How we survived this year: Ukrainian designers and insiders speak

The last year has changed the lives of all Ukrainians. Everything has changed for citizens, the country's economy, and, in particular, the fashion industry. We asked Ukrainian designers and industry experts how the past 12 months have been for them. We received the most diverse answers – from emotional to very specific. During this time, many designers have had to relocate their businesses. They reconfigure internal processes due to shelling and blackouts. Begin global expansion, or resort to a more precise own positioning to capture niches in the domestic market after the departure of foreign players.

Litkovska

"2022 became a year that will never pass. It seeped into the blood and became part of Ukrainian DNA for many generations. It expanded the space by thousands of kilometres. It united and strengthened. It opened previously closed doors. It clarified that we are stronger and more resilient than we expected. A year in which the people around you became heroes, and admiration for them became immeasurable. A year that made you feel sharper, shine brighter, speak louder," emotionally describes the past year, designer Lilia Litkovska. In the 12 months since the full-scale invasion, she has managed a lot – she held shows in Paris, London, and Berlin, where she never tired of reminding about the events in Ukraine.

Guzema Fine Jewelry

"For 2022, we have planned many important events for the brand. The first and foremost is opening the second boutique in Kyiv, on Olhynska Street. Due to the outbreak of the Great War, we postponed its launch. Still, we did not abandon the idea completely – our doors opened at the beginning of 2023. I need to finish what I started and show everyone that life in Ukraine continues despite everything. We are here. We continue to work, develop, and pay taxes. We support our defenders at the front," says the designer Valeria Guzema, who combined the development of her brand with active volunteer work.

GUDU

"Like many other Ukrainian brands, in 2022, we focused on international development to maintain business. We show our new collections to an international audience (buyers, press, influencers) in Florence, Paris, New York, and Budapest. It allowed us to discover new markets, – recalls the brand's designer Lasha Mdinaradze. He remained in Kyiv all this time and continued to work. – Another great achievement is the start of sales in Stockholm in the spring of 2022, in the large local department store NK—their order left Ukraine after February 24. However, we still managed to deliver it to Sweden a few weeks later and show our partners. Despite everything, we continue to work and fulfil all agreements."

Olēnich

We completely decentralised production and restructured processes within the team. Due to difficulties with imports, we began to use our stock of fabrics and materials. The online store became the primary sales channel of the brand for us, and it supports the business even now. Thanks to considered business decisions, the Olēnich team managed to conduct two successful sales campaigns in 2022. Yes, we already held the spring-summer 2023 sales campaign in a physical showroom in Paris — for the first time since the beginning of the pandemic. Our wholesale sales remained approximately at the same level as in 2021. Our e-commerce, on the contrary, grew, so this is already a victory for us."

Poustovit

"Having found new representatives in Europe, the POUSTOVIT brand directed support to the SUPPORT by POUSTOVIT project, the profit from which we transfer to volunteer organisations and the Armed Forces of Ukraine. Thanks to the support of partners and the trust of customers, we collected and transferred more than ten thousand euros and handed over warm things for 215 000 hryvnias to public organisations and ground defence," designer Lilya Pustovit shares important news.

Malva Florea

The Lviv brand Malva Florea showed a new collection at Ukrainian Fashion Week two weeks before the invasion. Soon a new stage began for designer Malva Verbytska. She required decisive actions: moving logistics to Poland, equipping production with generators and batteries, and creating a new business strategy: "This was an important step for the brand. We are working on new markets, and a structured development strategy gives us more impetus to move forward."

ATELIER HANDMADE

"Last year is difficult to describe in a few sentences – it began with active volunteer work, we were able to organize the delivery of humanitarian aid from Europe to the hottest spots in Ukraine, and I already returned to work in April. And this was a request from my ATELIER HANDMADE team – after the first shock, they were already ready to start work, – recalls Anastasia Yershova, – Also in the summer, together with partners, I launched 'One Mria' project, a pop-up of Ukrainian brands in London to help our designers in one of the most important European markets. We have already spent two seasons of pop-ap and are ready to develop the initiative on an even larger scale".

