Skopje, 25 November 2019 (MIA) – My dream job was to be a tailor. I’m delighted with my life because of the joy my work has brought me. While it was still Yugoslavia, I had twelve employees in my workshop. In the mid-1980’s, I made suits for Slovene and Montenegrin customers. I’m pleased with my success. I had a dream. I made it come true, and then some.
This is how we begin our story of Biljal Abdulovski, a tailor located on “Lazar Tanev” 16 in Skopje’s Old Bazaar. He owns his own store, and named it Gazi Baba, after the municipality where he was born.
On working for 50 years
We visited with Abdulovski one October morning. He was in front of his store, chatting with neighboring craftsmen, and greeted us with a smile. Then he told us he used to be much busier and he loved it.
“I’ve been in this craft since I was eleven. I finished fourth grade and started as an apprentice for a Turkish master tailor up until eighth grade. I went to a textile high school after that.
“More things were made by hand then, and there were more orders in the former Yugoslavia. We made bespoke suits, jackets, trousers.
“I was an apprentice for seven years. Then I went to serve in the army, and after that, I started working as an independent tailor,” Abdulovski reminisces.
When he was an apprentice, twenty-two tailors worked in the Old Bazaar. Now, he says, there are only five, and they’re barely tailors at all.
Around his store, we saw scissors, sewing machines, measuring tapes, rulers, tailor’s chalks, thimbles, needles, mannequins, an iron, and a sewing table.
In his youth, he told us, young people would plead to start working as apprentices.
“We had to beg to become apprentices. Every master had two to three. Now, you beg to get yourself an apprentice. They just won’t do it.
“When I was a child, I’d go around and say, ‘Master Nevzat took me in as an apprentice; I must be good for something.’ We were so proud back then.
“You became a barber or a carpenter, and you took great pride in it because you loved doing it,” Abdulovski says.
He told us his workshop used to be in his Gazi Baba house. He worked on the lower floor and lived on the upper floor with his family.
Over the past ten years, Abdulovski has been working with his younger brother Sabit.
He also tried to get his grandson to become a tailor, and worked with him for a year.
“He doesn’t want to do it. He sees there’s no future in this craft. Every young person wants a career where they can prosper and make some money. Everyone dreams of having some. But we have nowhere else to go. I’m sixty-one. Even if I wanted to do something else, I can’t,” Abdulovski says.
On his family
Biljal Abdulovski is from Skopje. Long ago, his father left his home village of Tisovica in the municipality of Zelenikovo and came to live to Skopje.
He comes from a low-income family. His father worked as a street cleaner, and his mother was a housewife.
Abdulovski proudly tells us about his six daughters, whom—through the work of his hands—he raised, educated, and married off.
He has twelve grandchildren: five granddaughters and seven grandsons.
Besides cutting and sewing, he tells us he’s also been climbing mountains for twenty years.
“Mountaineering is beautiful,” he says. “It makes you forget yourself. Once the smell of flowers gets into your nostrils, you can’t stop doing it. I’ve been a mountaineer for twenty years. I’ve climbed to the tops of mountains all around Macedonia, Serbia, Kosovo, Albania, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina…”
“I also walked in the Peace March of 2017, honoring the Srebrenica victims.” He remembers walking 105 kilometers then, in three days.
On making ends meet
Abdulovski tells us it’s harder now that there’s not much work. They’re barely making ends meet.
“We mainly do repairs,” Abdulovski says. “We shorten or patch up trousers, or do some other minor repairs. Hardly anyone sews. To make a suit, I charge four thousand denars for the labor. A bespoke suit takes me a week to make, but a customer can get a suit shipped all the way from China for only three thousand denars.”
He says he makes enough for a monthly paycheck. He thinks it would be even harder if he were renting the space. He sometimes works with folklore groups, making their Macedonian and Albanian folk costumes.
“We’re doing it all so we can keep a roof over our heads,” Abdulovski says.
He says his craft sometimes brings him a lot, sometimes a little, but its value is priceless, so after a while, things look up again.
“You should be prepared,” Abdulovski says. “When you make money, you’ll work even harder, you’ll turn it around and invest in capital.
“There isn’t as much work anymore; only enough to survive. But we have to think about the long run. We shouldn’t give up.”
He’s proud he has persevered in his craft, and again says he has no intention of giving it up.
His message to young people is to be honest and relentless in their work.
“Work,” he insists. “Take up the craft. Its time will come, and it’ll be worth it.”
Photos by Frosina Naskovikj
Translated by Dragana Knežević
Edited by Magdalena Reed