She Starts Up: Mikaela and Xhorxhia Maçka – Thurje Handmade

For the first interview of “She Starts Up” – EU for Innovation’s latest campaign which aims to put the spotlight on pioneering, creative and inventive Albanian women in the fields entrepreneurship, tech, creative industries and more – we will introduce you to two sisters Mikaela Maçka and Xhorxhia Maçka, founders of “Thurje Handmade”.

The innovation of Thurje Handmade stands in joining the skills of experienced Albanian weaving artisans and the new generation of designers and their contemporary designs to create and offer a selection of handmade carpets and rugs that are as one of a kind and bright, as their creators and future owners.

Mikaela, a graduate of architecture who completed her studies in Italy, with extensive professional experience, and Xhorxhia whose background is law, but has been actively engaged in sales and other tasks at Thurje Handmade for the past three years, were born and raised in Korça. The initiative of Mikaela and Xhorxhia, besides economically supporting women artisans from Korça, is also highlighting the importance of reviving the tradition by giving the well-deserved appreciation to the handicraft work, as well as to the original designs of the young creatives in Albania.

EU4I: Mikaela and Xhorxhia, can you tell a little about your background and that of the company? How did Thurje Handmade come to life?

Mikaela: Thurje Handmade is the company founded by my sister and myself. I am an architect while Xhorxhia works in sales. Thurje Handmade operates in a context where the handicraft sector is marginalized. Even though we might have many artisans in Albania, most of them are having difficulties adapting to today’s market’s dynamics and needs. We believe that reshaping the sector is not only necessary, but also an opportunity for creation, experimentation and playing the ancient games of handicraft with new rules of our generation. This is how we envision the future of handicrafts in Albania. 

Xhorxhia: The idea was born about one year before we applied to become part of EU for Innovation’s Challenge Fund. The original idea came to our mom, who had recently worked with women artisan in Korça as part of a civil society project and had observed the difficulties of the artisans in adapting to the current market. We liked the idea since the beginning and thanks to our different backgrounds and the artisans we planned to include, we had a core team to build Thurje Handmade. 

EU4I: What could you mention as key successes in your company/ initiative?

Mikaela: The first success of Thurje Handmade was participating in Challenge Fund. This programme and its support were the right push to starting-up and bringing our idea to life. Afterwards, there were several key moments that lead to consolidation of our company, many related to participating in different programmes and networking events. EU for Innovation has been very important in increasing our start-up visibility, credibility, and impact. Another important key moment in the journey of Thurje has been our exhibition in the premises of the Ministry of Culture, or the participation in the “Creative Village” event this October. Increasing visibility via different mediums and various channels has had precious impact in our growth and transformation.

EU4I:  How did you hear about EU for Innovation? What intervention of EU for Innovation did you benefit from?

Xhorxhia: Instagram was the platform we got first introduced to EU for Innovation. Our idea was very well received by Challenge Fund, and we got funded by the project. The innovation of our idea lies especially on the vision that we want to embody in the traditional handicrafts, transforming them into exclusive design pieces. That’s exactly were the highest risk of our enterprise is, and we are grateful that EU for Innovation project seized our vision and supported it. This gave us a great motivational boost and support in different aspects. In less than one year from founding Thurje Handmade, we are grateful to see our idea turning into something concrete and tangible, while we trust there is also potential to grow and expand.

Besides Challenge Fund, which was our main support initiative of EU for Innovation, we also appreciated being part of different networking events organised by the action, exposing us, allowing us to share the idea with different people, from fellow entrepreneurs to Ambassadors.

EU4I:  Do you envision further continuation/ strengthening of cooperation between Thurje & EU for Innovation programme? How? Any ideas/ recommendations for improvements in the future cooperation?

Mikaela: Of course, we would like to network with other best practices around Europe as well, and learn from being part of a European start-up ecosystem. Exchanges of experiences and collaborations are an important tool to boost a start-up and we believe EU for Innovation has the right sources to provide these kinds of opportunities.

EU4I:  Tell us a bit more about your future plans regarding Thurje Handmade?

Xhorxhia: We are looking forward to bringing a major transformation to our initiative. We plan to have a small workshop/ showroom to exhibit our work and eventually be closer to the customers. We also plan to modernize some aspects of Albanian handicraft looking at best practices abroad. We expect through these changes to attract not only new customers, but also young people who would like to professionally invest in the Albanian handicraft sector.

EU4I:  To your view, what should be done to improve the visibility of EU for Innovation and showcasing success stories of beneficiaries, such as Thurje Handmade?

Mikaela: I think it would be nice to diversify visibility channels. For instance, another channel for promotion can be the visual media – the television. Despite the rise of social media, many people still follow TV programs which broadcast more selected content and reach wider audiences.

EU4I:  What would you like to share with readers/ to encourage them in starting their own entrepreneurial journey?

Xhorxhia: The journey of a start-up may be uncertain. Personally, I have found it hard to accept that perfection does not exist, especially when you seek new things and when you take a new path. The right thing is to love what you do and to do your best until you know better. This takes courage and a positive attitude, as well as keeping yourself surrounded by like-minded people. It’s never too late to take an entrepreneurial journey and love every step of it.

EU4I:  Would you like to share any favourite inspirational/ motivational quote?

Mikaela: As Albert Einstein said, “Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving.” I ride my bike every day in Tirana, so it comes to my mind very often because of the metaphor. It is a good thought to begin or wrap up your day.

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