In the sea of losses, cuts and closings Czech businesses have found themselves in, some young innovators are finding the strength and stamina to weather the economic storm. Having worked their way from the ground up and succeeded based on little money and untested ideas, these young entrepreneurs know what it takes to persevere under discouraging conditions.
Their outlook is at once hopeful and intensely pragmatic: They stress the importance of looking out for unique opportunities and taking innovative steps to reach and create new markets. They build their ideas from trial-and-error experimentation, international trends and nonstandard designs and technologies. And they understand the need for relentless dedication, energy and humour in the face of sudden setbacks. They have written their own stories, which are also instructive guides to surviving – and even doing decidedly well – during the crisis.
In 2006, the artist-designer Josefina Bakošová, then 27, opened the doors of her one-stop boutique, art workshop and design studio, Hard-de-core, a unique site where young and emerging artists can sell their work and the public can seek out original pieces to replace the cookie-cutter craftwork flooding the market.
At just 21 years old, Lukáš Tyl started up his web design and hosting services company, NETservis, with a longtime friend and at a time when the internet and online marketing were just making their presence felt in the Czech Republic.
Twenty-five-year-old college students, Martin Šampalík and Jaroslav Stuna, founded The Pub, or Pilsner Unique Bar, which offers a long-cherished beverage in a brand-new form: self-operating beer taps.
In three parts, we bring you interviews with the owners of each company.
Josefina Bakošová: Designs with a difference
This creator is generating new demand for artisanal items. Providing a place where young artists and designers can sell their work while kids and adults cultivate their talents, Hard-de-core is Prague’s first one-stop boutique and art workshop.
Before Hard-de-core, what were you doing?
I studied graphic design at the Václava Hollara art school, and after that I went to DAMU, where I took set design, costume design and puppetry.
How did Hard-de-core start?
I had this idea six years ago when I was in art school because I had, and still have, a lot of people around me making very interesting things. Nobody knows about them though because they’re only doing it for themselves. So that was one thing. On top of that, I’d taught art and painting when I was in high school, and I’d always planned to set up a gallery for young and no-name designers that could double as a site for art workshops for children and young people. Plus I have two kids; that’s another reason why I wanted to host kids’ workshops here.
Are all of the clothes and items here Czech-made? Does that include your own clothing line Chi-chi, which you showed at DesignBlok in 2007 and 2008?
Not everything is Czech. There are also items made by people elsewhere in Europe and by one girl in the US. I would like to involve more [international] participants because I think Prague is too small and everybody’s familiar with the same designers and artists. I believe Hard-de-core was the first shop of its kind, and though two or three similar places have since sprung up, they feature the same people because the [directors] came here and invited them. So I want to bring new faces on board. That’s why I’ve included artists from Holland and Germany, for example.
So when you started, how many designers and artists were featured? And how many are there today approximately?
We started with maybe 20-30 people. Today there are maybe 150.
What made you think that a young person like yourself could set up this company and make it successful? Why did you believe in the idea?
Well, I’d observed that since the revolution, more and more of the same shops were surfacing all over Prague. People knew them, and they saw them everywhere. You can go to Poland and to Germany today, and it’s still the same. And so, I knew this was a critical time. [People] want to be original; they’re looking for something other than, say, Ikea. I think it was a good time for a venture like mine.
Have things changed at all for Hard-de-core during the crisis?
Yes, it all started before Christmas. After [last autumn’s] DesignBlok, things were looking really good, but then they dried up around November. So Christmas was a very bad time for us. In the last month or so though, things have started to look up.
How is Hard-de-core different from other shops of its kind?
Well, there’s Chi-chi, my exclusive line. But another thing that is very special is the workshop for children that we run; no shop like this offers anything similar. The workshop happens one or two days per week. The rest of the time, we have our seamstresses sewing clothes in that space. You can even watch them from the street.
What are your hopes for Hard-de-core?
One thing I’d really like to see is the relocation of our store closer to the centre because although this space is nice, it’s just too far from public transport … I’d love to have the shop near Wenceslas Square or Old Town Square. But I know the rent on those places is something like CZK 200,000 per month. I think I’ll have to meet someone offering a better deal (laughs).
I’d also like to make more clothes. And I would like to do a Hard-de-core maybe in Berlin, and the same for Chi-chi. I’d love to feature one fashion show each year, but there’s a problem with money. I won’t make it this year to DesignBlok because the cost is just too high. So I’m hoping things will improve, and I’ll be looking for sponsors.
Is having your own business something you always saw yourself doing?
I used to make things in my apartment, and every time my friends would drop by, they’d tell me, “This is so great. You really need to open your own place”. I don’t know when it all started, but maybe I started to think about setting up my own space when I was around 15 or 16.