For ten years Sasko Miladinov had worked for "Astibo", one of Stip's flagship socialist companies. Stip was known as the Manchester of Macedonia, home to large textile and clothing factories. By the mid-90s, at the peak of Macedonia's economic transition, most of these companies were buried in debts and daily strikes interrupted the work.
"Private factories were not allowed in Yugoslavia, but I was not satisfied with the income I earned. Then I saw that private companies can operate and I was convinced that I can do that too. I started my own trading company in 1994 because I had not enough investment to build a factory, but my idea had always been to start production."
In 1999 Sasko Miladinov started to produce his own shirts with a team of 150 workers. The premises he had rented quickly became too small. By 2003, he had moved his production to a newly constructed factory with production space of 5,000 square meters. Total investment costs amount to more than 5 million. Today his company "Albatros" produces 3,500 shirts per day, totalling 800,000 pieces per year. Many of its clients are top designer brands in Europe.
Speed and quality is what matters most in the highly competitive world of shirt making. "As a businessman you must be fast and flexible. If you have a new idea, you have to run with it and talk to your partners", says Miladinov. The current visa regime imposes major obstacles to businessmen like him. "Everywhere you go from Macedonia you need a visa. Sometimes we have to wait one week, sometimes 2 weeks for a visa."
For "Albatros" to compete, Miladinov explains, "we are always improving the quality of production, we change technology, we always buy new kinds of machines which are more professional and produce better quality." The entire production process, from the design to the cut and final product, is highly computerized.
It is successful companies like Albatros that triggered the recent boom in Stip, but demand for labour is quickly outstripping supply. It gets harder and harder to find qualified workers willing to work in the textile and clothing sector. Miladinov has already made plans for the future: "We have several other ideas. When building the new factory I already thought about possible other uses for it in the future."