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November 25, 2017
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Adnan Al-Abrash Nuñez of the label, X-Adnan, recently teamed up with couture milliner, Eva Sanchez of Vintage Waves Millinery, to open a retail space called Alameda X in Madrid's Barrio de las Letras district. Source: atwendo.com.
Dale Pedales Madrid
Inside Dale Pedales.
Photograph by Amanda Coen.

A collection of recently opened, independent businesses are reviving old neighborhoods in Madrid. State of the art cultural institutions are drawing in crowds to sold-out art exhibitions and the streets ring nightly with the buzz of celebratory youth.

This was not what I expected to find on my return to Madrid, a place I had once called home. In the three years since I left, news from Spain has been overwhelmingly pessimistic - economic unrest, a crumbling social system and astounding levels of unemployment.

With this image dominating my expectations, I returned hesitantly, unsure of whether the Madrid I once loved would still exist. Fortunately, despite the changing circumstances, a certain soul (and passion for life) still rules the streets.

An enclave of new shops are scattered throughout the city, with a large concentration in Barrio de las Letras, a neighborhood known for its literary history. Unlike Barcelona, Madrid's more conservative atmosphere made shops like these few and far between only a few years ago. However, given the current economic situation, a new sense of creativity has emerged on both an independent and institutional level, that is drastically changing the urban landscape.

Fashion designer Adnan Al-Abrash Nuñez of the label, X-Adnan, recently teamed up with couture milliner, Eva Sanchez of Vintage Waves Millinery, to open a retail space called Alameda X in Barrio de las Letras. Given the restricting economic conditions, sharing work and retail space is a resourceful solution that an increasing number of young entrepreneurs have turned to in recent years.

Nuñez explains, "With a good team that has a common set of objectives, it's easier to reach goals. It's like the mechanics of a watch - each part should undertake its task to the best of its ability knowing that it forms part of a team working towards the same goal."

Melina Carranza hard at work.
Photograph by Amanda Coen.

Nuñez is also thinking of new market possibilities. With global economies shifting, he is taking full advantage of his mixed Syrian-Spanish background. He knows the importance of looking outward for sales in the midst of Spain's economic crisis. When asked if he's more inspired by the culture or the market, Nuñez responded:

"[My inspiration] comes from both. I started working on the business and marketing side of the fashion industry and did it for many years so I have that side down. I know that for marketing to be good, it has to be real. Therefore, to be real, it has to be a part of me. For me, this is easy. I am the example. My label is an 'X' because in mathematics, X is the unknown and you always have to solve for it. We are all rather incognito and through our clothing, we each transmit what we want others to see."

The designer's latest collection features a series of chilabas (jellaba) for both Arabic and non-Arabic men. It will debut this July at MFShow MEN, the first runway show in Madrid dedicated exclusively to menswear.

Next door, Dale Pedales sells refurbished vintage bikes, something which there seems to be an increasing appreciation and demand for. A transportation price increase has inspired people to look for alternative means of getting around.

David Iglesias Resina, a former lawyer, shares the space with leather worker, Melina Carranza and tailor, Fabio Iglesias, who have set up a workshop in the back room. Carranza and Iglesias collaborate to produce made-to-measure bike wear, leather saddle packs, custom seats and bike handles. The bike shop has seen so much success that the leather and tailoring workshop will move to a new space to allow for its growth.

Movements like this and the surge in creativity I witnessed during my short return to Madrid were promising reminders of the spirit that is encapsulated by a word I learned during my first stay: vividor.

Although many of the new businesses are driven by young designers, that's not to say that the older generation is left out. Both Carranza of Dale Pedales and Nuñez have worked with a man named Juan Rojas, or "Tio Juan" as they refer to him. A neighborhood fixture, Tio Juan shares his years of leather working experience with Carranza and produces several leather bag designs for X-Adnan.

Located diagonally across the small square on which Dale Pedales and Alameda X sit, La Fabrica has grown from a gallery into a two-story, 400 meter square space that includes a library specialising in photography, an art gallery, a café and a social space dedicated to educational courses and other cultural events. The space is open to the public seven days a week and reflects how the neighborhood's literary and artistic history lives on.

A variety of shared workspaces also lend to a new feeling of collaboration rather than competition that is driving young Madrileño entrepreneurs. Just down the street from La Fabrica, a branch of HUB, a global network of shared workspaces, opened its doors just prior to my departure in 2010. With 230 members, the space is defined by a culture that values sustainability, collaboration and versatility. The centre has seen so much interest that in 2012, it expanded to create an extended workspace called HUB Up. It operates and is specially designed to enhance the centre's core founding principles and create a physical, rather than virtual space for creative encounters.

A similar sense of skill-sharing drives Teté Café Costura. The small taller (workshop) was opened in May 2011 by Teresa Barrera. Operating like a cyber café, the space features eight tables equipped with sewing machines, rather than computers, that can be rented out on an hourly basis alongside a cup of tea or coffee. Weekend and month-long workshops give those with spare time (of which there are plenty given the high level of unemployment) the opportunity to learn new skills. The space also sells its own small collection of upcycled garments which inspire others to rethink ways to transform old clothes into new designs.

La Fabrica Madrid Spain
La Fabrica. Source: thephotobook.wordpress.com.

As a scattering of new businesses appear across the city, Gema Gómez founded Slow Fashion Spain to strategically unite like-minded individuals in the fashion world. Recognising the power of numbers, Gomez is on a mission to create a "slow fashion" movement that will be truly Spanish in membership and not take short cuts. With years of experience working in textile design for major chains, or the "dark side" of the industry, Gómez is determined to change the way things are done and bring a Spanish force to the global movement.

Gómez has already made it clear that polyester and other synthetic fabrics will not be allowed into the club and is amassing a powerful group of independent designers, some of who have already made waves across the Atlantic. In May 2013, several engaged in "Slow Fashion Connection: Spain-New York," a sustainable fashion encounter organised by BEIÑSpain and co-hosted by the Ethical Fashion Academy in New York City.

Movements like this and the surge in creativity I witnessed during my short return to Madrid were promising reminders of the spirit that is encapsulated by a word I learned during my first stay: vividor. While the word can have negative connotations, what I took most from its meaning was the sense of having a certain gusto for life, of enjoying every moment as much as possible despite hard times. It is this essence that still vibrantly emanates from many crevices tucked throughout the city, demonstrating an undying resilience and sense of hope that will carry people through and continue to draw in those from afar.

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