Today, nearly half of Spain’s young people have no jobs. The unemployment rate amongst youngsters aged between 16-24 has risen to 52%. Many have packed their bags and turned their face to the promising lands of Northern Europe. As the inflow continues to rise, with large vacancy in its employment market, the Venezuelan architect Merche Grosso turned the crisis into an opportunity with needles and sewing machine.
You moved to Madrid to work as an architect. But you are not practising your profession. How so?
I got fired (laughing). It was 2008 at the beginning of the crisis. The construction company I was working for, had to scale down the projects they receive. Less projects, less workers. Then I was luckily freed.
This is an unusual reaction especially in the times of crisis. Most people would be devastated. My friends were. They were super worried that I lost my job. Then, thought I’m crazy when I said I would live off craftsmanship. I always wanted to use my hands for creativity not for clicking on the mouse and drinking coffee at the office. I liked the idea of being able to create ‘things’ but not necessarily houses.
Where do you learn about craftsmanship? From your grandparents? No, not at all. My grandma would go and see racetrack, talk politics smoking her Lucky Strike. What she taught me was only how to play cards! When I was in Caracas, I did a bit of that designing for ballet and operas in the largest theatre in the city. I learned how to use the sewing machine to sew the curtain of the stage. In 2002, I moved to Barcelona to study MA in Ephemeral Architecture, a study in which art and architecture converge and craftsmanship is taught for design and architectural material like ceramic tiles. There I developed my skills.
Your first blog is Merce Grosso. I opened it couple of months after I got fired. I put all the textile work I did with my new sewing machine like bags, skirts, dresses. I also sent my collection to little shops in Spain who sells products from new designers. But I wanted to move on to raw textile production and learn knitting. Fashion design was a transitional stage. Then Black Oveja was born. Yes, dpeople would stop and bring some wool for me so I can show them how to do my work. The idea of giving lessons at Tipos Infames was born in such environment. Then I moved to another level and opened this store where I can sell the clothes and scarves I designed and at the same time teach curious people how to sew and knit.. I even make carved stamp for kids!
Why Black Oveja(Sheep)? Sheep is a very typically brand name used for knitting products. I invented the word ‘BLACK OVEJA’. Both English and Spanish. The name identifies me, my lack of language skills. I speak Spanglish in my daily life (laughing)
Did you have any business plan? No, nothing. It was a small scale work that I was experimenting. I’m horrible with numbers. My husband Alfonso who is also an architect, has been in charge of accounts and business. I only deal with creativity part.
In the midst of crisis, why would people be interested to come to your kniting and sewing workshops? I think it is about right time. When people have a standard job, they have standard lifestyles. They don’t feel the necessity for an innovation and make a change in their lives. But creativity comes out in times like this to look for opportunity for something new. I see, people are hungry for learning things. My students are between 20-40 year old women and few men. They also see the value of knitting and sewing. Because manuel hand skills in the computer times are important. It’s too easy to buy. Clothes are cheap as well. Knitting and sewing are specialities require extra money, time and skills.
You knit scarf and blanket with your students. Any interest in Yarn Bombing? I’m not a public person. I feel better indoors. I open my place for groups to do yarnbombing.I make and collect crochets but I don’t organize yarnbombing activities.
Do you think your positive Venzuelan attitude had a positive impact on your success? I don’t know if it’s because I’m stranger, architecture or Venezuelan..Maybe in Venezuela, I would never develop this project. Well obviously it’s a tropical place but also in a new country you feel the need of rebirth as a person using your skills.
Would you go back to architecture profession, if you fail to carry on this business? Nooo. Definitely not!! As I said, I’m like a gardener. I like using my hands. I love creativity. I’m not afraid to fail because I can create again or restart my old brand. .