Designs for the sky, sea and everything else in between
Serbia’s Svetlana Mojic is a woman in a predominantly male bastion. She designs the interiors for yachts and aeroplanes. Her passion for yachts began years ago when she represented Serbia in sailing events across the world. From sailor to owning a sailing empire (of sorts) could well sum up her career. Not discriminated against yet, Svetlana has had a good run with the business barring the bureaucracy, which she does say, gives her a ‘lot of headache’.
Svetlana Mojic was studying Architecture in the Serbian city of Novi Sad in 2007. Novi Sad, on the banks of the River Danube, is the second largest city in Serbia. She was an active sailor and represented her country in international sailing events. It was during her Architecture course that she realised what she wanted to do with her life. Svetlana wanted to design the interiors of yachts; she wanted to weld her passion for sailing and architecture. This was in 2007. Today, in 2016, she owns a four-member award-winning studio specialising in interior designing and external styling of yachts — ‘Salt&Water’.
It might strike as odd for someone to dabble in sailing and yacht designing in a landlocked country like Serbia. But Serbia wasn’t landlocked, to begin with. Serbia was a part of Yugoslavia, which had its own long Adriatic coast. With the disintegration of Yugoslavia that began in 1990’s the coastal belt began to shrink. And with the independence of Montenegro in 2006, the last access to the coast was lost.
This loss, however, wasn’t going to be a detriment to the resolute Svetlana. Strong willed and of a cheerful disposition, she started young. Her talents were recognised before she graduated; an American design firm based out of Herceg Novi, a coastal town of Montenegro, took her under their wings where she worked for few years. While working at the firm she won a prestigious scholarship for a yacht design masters course in Venice. “I was pretty sure about my decision to come back to Serbia and start my own business. During my course, I was in touch with shipyards and engineers back home. And there was a demand for my kind of work,” she says. Thus came Salt&Water. Her studio hasn’t restricted themselves to yachts; they do residential interiors as well.
The awards first came in from an unexpected quarter. Svetlana designed the interiors of Boeing 787 VIP; the client liked it so much that he entered her name for the ‘International Yacht & Aviation Awards 2014’. Her two-member team (later became a four-member team) pipped firms with several thousands of employees to walk away with the prize. This was just the beginning. Soon her projects began to get noticed and she was being recognised for innovative designs.
Though yachting and sailing is a male stronghold, Svetlana has never faced discrimination. “’Men are always surprised to see a Balkan woman so well acquainted with ‘their world’. They do their best to help. The most important thing for clients is when you appreciate their time and understand their requirements,” Svetlana points out.
What does give her a headache is the country’s bureaucracy — a bureaucracy so abundant and complicated that it discourages domestic and foreign investors not only in Serbia but the whole region of south-east Europe. A recent picture, uploaded on facebook, by an entrepreneur was most telling of the state of starting-up in the Balkans — He published a photograph with two sets of papers. One thin, that showed the number of documents needed to start a business in Germany and the other almost ten times as thick, showing how many documents one needed to open up the same business in the Balkans. “In our region, a complicated bureaucracy is a classical problem. One always needs to be prepared for that sort of a challenge,” says the Serbian entrepreneur.
What keeps the Serb going is a thought that is etched in her mind. “I strongly believe if one is persistent and dedicated, the solutions will come. I think every entrepreneur should surround themselves with experts from various sectors to whom they can talk to at any given moment and get the best results,” Svetlana advises. On some days Svetlana has a 10-hour workday; the work of the entrepreneur never actually ends, she is quick to add. “On the other hand, it is a great incentive.”
Serbia has many financial and support programmes for women offered by the state as well as different associations. But Svetlana reveals that she has neither received any help from the state nor the local administration. But with the number of international clients her firm boasts of, it is no wonder she doesn’t need that extra push from the state. “In the sense of support, ‘ Association of Business Women in Serbia‘ helped me the most,” says Svetlana.
She advises to women, when it comes to business, to be persistent, start with small steps, and believe in them. The problem with the education system in Serbia, regarding encouraging entrepreneurial spirit, in her opinion is, that it doesn’t prepare the youths for challenges they would be faced in business. This makes it difficult for individuals to step into a world of business and successfully wade through the global competition. “This problem should be nipped in the bud. From the beginning, girls and boys should be motivated to do big things. They should be taught that trying and hard work is crucial not just for business but also for personal success,” she says.
Svetlana has big plans for her company. “We want to increase the number of inspiring projects. We are also hoping our project ‘Floating Hotel with Catamarans Apartments’, which had a good response from potential clients — mostly restaurant entrepreneurs and foreigners who love nature, will do well. We are on the search for investors for this project.”