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Ukrainian Designers Join War Efforts But how long can their brands stay afloat?

After the first explosions happened in Kyiv on February 24th, 2014, designer Ivan Frolov made the decision to suspend all production completely. It takes a total of 35 people to run his clothing brand, which specializes in punky, theatrical nightclub clothes. His family and he were able to flee to safety in western Ukraine, and while his workforce is distributed around the country, a significant number of them remained in Kyiv for the duration of the conflict. They are now engaged in voluntary war work – his communications team is tasked with combating deception, while Frolov’s management is tasked with supporting refugees in being placed in shelters. The corporate is doing all it can to aid everyone financially, but the company has placed the operation on hold completely for the time being.

“At this moment, there’s no way we could even contemplate operating the company,” Frolov stated. “We’re in the middle of a battle,” says the speaker.

A number of other Ukrainian designers, including Kate Zubarieva and Asya Varetsa, the founders of the Sleeper brand; Katya Timoshenko, the founder of the womenswear brand Katimo; and designer Anna October, have opened offices in Kyiv to better serve their consumers. As Russian soldiers flooded into the nation during the first few days of the invasion, it was important to deal with immediate safety problems as quickly as possible. Their teams were then transformed to assist in combat activities, which encompassed everything from raising and donating money to joining the army, as well as time-saving efforts such as raising and donating.

In order to keep their brands and workers alive while operating outside of the United States, several businesses have turned to international expansion. As a result, the majority of Sleeper’s 120-strong workforce is comprised of young women — seamstresses, patternmakers, and other garment workers — and the company’s initial decision was to relocate them to Portugal or Istanbul, where their jobs could be continued and they could remain in their current roles.

Many of Sleeper’s employees, on the other hand, have opted to remain in Kyiv, and some have even volunteered in the Ukrainian military. Despite the fact that it is uncertain how long this arrangement will remain in force, the firm has continued to pay workers’ salaries.

Sleeper was founded in 2014, the same year that Ukraine removed its pro-Russian president from his post as the country’s chief executive officer. Although the nation was mired in a seemingly never-ending battle with Russia in 2018, the brand saw significant success in the year that followed. It will do all it can to ensure that activities continue to function properly as the war continues.

According to Zubarieva, “Sleeper was formed during difficult times and is now a part of our genetic code.” In spite of these difficulties, “we are certain that we must continue to live.”

According to research undertaken by the Clean Clothes Campaign for WWD, there are around 6,000 textile enterprises in Ukraine, with a combined workforce of up to 220,000 individuals. That kind of attire is not suited for Ukrainians in the majority of cases: Approximately 90 percent of Ukrainian textiles are exported, according to UkraineInvest, a government-created body that promotes foreign investment in Ukrainian industry. “The fashion industry in Ukraine has a huge effect on how the rest of the world perceives our country,” Frolov said in a statement. ‘By carrying out our obligations, we are building bridges with others, while simultaneously expressing our creative selves and cultural heritage,’ says the author.

In addition to her primary apparel store in the heart of Kyiv’s historic district, Ms. Timothyenko also operates a production factory and café under the Katimo brand. Some of her 31 employees have been able to depart, while others have remained behind. Consequently, she has ceased production, and any revenues from orders placed on the brand’s website will be donated to the Ukrainian army’s Come Back Alive fund, which was founded in reaction to the crisis. Additionally, the revenues from her café are used to support groups that offer food and medical supplies to Ukrainians in need around the country. In her statement, she states that the firm has enough funds to keep things running for a while, but that it is not their primary priority at this time.

As Timoshenko said, “we are working hard to put the fight to an end as quickly as feasible.” In the event that this occurs, we are confident in our ability to collect the losses we have suffered.

Anna October, a fashion designer who managed to depart Kyiv after a week-long experience with the police, is now trying to keep her firm viable. She originally went to her place of employment to pick up documentation and cash, which necessitated her remaining in Kyiv for 24 hours during the siege of the capital. They then proceeded to a cottage in the woods near Romania, where she and her friends spent the night before continuing their journey. In her most recent communication, which was sent to us on March 2, she had crossed the border into Romania through Moldova and had been transferred with her team of 12 individuals to a more secure area.

The same as Frolov, she and her team are participating in a number of humanitarian efforts, but she is also looking for ways to keep her company afloat, much like Frolov. It is the specialty of this ethical clothing firm to create women’s apparel utilizing traditional knitting and embroidery techniques; she often employs older Ukrainian women to do the painstaking needlework. Although her most current collection was just recently shown at Paris Fashion Week, she has already started contacting manufacturers in Lithuania and Romania, has set up backup manufacturing, and is ready to begin collecting wholesale orders from retailers around the city. She aims to fulfill the following orders before the start of the school year: For the purpose of assisting the military, “we will take them somewhere and bring them to my country, as well as pay the corresponding taxes,” she said. An additional contribution to the army will be made by a percentage of the revenues from the website.

October’s grandmother served as a gunner during World War II, and after the war, she got into the garment industry — there was no such thing as a “designer” back then — and became well-known for it. All of these characteristics, including the ability to confront fear, regard for beauty, and a desire to make life more beautiful, I feel are imprinted in my DNA.

It was explicit in their opinion that the political fabric of their nation is intricately tied to their outfits; in fact, the clothes themselves would not exist if it weren’t for politics, according to these designers.

The country is well-known for its needlework, which includes the kind of work that is done in October. Because Ukraine served as the Soviet Union’s primary source of textile manufacturing throughout the Soviet period, the country’s textile industry was almost eliminated when the Soviet Union collapsed. But a free-trade deal with the European Union, along with an inflow of production from major fashion companies like Zara, Adidas, and Hugo Boss, helped to stabilize and strengthen the sector in the last few years.

According to Jukka Gronow, a professor emeritus of sociology at Sweden’s Uppsala University and co-author of Fashion Meets Socialism: Fashion Industry in the Soviet Union, there were many stages in the development of the Soviet fashion industry. The after World War II, it was noted that “there was an internal strife.” According to the author, regular annual fashion cycles and innovations did not properly fit into the framework of a centrally planned economy; in fact, they were almost in direct opposition to it, as the author points out.

As seen by their work, the post-Soviet generation of designers has either bent or overtly rejected the ideals of its predecessors, leaning more toward the controversial than anything else.

“It is our birthright to be Ukrainian citizens,” says Frolov. “In contrast to past conservatism, we were free to do anything we pleased since there was nothing to stand in our way,” says the author.

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