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Arti i Zanave , handmade products by the women of the Highlands [Jun 2024]

A story told by the founder, Marjana Koceku

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The north of Albania carries invaluable natural treasures and this fact is already known to all those who have visited the country even once. But there are some shadows in this area that not everyone knows. Many families are sentenced to solitary confinement due to Blood feud, no matter how absurd it may seem in the time we live in, where even though Albania has only one valid Constitution, in many rural areas there is a canon that still breathes in silence, the Kanun of Leke Dukagjini . Being isolated, these families have little opportunity to generate income.

But, where there is shade, there is always the possibility of having light. Such is the activity that has started a young woman, Marjana, creating a brand of artisans, trying to sell handmade products made by these isolated ladies and not only. Such an initiative, which also tries to give life to the precious handicrafts by inheriting the skills from generation to generation, not only helps the artisans of this area economically, but also provides a piece of Albania for all those who buy these products. The story of “Arti i Zanave” comes from Marjana herself, who tells how this initiative started and what her calling is.

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I am raised by a mother who has always knitted and embroidered everything my siblings and I ever needed to wear. The Albanian culture is very rich and unique and artisan work is a major part of it. Since their genesis, Illyrians, the ancestors of Albanians, have been masters of crafts and wool processing and we are proudly inheriting their traditions. When I was a kid, I was wearing a handmade woolen vest from late autumn to early spring and I still wear it nowadays and it’s just magical for my muscles. 

I think that “Arti i Zanave” was born with me because I have always been in love with the beautiful, authentic, and magical Albania. Being raised on the wild highlands of Dukagjin, I became one with the mother earth and I have been inspired from it, just as I am inspired by my mother and all the mothers who are inheriting these sacred traditions to us. So, the female power has always inspired me on a very divine way. 

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I saw that my mother never gave up on artisan work, she kept knitting and crocheting even though there was not a certain future for what she created and the same was for many artisan women from my highlands.

So, “Arti i Zanave” came from a really special place, from a place of inspiration and love.

After I graduated in political science and international relations, I decided to take one year off for myself and during this time I have been reflecting and thinking: what can I do something lovely, creative, and different?

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“Arti i Zanave” is an initiative that brings together artisan women from the Highlands of Northern Albania. It aims to contribute to the cultural heritage of Albania, the local economy of the highlands, the empowerment of the highlander women, and the inheritance of these sacred traditions to the generation of young people.

The products we make are all environmentally friendly, unique, and authentic. Diversity is our favorite brand, as we give life to different products, starting from bags, socks, scarfs, hats, blankets, table covers, vests, dresses, skirts, jackets, and everything you can imagine :). We work with four processes: knitting, sewing, crochet, and embroidery. The materials we use are top quality and authentic starting from the highlands wool and cotton. In order to be closer to the young generation, we are trying to integrate the modern and the traditional together, by creating different patterns and using new colors. I am finding it more and more interesting because knitting above all is spiritual and energetic work.

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The artisan women of the highlands are a great source of divine energy, while they knitt they are channeling energy from the mountain at a very high frequency. So when you buy one of our products, you are not buying only something unique and pretty, you are also getting a very high energy. Sacred Geometry is one of the prime elements of our creations. Even Xhubleta, the 4000 years old traditional highlands dress of women, holds very special patterns and unique symbols that hold messages that rarely anyone can decrypt.

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We work mostly with the expats and foreigners living in Albania and the Albanian diaspora around the world. They know the worth of the handmade better than the locals and have higher financial possibilities. People have the opportunity to order based on their preferences of colors and patterns. We do shipping all around the world so this is a great opportunity for everyone to be part of our energy :). Momentally there are 5 women part of “Arti i Zanave” and one of them is isolated from blood feud. 

There are around 30 families in isolation conditions in Shkoder, and handmade work is the only way of living for them. My vision is that one day Arti i Zanave can bring together all the artisan women of the northern Albania to create and grow together through our sacred traditions. 

Arti i Zanave is more than just an initiative or project, it is a work of hearts and hands.

Marjana Koçeku