Eirini Stathogianni– Τhe woman who is putting Ikaria on your skin
Eirini kisses her little daughter good-bye, then she starts the engine of the small white transporter. It is a cold winter afternoon in December on Ikaria, the Northern wind is blowing rain drops against the windscreen. Even though Eirini knows the road by heart, she drives slowly, concentrating on every bend in the road. Winter weather can be very treacherous on Ikaria and the road from Kouniado to Christos Raches is narrow. Under different circumstances Eirini would have stayed at home, finishing cooking for her family or playing with her daughter. But Eirini is running a business and today there’s no chance she can take the day off.
Arriving at her shop, Eirini switches on the electric heater, opens the shutters on the big windows, turns on classical music and within minutes she creates her own working environment where she turns from a caring mother into a focused business woman. Now she is running back and forth busily between the counter and the shelves, where she stores a broad variety of her cosmetics. All of them are based on her own recipes and mostly with ingredients from Ikaria. On the shelves you find soaps with different colours and fragances orderly arranged with the dates of their production. Winter is production time and during those days Eirini is working on new creations to fill up her stock. She is experimenting with old and new ingredients, filling the room with a smell of lavender, gandula and honey. Eirini is very careful with the quality of the ingredients she uses: the basis is high quality olive oil from Ikaria and plants she‘s picking on the island, like geranium. But very often quantities are not enough for her yearly production and so she has to buy additional supplies. She spends hours mixing the right quantities, filling molds with the liquids, cutting the raw materials into pieces. Watching and listening to Eirini when she describes her recipes, you don‘t get the impression that she opened her business just recently in 2016. But if you really think about it, it is obvious that Eirini was in the right place at the right time. All her previous experiences and wishes came together here in this workshop in Raches on Ikaria. Eirini grew up in Athens, in a neighbourhood where she enjoyed a lot of freedom playing outside. She had both the freedom to explore things and to participate in outside activities that became a kind of bottom line in her life. She loved the long summers, which she spent with her brother and her grandparents in the countryside in Peloponnese – 3 months of nature and total freedom. During these years she came up with the idea of living in a village, close to nature. After she left university with a degree in social sciences she tried it for a while in a village next to Athens, but it did not turn out well. Eirini then followed her boyfriend to Crete, where she focused on making jewelery, but worked also in different cafés and bars. Even when life took an unexpected turn and her relationship ended, she stayed in Crete, where some time later she fell in love with Lefteri, who at the time already livedin Ikaria.
In 2012 Eirini followed Lefteri to Ikaria. She started working in a bar in Raches, but in her spare time she continued making jewelery. Doing so she was using different materials, creating a unique style, which she was able to sell quite successfully. But being a creative person, she loves to experiment with different themes and materials. In this context she got interested in making soaps and creams. She researched the process and tested different procedures. There was a lot of trial and error, but she found her way, using mainly the natural materials she found on the island. Little by little she turned a small room next to the house she was living into a workshop. When you enter the room, you discover different smells, you see big bottles and boxes with soaps at different production stages neatly stacked on shelves from floor to ceiling. After she got more experience with the production, Eirini found a business partner and they were not only able to work on a continous basis, but they could also start selling the products. Even though it was more mouth to mouth promotion and Facebook advertising, customers were coming and the little business in the small workshop was growing. The brand label „Synempe“ (related to the Ikarian verb ‚synempaino‘: I realize, I am concerned) became known among those who love natural cosmetics and in 2016 Eirini had to make a decision: as her partner had left the workshop and she had to develop the label on her own, in which direction should she go? Renting a workshop, big enough to develop further business ideas? Or stay in the small room and just run the business as before? This was not only a difficult, but also a risky decision to make. Not only because Eirini had to make it at the peak of the financial and economic crisis, but also at a time when her personal life was changing fundamentally. She was expecting a baby and she had no idea how to handle both situations personally and financially. But she took the risk; she took a deep breath and signed the contract for a big work-shop in Raches.
She wanted to create a business of her own. „If not now, then when?“ she was asking herself. Knowing that becoming a mother would mean a lot of responsibility, she felt strong and powerful enough to handle both. And the new workshop would not only offer her the possibility to increase her production, but it could also easily be turned into a workshop, where she could organize seminars for groups to teach them about making soaps and natural cosmetics. So Eirini put a lot of energy and imagination into the decoration of her new workshop.
She remains true to her motto and processes many different materials, above all re-using materials and transforming them into new objects. She was so dedicated to her new project that she went back to it just one month after she gave birth to her little daughter. Between breastfeeding and mixing together the ingredients for her soaps, she managed to build up her own little enterprise. She has found her rhythm. On winter days, she increases the production for the summer sales and she has time for new experiments to expand her range of products. She has created little travel bags with small soaps and lipsticks, small artistic soaps and a broad variety of creams, which can be ordered on demand. And she came up with a nice promotional box, containing a large number of her products, which she is placing in different shops on the island. In doing so, she can count on Lefteris, who is helping her with the distribution of the products and in many other ways. They both love the life on Ikaria, the possibilities to be next to nature and to follow the rhythm of the seasons. When there is rain in the winter, they know that there will be water in the summer for the plants and vegetables they are growing in their garden. Eirini appreciates her chance to raise her daughter in this surrounding – a place that is offering freedom and safety at the same time. And a surrounding where there is equal access to the mountain and to the sea. Eirini hopes to teach her little daughter this love for nature and for creativity. And she hopes that Ikaria will develop in such a way that her daughter might find a future on the island, too. But Eirini also knows that this will depend on her generation. They have to get involved to make it happen, they have to call for a sustainable development of the island,
Looking back on the last four years, Eirini can now tell herself: the business idea for „Synempe“ once started in a small room and it has now become a well-known label for quality and original soaps. And even though it is not easy for her to balance family life and running her business under these difficult circumstances on Ikaria, she sticks to her motto „if not now, then when“?