LBK AGENCY

"When the war started, we decided to help the industry by doing what we do best – to promote the development of businesses and increase sales. It is how the idea of holding free consultations for Ukrainian brands appeared. We did not expect such a flow of applicants and conducted more than 150 consultations, about 200 hours of working time. The first meetings were more like psychological support, but later the vector of conversations changed to decisive actions. We are proud of Ukrainian entrepreneurs who contacted us during a time of uncertainty, forced emigration, and under fire from enemy missiles, aiming to save businesses and support the economy of Ukraine. Then we started cooperation with more than 20 brands and now actively take care of their development, – says the founder of LBKAgency Alyona Grinchenko. – What we did not expect and were pleasantly surprised that some of our brands already recovered sales on the Ukrainian market in August 2022. And some even exceeded pre-war indicators."

FROLOV

"We held professional events at the most important Fashion Weeks: Milan, Paris, and New York. We used fashion to visualise young creative Ukraine and presented it to the world. We launched a charity project that collected over 1.5 million UAH to help Ukrainian charitable funds", Ukrainian designer Ivan Frolov succinctly describes his successes. Also, the FROLOV brand managed to increase its global recognition significantly. The dress of the Ukrainian brand became one of the images at Beyoncé's first performance after a break of several years. In addition, Ivan Frolov participated in developing costumes for the new music video of the singer Sam Smith. At the time of writing this article, it has been viewed 12 million times on YouTube.

T.Mosca

"When we realised that the percentage of orders in Ukraine fell sharply, we started thinking about how to diversify sales channels," comments the designer of the T.Mosca brand, Oksana Shapovalova. Co-founder of the brand, Kateryna Kvit, adds: "To stand out in a highly competitive environment and make foreign consumers fall in love with the brand, the team started working on rebranding. Currently, T. Mosca and Katerina Kvit have new sales points in Milan and London, and the indicators on the Ukrainian market are -25% from pre-war times".

Alice K

The focus of fashion businesses on local development was not lost. It is demonstrated by the example of the ambitious brand Alice K. Thanks to a clear concept and vector of actions, a brand's level of trust and recognition in Ukraine has grown significantly. After the release of many mass markets, people began to pay more attention to Ukrainian brands, thereby allowing us to introduce Alice K to consumers."

PASKAL

"The developed international connections have become a great advantage and support for us," says designer Yulia Pascal. Thanks to this, we created collections on the usual schedule and participated in international fashion events. We successfully spent seasons in Paris and participated in several pop-ups. A bright moment was the participation in the showcase of Ukrainian designers with the support of Vogue Ukraine, Condé Nast, the Chamber of Fashion of France, as well as Anna Wintour personally. There, you felt how strong we are when we are united and how much support Ukraine has from the world community."

WHITE RABBIT AGENCY

"During this year, we have only become more convinced of the power of an effective and appropriate communication strategy. One of the most powerful achievements for us personally was the support of the foreign press. After lunch on the first day of the full-scale invasion, we sent our entire base of contacts information about what was happening in Ukraine. Vogue Portugal was one of the first to support this information wave. Then there were numerous publications and interviews, both on behalf of the agency and together with our Ukrainian clients, – the White Rabbit agency says. – We were also impressed that most requests for our services this year were from Ukrainian brands. A real "hit" was our brand and PR mentorship program. We teach brands to build communications on their own in their specific case. The program's results are impressive – leading world publications write about Ukrainian brands. And dress stars and start collaborations dealing with retail. Significantly change and crystallise their essence, resulting from their work under our supervision. Despite the war, there is also a demand for the creation of new brands worldwide – we helped launch several during the year, particularly one Ukrainian. We also significantly deepened our work with social initiatives and cultural events — in November, we provided PR support for a cross-disciplinary cultural festival in Tbilisi. It was dedicated to the bridges between Ukrainian and Georgian cultures. Both of them have suffered for centuries from Russian imperialism. Now we are working on a Ukrainian fundraising event that will take place in a couple of weeks in New York. Significant achievements for the agency were also holding several events at Paris Fashion Week in June and September last year, and now we are actively preparing for the debut of two of our clients in Paris already at the beginning of March – Santa Brands and DiStavnitser"

