The Winner of Challenges | Sopio Tuaevi

Throughout each stage of my life, I’ve faced numerous challenges. This began in my childhood when we first moved from Tbilisi to Akhalgori, followed by my student years in Tskhinvali, my job at the Kurti Municipality, the 2008 war, displacement, the loss of my parents, and ultimately starting anew in the completely foreign city of Gori.

Photo Credits to Sopho Papiashvili

My journey as an entrepreneur took a significant turn in 2014 when, after six years of service, I was abruptly dismissed from the Kurti administration without explanation. Their only reason was that they needed someone with more experience in my position. Despite starting as an inexperienced graduate student, I had dedicated six years to the role, braving a dangerous daily commute during which our official car could have been blown up by a landmine at any moment. Unemployment led to depression, and there were days when I didn’t even want to see my friends. After two months of struggle, I decided to find a job that would make me financially independent.

This search led me to textiles, a field I had always found therapeutic since childhood. I can see the influence of my grandmother, who used to sew Chokhas (Georgian national suits), in my passion for the work. I looked for vocational schools in Shida Kartli, received a full scholarship, and began my studies. Just two months into my education, my mother passed away. However, I found the strength to pursue the goals we had planned together.

As I considered how to acquire the funds necessary for a sewing machine, USAID announced a training program for internally displaced persons, promising a sewing machine to successful trainees. Seizing the opportunity, I completed the course and received a sewing machine. Despite societal stereotypes, I started my business in 2014 in a tiny six-square-meter space, initially focusing on clothing alterations. Within three to four months, things were going so well that I even hired a student.

My sewing room soon attracted clients such as doctors and teachers. Today, Atelier Soma not only takes individual orders but also handles corporate clients, creating uniforms in addition to women’s everyday and festive attire.

USAID is not the only organization that has transformed my life; I am particularly grateful to the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) project “Economic and social participation of vulnerable displaced and local population in the South Caucasus – EPIC”. Without their support, I can confidently say that I might not have achieved my goals so quickly. Their assistance has been invaluable, not only financially but also in terms of business knowledge. In 2018, I completed a six-month course with GIZ’s help, waking up at 6 a.m. to manage household tasks before attending classes at Mrgvali Baghi in Tbilisi by 11 a.m. This training course provided me with connections that are particularly valuable for entrepreneurs living in regional areas.

My life’s credo is continuous development, which led me to consider exporting my products. However, I knew my college education was insufficient for this endeavor, so I sought additional courses to acquire the necessary knowledge.

As the saying goes, those who seek shall find. I discovered a Tbilisi enterprise where Georgian designers’ collections were sewn on the first floor. Initially, I expected to join their team of tailors, but after an interview with supervisors, I found myself in their laboratory, bringing me one step closer to my goal. Within a year, I left the enterprise as a transformed individual, determined to start my own production in Gori.

Back in Gori, I rented a space, employed five women, and began a new venture. My mentor, Katie Bochorishvili, played an invaluable role in teaching me entrepreneurship through a joint project between the US Embassy and Innovation Agency.

We launched our own production line in October 2020 at a large-scale exhibition organized by the United Nations Women’s Organization. Kids Soma, our baby clothing line, was the first of its kind in Georgia. Our products feature only ecologically clean raw materials and embroidery, avoiding prints.

In the coming summer, we will showcase our collection in China, as the Chamber of Commerce has selected us as one of the fully funded exhibiting companies. This won’t be our first international venture; before the pandemic, we participated in a fashion week, where our holiday dresses were well-received. A Berlin-based gallery owner offered us a one-year contract to deliver mini-collections every three months, but the COVID-19 pandemic interrupted these plans.

To save my business and employees, I quickly pivoted to producing masks during the shortage. After researching mask production and consulting with the Ministry of Health, I reorganized our enterprise within days. We supplied masks to residents, police, and the Gormed clinic free of charge, while meeting the high demand from other businesses in Gori.

Overall, I am a socially conscious individual, always striving to contribute to my country’s social improvement and provide opportunities for women who have faced adversity like me.

The Article is prepared within the women empowerment campaign #ProudHer. The Campaign is implemented by the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH and funded by the European Union and German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ).