Tradice Slovácka, Czech Republic: Comprehensive approach
Tradice Slovácka o.p.s. manufactures folk costumes and accessories in a traditional way, hence conserving and renewing traditional crafts and training. It is one of the few companies to produce costumes in this way. The company has a flexible production programme and a wide range of supplementary services. Its activities are based on three main pillars: the manufacturing of traditional costumes, boots, belts and hats; the production of gift items using traditional crafts; and educational activities aimed at preventing anti-social behaviour among young people and at providing lifelong education.
The company was founded in 2006 as a joint effort between three institutions: two local councils and a folk group. Currently, the company operates two centres – one in Blatnička in the South Moravian region of the Czech Republic and one in Uherský Ostroh in the east of the country. Over 40% of the current workforce were recruited through local job offices.
Tradice Slovácka employs a total of 17 women of various ages, ranging from graduates to women of pre-retirement and retirement age. However, the average age of the women is about 40 years. Due to the fact that there is an absence of formal professional training in this field, the company must rely on the intergenerational transfer of experience and skills. Apart from permanent staff, the company cooperates on an external basis with embroiderers with whom it enters into contracts whenever necessary, or they cooperate with the company in the form of subcontracts. These embroiderers are often women aged between 60 and 75 years.
The company is headed by a board of directors, which includes representatives of the founding institutions, and it appoints an acting director. The board’s activities are overseen by a three-member supervisory board. Social dialogue is not formalised in the company.
Good practice today
Tradice Slovácka is registered as a ‘public benefit’ organisation. Its activities include subsidised and non-profit endeavours, as well as commercially profitable production. Although investment in building and some of the basic equipment was funded by European structural funds under its common operational programme, the company’s salaries and related expenses, along with its educational programmes, are funded by profits obtained from its production and services, which are reinvested into the company.
The company was founded in 2006 under the initiative of two local councils that were looking for ways to make use of two municipal buildings. One of these was an abandoned school building in the village of Blatnička, situated in an isolated, mainly agricultural (wine-making) region. The other building, which was situated about 20km away, was a historical building in Uherský Ostroh. The mayors of the villages turned to the current director of the company, who was at the time an active member of a folk group and who was interested in the culture of folk costumes. The aim was to find a use for the buildings that would at least partly maintain their public function and which would simultaneously increase employment in the area. Thus, a company was founded based on a unique production idea – namely, the production of folk costumes and accessories using traditional crafts. In order to compete with tailors working from home, the company tries to provide comprehensive and flexible services and large-scale production. Its main clients include folk groups as well as individuals. The areas in which the company is active have a strong tradition of folk culture, hosting regular folk events; moreover, some of the older people living in these areas, especially the women, still wear folk costumes as their everyday clothing. The older residents, particularly women, thus act as an invaluable source of information for the company’s production activities, as well as being potential clients.
Since the making of traditional crafts is based on the intergenerational transfer of knowledge, this idea was also used as the main basis for organising the company’s workforce. In the production process, women of all ages are employed, the oldest of them being the forewoman, who is over 60 years of age and who supervises the work of younger employees. Thus, this is a unique way of conserving and transferring the knowledge of fast-disappearing traditional crafts, whose individual bearers are literally dying out. Knowledge transfer is organised along two main lines: through direct cooperation between women in the workshops and through the indirect sharing of knowledge of previous generations of craft makers with individual subcontractors through consultations. In the first case, methods of integrated work are developed through and supplemented by management supervision, teaching and coaching. The consultations with external experts are used for the development of new products or for supplying missing crafts. For example, there is often a need for the skills of shoemakers, who are generally men, as no formal training exists for imparting to young people the skills required for this highly specialised work. This also provides a good incentive for the self-employment of older people in the region, since these consultants and/or subcontractors are usually older tradesmen and tradeswomen.
Knowledge transfer not only takes place from the older to the younger workers, but also in the opposite direction. Due to the need to reduce expenses and to increase productivity, modern technologies have also been introduced into the production process – for example, sewing machines. The younger workers also tend to be more proficient in using the computerised programme available to process hand-drawn sewing patterns; as a result, these workers teach their older colleagues how to use the programme.
The concept of mutual learning is also reflected in the overall atmosphere within the company and in the workshops, which operate on the basis of an ‘open door’ policy. Individuals as well as groups interested in the production process can visit the workshops and the show-area and literally watch the employees at work.
A unique feature of the company’s production programme is the prevalence of time-consuming and intricate hand work. As the company’s director outlines, all of the employees should enjoy folk crafts, because it is the type of work that cannot be rewarded by the hour and which cannot be done on a nine-to-five basis. Therefore, the older workers are given the opportunity to apply their common knowledge in producing these unique products. Their experience, know-how and craftsmanship is not only highly valued by the company, but also represents the vital backbone of the production process. Nevertheless, a varied age structure is also needed in the workforce in order to ensure the sustainability of the enterprise. As a result, young graduates are also hired to work with more experienced employees in order to learn the skills or to contribute missing expertise – such as project management and language skills.
With respect to future plans, the company is focusing on the gradual improvement of its services and on expansion abroad. The company also wants to focus on reducing its production expenses, while increasing its competitiveness in small-scale production; one competitive disadvantage that the company has to face is the 19% value-added tax (VAT) charge, which tailors working from home can avoid.
Apart from activities connected with the production of costumes and services related to the wearing of these costumes (ironing, washing and leasing of costumes), Tradice Slovácka is also involved in educational activities on the premises of its workshop. More specifically, the company runs courses aimed at specific groups of unemployed people, older people and mothers on maternity leave; the courses are also aimed at preventing anti-social behaviour among children and young adolescents. These courses are mainly run by external specialists in return for a small fee and are subsidised by other projects or by production profits. Among the most important courses are: the teaching of traditional crafts; sewing classes; and computer training for older people. The central aim of these courses is to increase the visibility of the company and to maximise the funding provided by the local council.
The company’s establishment has resulted in a noticeable improvement in the social lives of those living in the small settlements in which the workshops are situated. Moreover, it has benefited the development of tourism in an area that lies at the crossroads of regions which are ethnically quite different. The enterprise is highly valued for the advantages which it has brought to the respective regions and their inhabitants.
Contact: Jana Smutná, Director, email: email@example.com