Georgian SMEs with Global Outlook

In the modern world where competition is very high, a brand’s philosophy defines a lot. While until recently this mainly concerned large corporations, today a value system is important for small companies as well, and often helps them move forward. The brands we present today are united by common values: caring for children, the environment, and the ecology are the main messages of toy company Chikatai and children’s clothing company Spilow, which, along with forming the core of their sense of corporate responsibility, also responds to the challenges and goals of sustainable development.

Tamar Buighlishvili, the founder of Chikatai, and Sopho Chkhaidze, the co-founder of Spilow, talk about their businesses and what has determined the success of their recently established companies; what their plans are and how different sectors can contribute to the development of small businesses.

Tell us about your brand: how it was created and what values do you have?

Tamar Buighlishvili: Chikatai was founded in 2017. We decided to create a musical toy with a Georgian melody. This was a first on the Georgian market, and it quickly gained popularity. Along with the quality of the product, the melody by Gia Kancheli helped us greatly, the use of which we received free of charge from the composer. This increased our responsibility even more. Every toy of Chikatai is an animal, this is not accidental: we are their friends, we care for them, we protect nature, and our value system is determined by this. We started thinking about our sense of social responsibility from the very beginning. We wanted Chikatai to be more than just a toy company and to unite our customers around a bigger idea. We have many friends and associates today. This is accompanied by the quality of our products which we are constantly improving: we want to create products that are less harmful to the environment.

Sopho Chkhaidze: Caring for the environment is also important for Spilow, which is manifested in a zero-waste production line. In 2016, together with Taso Japaridze and Marinka Gharibashvili, we established a children’s clothing company. Our objective was to create quality and creative clothing for ‘mischievous’ children that would not interfere with play or restrict their freedom. The so-called Dino Hoodie turned out to be exactly this, and is now one of the most popular and best-selling products that Spilow has to offer. It helps children to transform and take on a role. For the “thorns” of this colorful hoodie, we started using first-hand waste, however a certain amount of fabric was still left over. Collaboration with Chikatai has partially solved this problem.

How did your cooperation come into being and what benefits did it bring you?

Tamar Buighlishvili: In general, it is unimaginable to work with zero loss in textile industry, so we decided to minimize this figure and create a joint line, which would set a good example for other responsible brands. The collaboration was responded to very well. By the way, musical hangers, which are made from the remnants of Spilow dresses, are most popular among consumers. This fact turned out to be important in terms of raising awareness, and many people want to cooperate with us. We plan to expand the extent of our cooperation to get more companies involved in the process.

Sopho Chkhaidze: The idea of cooperation was born almost simultaneously: we had high quality fabric, which was an additional opportunity for Chikatai to create toys. At the same time, the impact on the environment was reduced through the utilization of the waste from our production. We have always believed in successful partnership with companies of similar values. The example of Spilow and Chikatai demonstrated this well.

2020 turned out to be important for both of you: despite the pandemic, you managed to take your products to foreign markets. Chikatai has become a member of the world’s largest corporate sustainability initiative, the UN Global Compact, while the Spilow face mask has become available on Amazon UK and has been named one of the top five designer face masks by one of the most popular local publications. What does this all mean to you and what commitment does this impose on your companies?

Tamar Buighlishvili: It is a great honor for Chikatai and gives us more incentive for development. Our cooperation is in line with the UN’s 12th (Sustainable Production and Consumption) and 17th (Partnership for Sustainable Development) Goals, which are the basis for collaboration with Spilow. At first glance, corporate responsibility
of small companies like ours does not seem to change a lot from the global perspective, but, in reality, big results are achieved through such small steps.

Sopho Chkhaidze: The pandemic brought new opportunities to our company. In 2020, when there was a shortage of face masks all over the world, we decided to work in this direction. We created a reusable product from ecologically clean material, which, at the same time, was beautiful and soon became popular in Georgia. At the next stage, after sending face masks to one of our partners in England and seeing that it was well received, we decided to put them on Amazon UK. The project was successful, which, along with quality, was facilitated by the company’s sense of responsibility in terms of caring for the environment. Disposable face masks pose a serious threat to the environment, so the fact that they are made of reusable materials is important to Europeans. It is gratifying that recently there has been an interest in similar topics in Georgia and caring for a healthy environment has become a priority for many companies and organizations.

In the Georgian reality, corporate responsibility is considered a ‘duty’ of large brands, but the role of small companies is no less important: through joint efforts they will further contribute to the achievement of Sustainable Development Goals in the country. What should be done in this direction?

Tamar Buighlishvili: To solve this issue, it is important to raise consumer awareness, which is well achieved by brands like ours. The corporate responsibility of large companies is associated with high costs, while for us creativity is leading. An idea can always be interestingly packaged and disseminated, a good example
of which is the Memorandum of Understanding with the World Wildlife Fund – WWF Georgia: one of the first projects was the conservation of endangered sturgeon, aiming to raise awareness in this area. The second was also aimed at reintroducing endangered gazelles. In both cases, we sewed toy sturgeon and gazelles, the proceeds of which we used for projects that seek to preserve these animals. At the same time, we ran an information campaign: we spoke wherever we could, and that was our responsibility as concerns this topic. Alongside other things, we have set a good example of cooperation between private business and non- governmental organizations and we plan to continue the partnership in this direction.

This is a truly significant topic. Cooperation with the state is no less relevant. What is the situation in this regard?

Sopho Chkhaidze: Standing by the State is vital for small businesses. It would be good if targeted grants are allocated, because ‘cheap credit’ and similar programs in our case are not very effective. Enterprise Georgia works well, with the help of which we have been participating in international children’s clothing trade fairs since 2019. This, to a certain extent, has increased our awareness abroad.

Another mechanism of export is our online store, where anyone can buy our products from anywhere in the world, however, since shipping abroad is very expensive, this resource is still untapped. Tamar Buighlishvili: The
involvement of the state in this issue is very important, because small businesses do not have the opportunity to develop in various directions, including participation in international exhibitions. In fact, the Georgian market is too small for brands like ours. Export potential is paramount. Enterprise Georgia helps us as much as possible, however, it is not enough. The State should be more involved in the development of small business, to understand its capacity. Maybe contribution from small companies individually does not mean much for the economy of a small country, however, a completely different picture emerges considering their number.

Does the non-governmental sector support you? What is their involvement in supporting small businesses?

Tamar Buighlishvili: I must mention the support of the Economic Policy Research Center (EPRC), with whose help (from their GeClosetoEU project) last year during the pandemic we purchased certified fabric and sent our toys to a Turkish laboratory for safety testing. Grants like these are very much needed for small businesses and, ultimately, give good results. Unfortunately, small companies have little access to large grants. Everyone expects great results at once, which do not happen with one stroke of the hand.

Sopho Chkhaidze: A grant is a great help for companies like ours – the oxygen we need for surviving. Everyone who received EPRC funding knew exactly what the money was for: we registered with Amazon, which is an expensive service; Chikatai bought quality fabric and managed to get certification for the toys, while others still bought equipment. All this will eventually help the State. In this case, cooperation is important, as small businesses have a role to play in the development of the country’s economy and are trying to fulfill their mission. However, in the current situation, when we have a lot of difficulties to overcome, we also need support from the State.