Krakow is a city of contrasts. At times grey and foreboding, it has hidden warmth and charm. It is a place which has struggled to adapt to the rapid developments of the past 100 years. Beyond the Rynek Glowny, Krakow's idyllic central market square thronged with tourists, we find a city which makes no effort to enamour itself to visitors. It is a slow-burner, not love at first sight. Neglected building facades cry out for a little tender loving care while hiding beautiful spaces within, enough to rival some of the most famous and grand neighbourhoods elsewhere in Europe. It is reasonable to make the comparison with the typical Polish character: untrusting, distant and aloof upon first impressions, but friendly and warm when you get to know them.
The old Jewish quarter Kazimierz is one such hangout popular with young adults. A plethora of shops, bars and locals have settled in its streets amid an atmosphere of creativity and spontaneity. An atmosphere which contrasts starkly with the ghosts of sadness and decay pervading every other corner of the neighbourhood. It is within this microsystem where we find the IdeaFix headquarters, at number 7 Bochenska Street. A concept store with just one concept.
‘Only Polish Designers’
Sprayed in black graffiti on the front of the building are the three words which perfectly sum up the crux of the matter. Only Polish Designers, they declare. What hits you upon entering is the sense of space, filled with creative, quality products of all kinds and decorated modestly with a hint of the alternative. Clothes. So many clothes. And accessories, and music, and DVDs, a treasure trove of trinkets. On the sofa in the entrance lounges Magda, a twenty-something draped in fashionable clothes which suit her surroundings, and she asks if I need any help. When I explain that I am writing an article about the project, she immediately arranges for me to see Anna, the entrepreneur behind Ideafix.
The next day, Anna and I meet up for a chat on the very same sofa. She's young, cool, immaculately dressed, with a clear gaze and a calm air. She at once fits in and stands out. She tells me it all started in 2009, initially with the intention of building a space "where the creative people of Krakow could display their work". A city as full of creative potential as Krakow had been crying out for such a project. "There are so many hidden artists here and we just wanted to give them the opportunity to show their creations off to the world", explains Anna. They organised exhibitions, art workshops, conferences and many more activities in the local area, designed to encourage the folk of Krakow to get involved and interact on a creative level with their artists. The project began to expand rapidly, and all types of designers from across the country now want a piece of the action.
When asked how a designer gets their work displayed and sold at IdeaFix, the answer is straightforward. "Anyone can get in touch with us and send in their portfolio of work. What we look for, the key element, is originality. It's not about sales statistics, it's about offering things with unique artistic value. We don't want to follow the crowd," states Anna categorically.
Their products range from blouses and t-shirts to table and lamps, even music and films created by young aspiring film-makers. "We love promoting new musical talent, especially those people who haven't been noticed yet because they don't have enough money to get their stuff heard. With the homemade films, we sell the ones we think are brave and unique. We are talent hunters: artists and creators do approach us, but we will actively comb the market as well, in search of that special something," she adds. The only pre-requisite for objects to make it into the mix, is that they are conceived, developed and nurtured by Polish hearts and minds.
bucking the trend
The concept does not encourage rejection of the foreign. The point is to empower local, to identify it and give it the recognition it deserves within its own birthplace. It is a type of positive discrimination, aimed at promoting the homemade in its own home, to reclaim a positive sense of 'Polishness' which has been absent for so long. "There are a lot of really amazing, creative people in Poland, crafting pieces with the same high quality as can be found in boutiques across the globe. In these Internet-dominated times, we can buy products made on the other side of the world whenever we want. We are committed to pushing our own artists, who are damn good at what they do, into that sphere." Anna's reasoning pre-empts any claims that the focus of IdeaFix is too limiting. But products are not sold here; the value of Polish culture is.
And it doesn't hurt that wearing Polish labels happens to be on trend at the moment. "But it's not about thinking that Polish is better than the rest! Just that it is worthy of being up there with the rest, it can be an equal player," insists Anna. "When the communist era ended in Poland, suddenly all this popularity for western products was unleashed. Now we're coming back again," she adds, smiling. "Polish is selling."
a triumphant fashion show
The warehouse is teeming with guests, sipping on cocktails prepared by the barmen while they wait for the show to begin. Anna has invited us to one of the shows exhibiting the latest creations to hit the shop.
"Are you guys bloggers as well?!" Canadian writer Lauren Luxenberg approaches us excitedly, author of the popular Style Savage fashion blog. She is in Krakow with a friend, and came across IdeaFix in one of the city's tourist guides. "We had to come and check out the shop, and Anna was kind enough to invite us to the fashion show," she tells us. It seems the IdeaFix team has pitched their concept to perfection. Countless tourist guides, from Japan to Scandinavia, are spreading the news about this one little shop in Krakow and their quality, homespun pride. On a creative level, Poland is proving itself worthy of playing with the big kids.
this article is part of a special series devoted to krakow. it's part of eutopia: time to vote, a project run by cafébabel in partnership with the hippocrene foundation, the european commission, the ministry of foreign affairs and the evens foundation.