Bulgarian Textile History

The textile and apparel industry in Bulgaria is the second most important industry in the country, after the tourism. It includes over 3000 small and medium companies, which employ approximately 170 000 people, having one of the highest shares in employment – 22.4%. 

The production of textile has its roots from ancient times, but its rate of development and production scales at the end of the 18th and early 19th century when the industrial revolution introduces the machine technology. However, the rich Bulgarian history of the textile starts with the handmade production of string and fabric from the Neolithic era, where the full process was done within the household for the need of the family and with no mass-production known at the time.

The history itself is large, full with amazing facts and details as the one that almost up to the fall of the socialist government in 1989, no fabrics are mass imported in the country and Bulgaria produces almost all types of fibers:

  1. Fibers from animal origin – wool, wave fibers (sheep, goats, rabbits), silk (from the cocoons of the silkworm);
  2. Textile from vegetable origin – cotton, flax, jute, entire plants – grass/ straw, hemp, linen;
  3. Fabrics of synthetic origin – polyester, nylon, lycra, spandex, acrylic;
  4. Textile of mineral origin – glass/ glass wool, metal, asbestos and basalt.

This leads to specialization of different sectors of the textile industry, creating a full cycle of creation, processing and production of different types of fabric - silk - the process of breeding silkworm, the silk thread extraction, production of silk fabrics and silk creation of works; mutafchiystvo – the processing of using goat hair from looking after goats to extracting their hair into fine strings for weaving; homespun, braiding, carpet weaving. Carpet weaving is one of the most beautiful Bulgarian crafts of making unique carpets, which is practiced today with both varieties in the production of carpets - Chiprovtsi and Kotel carpets, the clothing decoration of the traditional Bulgarian embroidery representing a unique harmony of shapes and colors. Cotton clothing is also an artistic craft of embossing decoration of fabrics - an activity that has been widely advocated in small family proceedings decoration of fabrics produced for own needs and for sale.

With regards to the purpose of this report, we will look more closely at two names from the Bulgarian History of Textile: Dobri Zhelyazkov and George Mitev.

Dobri Zhelyazkov

The Textile Factory of Dobri Zhelyazkov

The first ever factory in Bulgaria was founded in Sliven by Dobri Zhelyazkov – his notability lies not only for the foundation of a factory but starting the whole textile industry as such in the Bulgarian land – still under Ottoman rule at the time. Dobri Zhelyazkov is born in the 1800 in Sliven and initially deals with the pastry, which most likely has been his father's business. However, the son soon starts dealing with homespun - production and marketing of handmade woven wool fabrics. At the time homespun is widely spread in Sliven region because of the natural resources of the area - there are many wool (sheep) and rivers of water with the right chemical composition especially suitable for the processing of wool. In 1829 Zheliazkov goes to Ukraine, Ekaterinoslav (Dnepropetrovsk today), where the young man studies the production and textile industry in general, returning to Bulgaria with schemes of textile machinery as well as parts of them hidden around his luggage – as of the Ottoman rules, importation of machinery from other countries has been strictly prohibited.

In 1833 Zheliazkov is already established in Sliven, creating a small workshop for the production of textiles, which is revolutionary in the sense of transition from home-made production to industrial production. The small factory separates facilities as spinning, weaving and dyeing. This is the start of the Bulgarian textile industry.

Dobri Zelyazkov goes beyond the small factory - he dares to present its production of textile and fabrics to the Sultan - Mahmud II. who is extremely impressed with the quality and makes a important judgment about the potential financial benefits of such activities within the Ottoman Empire. With a decree from the Sultan, Zelyazkov receives tax exemption for 10 years – and with the assignment to build and equip Sliven state (Ottoman) textile factory. 

Just in two years the manufactory is built and work begins in 1836. In 1842 the production process is expanded, a new building joins the existing one - preserved to nowadays. For its time, this is the second largest building built within the Bulgarian territory of the Ottoman Empire after the famous Rila Monastery. The factory employs 2000 workers - something unheard again in size at that period of time.

As for the manufacture of machinery for the textile industry, Bulgaria produces a number of such - band loom Yantra; automatic knitting machine, the Bulgarian invention pneunorapic weaving machine.

George Mitov

The "Prenomit" Patent of George Mitov

In 1971 a Bulgarian launches self-direction and vanguard in the production of yarns in the world - technology "Prenomit."

"Prenomit" comes from the first letters of the Bulgarian words for "spinning, new methods and technologies" and summarizes the technology to produce smooth and fancy yarns with a structure that combines the qualities of natural and chemical fibers with strength synthetic fibers, and created the basis of this method universal spinneret. Machine and yarn are the brainchild of inventor George Mitov.

