Razeta, 51, is one of the most well-known women in Pankisi Gorge, a valley region, North East of Georgia, bordering with Chechnya, where the traditions of old are strictly followed.
Razeta makes dresses, specifically national Chechen dresses, wedding dresses, clothes for graduation parties, everyday clothes, clothes for children, even curtains and bed sheets, and hijab for women. Her clothes are worn all over the gorge, even beyond.
Her workshop is in the village of Duisi, a central town of the Gorge. It is open every day from early morning till late evening.
“I love doing what I do and this is truly important,” she says.
Razeta Ozneeva is a refugee from Chechnya. She fled her home in the wake of the war and arrived in Pankisi. Now she has seven children, two boys and five girls. Her husband died several years ago.
“He was a nice, decent man. He worked hard, even here, he prepared wood for people in the winter,” she remarks.
A huge problem for Razeta and her children is that none of them have Georgian citizenship. She has lived here for approximately 16 years, but her applications are always rejected. Reasons vary, and are sometimes vague, but without citizenship, there are many barriers and problems for her family.
“We’ve applied several times, but were rejected. My son had to pay for his education himself because he wasn’t a citizen of Georgia. My children don’t have documents and it is difficult for them.”
Razeta wants to expand her business. Previously she applied for a governmental proposal, which finances small business, handing out between 5 to 15 thousand laries, but she didn’t receive the grant since she wasn’t a citizen of Georgia.
Recently, her colleagues have applied for her and she is expecting an answer. Her project proposal will ensure the employment of at least seven women.
Her daughters help her throughout the day in the workshop. It is a small, bright room, filled with colourful fabric, sewing machines, scissors, and thread, and rich with laughter.
Razeta is a charismatic speaker with a nice sense of humour, which is why people often stay longer than they anticipated.
“I brought you some jeans. You know how I am, I never measure them, so they came out too long for me,” a tall Kist man said, as he showed up.
The girls had to leave workshop so that Razeta could measure him.
“They are nice jeans, honestly,” the man said.
“If they were nice, why would you bring them to me for mending?” she replied.
Customers often come at Razeta’s shop so that she can remake clothes they’ve already purchased.
She says that she feels sorry for the girls in Pankisi.
“They have to travel to the capital, buy a dress there, then come back and ask me to remake those dresses they purchased so that they will comply with the requirements of our traditions or religion. They are Muslim, you know, they cannot wear very open clothes.”
Razeta dreams of having her own professional atelier, where women could pick and choose from anything they desired. The atelier would also have a saloon and a corner for wedding preparations.
“Women would come with their children, buy clothes; they would take a rest, eat ice-cream, then would go upstairs and order some clothes. It’s a dream you know. I would have lots of flowers there,” she says.
She would organize a school for girls at her atelier.
“It is a complicated situation for many girls to work [in Pankisi] and many girls want to study sewing, so why not?”
Razeta actually gives lessons in Duisi and Omalo. Her lessons last three hours a day and some of her students already work with her
Melsi Baghakashvili, a young woman who recruited Razeta to teach at her youth center in Omalo, says that that in the past she saw girls who wanted to buy clothes, but since people mostly wear traditional clothes in the gorge, it was hard to find them, since there were no shops or markets, and it still remains a problem. Otherwise girls have to go to the capital, which takes three hours.
“We purchased modern sewing machines and other equipment. First, learning courses lasted three months, but it continued. Now more and more girls get interested to go and study there.”
The necessity remains; to continue this work to create a traditional Vainakh dress manufacturer to supply the gorge.
Baghakashvili explains that men in the gorge hold different opinions on the topic of women’s employment. Some fathers, brothers and husbands do not desire women to work or study, but when it comes to sewing, it is considered to be ‘oddly ok.’ Increasingly, more girls have become interested in the opportunity to study the trade of sewing at Razeta’s shop, and Razeta says that she enjoys teaching them.
She notes that her father wanted her to continue her higher education at the university.
“But I always loved sewing. I went to college and then even in Chechnya, I was taking orders, I made clothes and I loved doing it,” she said.
When she came to Pankisi, she used to sew at home, but then she rented a place and it’s been more than seven years since she has been working at the workshop.
“Most of the time people know what they want, but if they don’t, they trust me to pick for them. Trust is very important and everyone trusts me.”
She never missed a deadline in her entire lifetime.
“They believe that we won’t spoil anything and they are never disappointed. We don’t just work here for one day, and it is not about money. It is about delivering quality. As a result, we have a flow of orders.”
Razeta loves the color pink, but she says that, taking her age into consideration, she ‘has to’ like darker colors. However, still, her workshop is filled with a pallet of colors.