NEW YORK – Success has always come from a blend of hard work and talent with good luck. Maria Prastakou is the founder and Managing Director of 180DEGREES, a brand of apparel and accessories. She worked hard to establish her store in Glyfada, but a chance encounter helped open doors to the challenging but lucrative American market.
Dr. Evie Giannakakou was shopping during a trip to Athens and entered the 180DEGREES store. “She saw our work and she loved it,” Prastakou told TNH.
“She invited us to visit the recent Greek Festival of the Church of St. John the Theologian in Tenafly, NJ which was an amazing move for us,” Prastakou said. When Giannakakou spoke with Stavros Soussou, the chairman of the festival, he became excited about the idea of a Greek designer to come to the U.S. to present her clothes
Dr. Giannakakou opened her home to Prastakou. “She helped us with everything even though she did not know us yet,” the latter said.
They then began to talk to other people about Prastakou’s work and connecting us with others in and outside. the community
“Everybody helped out…including people whom we met at the festival – it was amazing”
They stayed for two weeks, and although they only came for the festival, the second week was an amazing time of meetings with people all over New York and New Jersey who were interested in her clothes, including meetings at boutiques and showrooms – some of which bought out clothes straight away.
CONVERTIBLES DESIGNED FOR LIVING, NOT DRIVING
Prastakou’ creations are a re-invention of clothing.
Most of her pieces have two or three modes, but one of her dresses can be worn in nine different ways. One item can be worn in six different ways: as a top, a skirt and short.
“We design our clothes to look beautiful in each of its modes,” which is more challenging that it sounds. The has designed three bags that turns into dresses.
They have four collections so far and each has different convertible and transformable clothes.
She has a strong desire to explore and create new things. She took her first steps in the fashion world by making her own dresses for her dolls as a child and transforming her jeans into skirts as a teenager, but that is where her path veers away from her colleagues’.
Breakthroughs often are made by people who combine areas interest that few share. Prastakou enjoys mathematics, especially geometry, and “In school I was strong in arts and engineering. It relates to what I do now because the clothes I design are not strictly fashion.”
One wonders what kinds of clothes Da Vinci might have created.
The engineers in her family are not in the structural or mechanical areas, but as computer scientists and electrical engineers, math excellence is require, and that includes geometry, so the ability to manipulate objects in space in her imagination vital to her work has genetic roots. Her visual and aesthetic genes must lurk in her siblings DNA too – she has two younger talented siblings, two sisters and a brother, but they are not in the arts – Prastakou is the family’s artistic miracle.
Her, proud father Gregory Prastakou, is Dean of the Wesley J. Howe School of Technology Management at Stevens Institute of Technology, and her mother is in the consumer electronics industry in Greece.
Prastakou and her family know the Greek business environment well, and she was blunt about its realities.
It is still a difficult place for entrepreneurs – reforms, what reforms – but crises make some people better. “Any problems one would encounter with a company in ten years, I have experienced in one,” that’s giving me a lot of strength.”
There are not many startups in fashion, but she connected with pioneers in other areas when her company won a competition for young entrepreneurs called EGG – Enter, go, grow, sponsored by Eurobank and Corallia.
The program gives them a chance to be part of an incubator program that offers free work space, tech, legal and accounting support, and mentoring. There are no direct money grants, but the services are very valuable.
“I was in a space working with 20 other amazing people working on projects. We were all fighting for what we wanted to do, but we also supported each other.”
The mentoring was especially valuable. “My mentor was an amazing woman who helped me visualize what I wanted to do. She helped with strategy and planning and business development,” Prastakou said.
So there are people building a new Greece, but “in terms of bureaucracy, Greece has a lot more steps ahead of her to make it easy to have a company.”
“In the states it is so different. It was so much easier to bring the products. I didn’t have to bring all my receipts to the IRS. In Greece before you start selling you still have to go to five different places for approval,” she groaned.
“But it’s not just government that is different, it’s also the people,” she admitted. “What really impressed me when I came to the States was that people wanted to connect me with others. It was a strong community feeling ‘I love what you do. Let me connect you with this other person’ – and they followed up and actually did it.”
“That is something that in Greece we don’t have. It’s amazing that Greeks in the States have that, but people in Greece don’t have that…they don’t try to make things easier for others unless they can gain from it, whether it is government or people doing business…even if they are not competitors.”
“It is very difficult for me to say this about my people,” she said, but she herself is proof that things can change.
Prastakou has already told the people running the incubator that she wants to share her experience with everyone else, so her altruistic side is strong, but her competitive streak was sharpened in America.
She is very fired up and will be back soon with more items and her new collection.