ELENAREVA

"Now the world is open to the Ukrainian product, so we went online: launched advertising on the European and North American market, started cooperation with a PR agency in London and acquired clients in the B2B direction. The synergy of these tools helps the brand to advance to new markets, continuing to create collections in Ukraine," shares the experience of designer Olena Reva. After the full-scale invasion, the brand experienced a decrease in direct sales in the local market. Still, it took concrete steps to change the situation.

LESI PAK

"We believe in Ukraine, so we launched our brand at the end of 2022. Lesi Pak works in a narrow niche – handmade children's clothing, including christening dresses – says the brand's founder, Lesi Pak. – We create things that you may pass on to future generations and form continuity and traditions, which is now extremely important for modern Ukrainians. Despite all the organisational difficulties, it is important to continue forming the right meanings today. Step by step, slowly, but with a clear awareness that we are Ukrainians."

READY-TO-WEAR AGENCY

"Last year, the most stressful month for our agency was March because all important fashion media talked about the war in Ukraine through the stories of Ukrainian designers. We watched the appearances of Coco Rocha and Leonie Hanna in J'amemme while simultaneously reading the news about the attack on Kyiv. And despite the circumstances, this year, we doubled our size in terms of clients and team size. Some processes had to be rebuilt according to new realities—the logistics of samples for shoots and the exits of celebrities and influencers. Perhaps the most difficult for our clients were October and November when factories faced the lack of electricity. But now we see only optimism, the desire to work not thanks to, but against the circumstances," says Lisa Zhornik, founder of Ready-To-Wear.

ANDREEVA

"Even before the full-scale invasion, our brand was mostly focused on international markets, primarily the American one. However, all of our production is in Ukraine, so like everyone else, we faced problems with logistics, lack of materials, and blackouts," says designer Olga Andreeva. "Despite these difficulties, I understood that it was necessary to help others, so we actively sought cooperation with women forced to move from their cities and rebuild their lives. We gave them work and supported their families."

OBERIG

"In the first months of the war, we did everything to save our families and the team. When we realised that we were more or less safe, we volunteered, namely sewing important things for the front – camouflage nets and bombers. After consulting with the team, the next step decided at our own expense to make wedding rings for our heroes who are getting married in this difficult time. More than 1,950 rings have been handed over to the newlyweds from the ZSU, – says Tetyana Kondratyuk, the founder of the jewellery brand OBERIG. – We relocated production from Kharkiv to the West of Ukraine and adjusted all processes almost from scratch. Currently, we are working and sending part of the profits to the Armed Forces. In the fall, we released a new collection, "Letters that Matter," the basis of which was the sign "Zhiva" – a symbol of life and the letters of the Ukrainian and Latin alphabets. The slogan "STRENGTH IN YOU" is of great importance to a brand and each of us in Ukraine."

AISENBERG DENIM

"Fear is the enemy of achievement. While taking steps to relocate the business, I repeated this phrase to myself as a mantra and continued to move forward. This stage in the life of the company is a severe test. It is a large-scale renewal of business processes and moving in a direction with many unknowns. It took me two months to analyse market needs, reformat business processes and make this leap. My main message to all those who risk such a path is to understand clearly: relocation is a high-risk and expensive investment project. Now the brand works from Odesa (our heart and soul) and Berlin – a city that breathes freedom, recalls Tetyana Fedoseyeva, the founder of AISENBERG DENIM. – I feel a very close connection between Berlin and Ukraine. Ukrainians are democratic, emotional, individualistic, religiously, peace-loving, and, most importantly, freedom-loving and love for their land. Berlin, as a mirror, reflects many of the listed characteristics. It is also hospitable to everyone who wants to find happiness in this great city. It is multifaceted and multi-national, and the most crucial similarity is freedom. It is a city of free people. The mission of Aisenberg Denim is to carry the beauty of Made in Ukraine all over the world. We work on this every day."

