the Board of Directors of the “Open Space” Foundation.

Photo: Personal archive of Pepa Veleva

5. Phof. D.St. Lyubomir Stoykov – chairman of the jury of the internationalEcho Academies competition for young designers.

Photo: © Dilyan Markov

6. Maria Georgieva-Savova – editor-in-chief of Elle magazine – Bulgaria

Photo: © Yasen Savov

The Catalog with all designers and their projects could be see here:


Inter Alia (Greece)

Open Space foundation (България)

Sfera (Северна Македония)

Pro Pregressione (Унгария)