 George Mitov is born in Sofia in 1925 in the family of an auto-mechanic, that explains in large degree the boy’s love for machines, mechanisms and motors. As a student in the Mechanical and electrical school in Sofia, Mitov builds an acting steam engine completely alone made all from waste materials. After completion of the Technical University in Sofia, he is recommended from a friend and begins working in the state enterprise "Cotton Industry", later Mitov moves to the Institute of Textile Industry, and then - the Ministry of Industry. However, the "laboratory environment" does not stop the inventor, whose hobby back in 1968 led to the creation of "production of torsion mechanism”. The first invention method "Prenomit" is born with core of which are hollow spindle and an element of delimiter regulator. The machine has very simple idea: three strands with varying degrees of tightness are intertwined with one another, thereby creating a spectacular yarn - a machine for fancy yarns.

The invention is first recognized in the UK - the company "Gemmill and Dunsmore Ltd." in 1974 buys the license and begins mass production of this machine. Until today, the method and all devices of "Prenomit" have received 40 patents in the US, England, Germany, France and Japan. Georgi Mitov is awarded with gold medals and diplomas from the most prestigious international exhibitions for technological and technical innovations in Geneva, Brussels, Nuremberg and others. Manufacturers of textile machines for the first time take our country as a technical partner, not just as a customer.


The Fashion Grey Economy of Bulgaria during the Socialist Era

Sewing and Knitting Fashion

Traditionally Bulgaria has always been an agricultural country with well-developed light manufacturing enterprises such as food processing and textile production. During the socialist era, however, the county’s focus suddenly is turned into the rapid development of the heavy industries – machinery production, mining and metallurgy, chemical and oil processing – sectors that dominate the Bulgarian industry until the end of the twentieth century and the crash of the socialism in the world.

At the time, the country is considered to be having “flourishing” economy, there is no unemployment, there is no inflation, people work equally and get equal pay and the “planned” economy is building a wonderful life for everyone. ‘Capitalistic” examples of business has no place and still the historic reality demonstrates something different – away from the government’s closed look and more precisely that of the Communist Party looking at everything that is happening in the country, small family businesses are developed and run. There are two rules only: 1) the business can involve only the family members and cannot employ anybody else thus not creating a “capitalistic” type of production; and 2) to not demonstrate financial wealth within the society – the idea that everyone is financially “equal” has to be supported with all means.

This is how the “grey” fashion economy in Bulgaria is created.

One would ask why fashion? There is indeed a curious fact that makes it all happen – the American company “Singer” is selling sewing machines everywhere in the country, even at the most remote villages. And with the sewing machine comes the sales representative, who will stay in the house or organizes in the village a course on how the sewing process is done. “Singer” is providing everything – from fabrics and threads, to machine accessories, service and support in the form of advice, literature, models and full-size garment’s cuts. Thus the Bulgarian woman will not only get the machine but will also get the essential knowledge on how to do the job. Singer Corp. sells sewing machines up to late 1940s. They continue to service during the socialist era and the Communist Party agrees on that, as the preference at the time is to keep people busy with their own “businesses” rather than having people thinking and talking politics.  

Making garments and producing knitwear becomes one of the easiest and most popular sector for then socialist Bulgaria to develop a small family business. The mother and daughter will construct and sew garments; grandmother will knit sweatshirts; the smaller children will be helping with cutting, ironing and wounding yarns; the men will be providing general support thus everyone will be involved and contribute to the run of the business.

The small apartment will also be divided – the main sitting room will be used to greet clients who then can sit on the couch and wait until the mother is free to see them. The one and only bedroom in this small flat will have a full-size mirror where measurements are taken and garments tried in front of the big mirror. The home will also have a separate phone line for clients only and will be working non-stop from early mornings to late evenings and in the weekend as the adults family members will still have to keep their day-time job at the big heavy-metal manufactory.

As a solely “family” business, some kind of collaboration is still created – making of garments is a slow process, the production of knitwear is even slower. Often women will gather to sew or knit together, they will easily pass clients to one-another or exchange models and full-size cuts they have succeeded to get from western sewing magazines. Clients are approached carefully and the good ones are kept for years. Recommendations at the time are essential thus every seamstress will do her best to impress and keep with quality of work. There is one fashion magazine at the time: “Woman Today” but the German magazines “Burda” and “Neckermann” are regarded as the Bible for the fashion-minded on both maker-client sides. And as long as the garment industry produces only certain type of cloths and the “grey” fashion economy of Bulgaria creates Fashion.