From wooden glasses to honey, some Greeks innovating to survive

Tue Jul 12, 2016 7:48am EDT
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By Michele Kambas and Lefteris Papadimas

ATHENS (Reuters) - If necessity is the mother of invention, eight years of a crippling recession and dwindling work prospects has compelled at least some Greeks to reboot, switch professions and innovate to survive.

From the island of Syros, handmade wooden spectacle frames are proving a hit with hipsters in Europe and beyond. Gold-infused organic honey from the rolling hills of Evoia in the east is finding favor with upmarket clients in the United States, London, Hong Kong and the United Arab Emirates. And in an Athens suburb, a carpenter turned to his lifetime hobby of crafting fishing spearguns after his business faltered. His first client was from Russia.

Dimitris Hatzirodos, whose spearguns retail between 450 and 1,500 euros, said the crisis is forcing Greeks to think outside the box.

"When things get tough it gets you thinking, you start thinking differently. When things are easy nobody ever makes difficult choices," he says, sitting in the workshop that he and his brother inherited from their father.

More than 400,000 Greeks have emigrated abroad since the country's financial crisis started in 2009. Those who stayed are lucky to find jobs -- a quarter of the population is unemployed, and earnings have fallen on average 40 percent. National output has fallen by a quarter since 2008.

Periklis Therrios, 36, briefly migrated to Canada. But home beckoned.

He and his partner Eleni Vakondiou, 37, turned to making hand-crafted spectacle frames around 2012, some of them using recycled materials. The idea came over a coffee, after earlier endeavors with furniture flopped.

"It was very difficult, and there were many times when we thought about giving up, but we believed in our efforts, we believed that we would make a product that could stand on its own in the market," said Vakondiou.   Continued...

A worker adds edible gold to thyme honey at the Stayia Farm factory in Chalkida, on the island of Evia, Greece, June 28, 2016. Picture taken June 28, 2016.  REUTERS/Yannis Behrakis