It’s a bright beautiful day during Mercedes Benz Fashion Week Tbilisi andd I’m on my way to meet Nica Machavariani, a 17-year-old girl I met on Instagram. Machavariani owns WASTED Concept Store, which she opened last November with five of her friends in her junior class. As in high school.
She meets me with her boyfriend, and they walk me to the store which is tucked away in a basement on a tree-lined side street in the center of the city. “We’ve always liked thrift shopping, and people were asking where they could buy our clothes, so we decided to open a shop,” she said, currently wearing an oversized white shirt she stole from her grandfather tucked beneath a silk camisole. “Believe it or not, wearing vintage is unique here.”
When the girls first opened up shop six months ago, they got 2,000 likes on their Facebook page and completely sold out, all by the end of their first day.
“Growing up here we didn’t really have stuff like this,” said Machavariani. “We had one store everyone went to, and Zara only opened up about 2 years ago,” she added, adjusting the dog collar fastened around her calf.
Working with a limited budget, the three large subterranean rooms are filled with carefully curated racks of clothing, accessories, and art donated by their friends, such as paintings and a triangular sign which bears the store’s name.
The register is propped on a pile of plywood they “stole from the streets,” and unplugged vintage refrigerators and screen-less televisions are used as clothing displays. Keeping within the aesthetic of a high-end concept store, they feature a few items that are evenly spaced on racks throughout the store.
To source their wares, the girls travel to huge flea markets hours outside of Tbilisi and sift through piles of clothes that are usually covered in dust. “It’s hard, but when you find something good it’s so worth it,” said Machavariani, referencing a pink puffer coat she loved so much she bought herself, and even occasional luxury finds from Calvin Klein, Burberry, and Dolce & Gabbana.
But their best-selling item remains fishnet stockings, which were hard to find in Georgia up until a year ago. “You have to be bold to wear fishnets here, as ridiculous as that might sound,” piped in fellow owner Pio Tsitsishvili. “To people in Georgia, fishnets have a different connotation.”
While for us the punched stockings are merely a recycled trend nearly a century old, to them it’s an emblem of freedom. “Georgia has been in an isolated state for such a long time, so it’s hard for people to understand newness,” Tsitsishvili explained.
The girls see their store as a form of rebellion against the orthodox Christian establishment that has deeply imbued conservatism into their culture, as well as post-traumatic stress from being a Soviet-controlled state for sixty years. Although Georgia declared its independence from Russia in 1991, the older generation still suffers from the fear and memories of the authoritarian occupation.
“The mentality is old fashioned and conservative here. It is really hard for people with the Soviet mentality to react to change, and most of the time their reaction is bad, to fishnet tights, to clubs—to freedom basically,” continued Tsitsishvili.
But it is the post-repressive countries such as Georgia that breed a thriving counter-culture scene, which boldly challenges the establishment in every way possible. “I have classmates that will fight you about religion until they die, and there’s tons of homophobia, but we believe things are changing,” said Machavariani.
The girls are strong-willed, and feel they have support in the form of the Georgian music scene. “Music in Georgia is a huge thing, it’s our culture basically,” said Tsitsishvili, referencing Bassiani, the mega techno club housed in a space that was formerly an underground Soviet swimming pool. “The same way Bassiani is bringing music to life again, we’re doing that with our clothing. We’re taking old clothes from years ago and bringing them to life again.”
When the girls finish manning their store on the weekends, they go to clubs or house parties, which they say are basically clubs themselves. “Tbilisi is so small, so everyone knows each other,” explained Tsitsishvili. “We have the exact same lighting as the clubs. The big clubs are only open one night a week, so we literally borrow lighting from them when they’re closed. One of our friends even designed his house just to throw parties, which go until 5 a.m. in the morning.”
I felt incredibly uncool, but I had to ask what their parents thought about this. “Oh, they’re totally fine with it—they go to clubs too,” Machavariani said, registering the shock on my face.
“They’re really young, they had us when they were our age, because there was no other source of happiness besides having a family in Soviet times,” added Tsitsishvili, as the girls walk me out of their store. “We’ve come a long way in the past twenty years, and it’s important to keep going. That’s why we have this store— it’s our ultimate expression of freedom.”