Top Hungarian textiles-apparel companies disappeared after the collapse of communism, once made to compete with West European brands. The country now wants to lead the way with responsible fashion, reports Jozef De Coster from Budapest.

Unlike Paris, Milan, London or Barcelona, Hungary's capital Budapest is not a leading European fashion city. But smaller players can have great ambitions too. Inspired by president Gabriella Walek, the National Fashion League Hungary Association (NFLH, Hungarian abbreviation: NDL for Nemzeti Divat Liga) has an ambition that goes far beyond Hungary's weight in fashion. Hungarians today want to be a driving force in the global fashion revolution.

Hungarians speak a language that is very different from any other European language. Could that be the reason that they always seem to be trying, individually and as a nation, to convince the world that they are special in a very unique and even brilliant way?

They lived under communism, imposed on them by the Russians, from 1945 until 1989. They did not like it. In 1956, tens of thousands of people took to the streets of Budapest to demand an end to Soviet rule. Though the rebellion was brutally suppressed, Hungarians got to enjoy a somewhat different, more liberal regime than the other East European countries.

However, when in the Nineties the Hungarian economy opened up to international competition, Hungarian textiles and clothing companies were no match for their Western European counterparts. Most of the big Hungarian companies disappeared from the market. And now, the list of top textiles and apparel companies in Hungary looks very 'foreign'.

The producer of carbon fibre Zoltek is part of Toray Industries (Japan), lingerie manufacturer Felina is of Swiss origin, and the producer of industrial sewing yarn Coats is from the UK.

Lack of capital


When emerging Hungarian fashion companies are interviewed about the problems they face, most of them quote the lack of capital as the main problem.

An example. Until this year, Hungarian fashion brand Use Unused, which was launched in 2004, was quite succesful in filling the gap between the fast fashion brands and the high fashion luxury brands. But, Hungarian owners became tired of the never-ending search for finances needed to make the sample collections and pay the manufacturing cost. Recently, they dropped out.

Most fashion consumers worldwide know European brands like Prada, Gucci, Armani, Versace, Benetton, Hugo Boss, Mango, Lacoste, Burberry. But when asked about Hungarian labels like qNanushka (clothing, shoes and bags for women), Heavy Tools (leisurewear), Fundango (activewear) or Saxoo London (trendy leisurewear), they would have probably never heard about the labels.

Usually, brands from Italy, France, Spain or the UK have much easier access to capital than brands from Hungary (and other Central-Eastern European countries). Besides, most of these brands were already strongly established in international markets a long time before Eastern European countries started their transition from centrally-planned to free market economies.