FASHION OFFICE

During such a difficult time, we took the courage to become more than a PR agency for our clients – an advisor on many issues, a best friend, and a Gestalt therapist. We sincerely experienced these difficulties with each designer and business owner and are prepared to meet new challenges. And it worked – the clients did not get lost, but on the contrary, saw the light at the end of the tunnel and behind it – new ideas, projects, and inspiration. The Fashion Office family of brands included companies from Kherson, Kharkiv, Bucha, Kyiv, and Dnipro, which, despite the military operations, managed to keep the entire team, go through the complex process of relocation, and in the literal sense of the word – start everything from scratch, – Julia Smidovych and Yevgenia Portfilova from Fashion Office share their memories. – As an agency, we held a charity event in France in the first six months of the war. Organise dozens of pop-ups in Europe. Bring three brands to the American market, and hold fashion shows in Brussels and Vienna. Make star collaborations with European and Ukrainian celebrities, shoot dozens of lookbooks in Kyiv, and receive much support from the most authoritative world media. It's all inspiring. This informational support of Ukraine worldwide is a new opportunity, and difficulties always make us stronger."

GURANDA

"The war changed a lot in our life and business. There was a problem with logistics due to the occupation of Kherson. We are working tirelessly: we moved production to the West of Ukraine. The first and most important thing was finding good equipment, materials, and dressmakers, so that quality does not suffer due to relocation. Everything we worked with remained in Kherson, so I had to start everything from scratch – designer Olena Guranda. – When the deliveries from Europe were interrupted, it was essential to adjust the logistics processes. The accessories are an important part of our products. It is all hand-embroidered with decorations. Also, we are making every effort to bring the brand to the world level – we presented the collection as part of the Fashion Week in Budapest, then held a show in Brussels with the support of Ukrainian Fashion Week. Famous actresses and influencers worldwide have chosen our dresses for their appearances. We are preparing several high-profile collaborations".

FOX LINGERIE

"Since the beginning of the full-scale invasion, the priority has been to take care of our people and customers, help refugees and the army. This year opened the team's eyes to business priorities, and we finally understood the vector of development. That is why we closed all the stores in the shopping mall, continued to work online, and expanded the corner in TSUM. We are already successfully developing the B2B direction. All production was in Ukraine and remained so. We must be a Ukrainian brand to work and pay taxes here. We believe and continue to work!" says Yuliana Genzel, founder of the Fox Lingerie brand.

LADO AGENCY

"After February 24, it was more important than ever for us to talk about Ukrainian businesses on the international stage so that more foreigners would learn about them and support them financially. And we succeeded: we received dozens of publications, influencers chose our clients' items and admired Ukrainian brands. By 2022, we made high-profile events for ‎Kérastase, Guerlain, Givenchy, and Barbie. Since the beginning of the war, we have invited many local patrons, stars, and politicians to charity dinners in New York, Paris, Nice, Warsaw, and Prague. In this way, it was possible to collect more than 20 million hryvnias for the needs of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. There is no fatigue in 2023. There is only pride for all of us, the desire to develop even more and work to support each other and Ukraine," Ladik Kostandyan and Ilona Burak say.

I AM VOLYA

"The I AM VOLYA project was created in London after the start of a full-scale war in Ukraine. We wanted to gather the best designers to introduce the British to modern Ukrainian culture. It was also important to become a bridge between Ukrainians who ended up in London and the brands that everyone loves so much. I AM VOLYA features FROLOV and KSENIASCHNAIDER, who just showed new collections at London Fashion Week, and many other incredible brands. It's important for us to build communities and unite Ukrainians. That's why we hold themed pop-ups to get to know and keep in touch with ours in Britain once a season," says Maria Suant, the founder of an online boutique of Ukrainian brands in London.

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