"Volunteering calms me down, introduces me to cool people, and gives me hope that the war will soon end with our victory": an interview with designer Valeriya Guzema
"My sense of uncertainty set a record in the first weeks of a full-scale war," recalls Valeriya Guzema, founder of Guzema Fine Jewelry. "We were driving in an unknown direction, but most importantly, away from the explosions that woke us up on February 24 in Kyiv." After a long search for the safest and most comfortable place for her large family, Valeriya ended up in Spain, but, as the designer jokes, it is just a point where she stores her things. She is always on the road – between Kyiv, where the business continues, and Barcelona, where her one-and-a-half-year-old baby is waiting for her. And a dozen other places on the map that she must visit to develop a jewelry brand.
However, Valeriya, a fragile girl with clear blue eyes, quickly overcame her anxiety and became one of the most active volunteers in the Ukrainian fashion industry. Her Guzema Foundation has continued working for the past year. Even when the Russian occupiers bombed her parents' house in Chernihiv in the first days of the Great War, Guzema continued to take care of the evacuation of employees and help others. "Several years ago, I created a charitable foundation, which took care of mostly children. Now the specialization has changed, says the designer. — First, we helped residents, soldiers, and doctors of Chernihiv Oblast, where I come from. Today, we promptly respond to the requests of military units from all over the country, purchasing drones, thermal imagers, tablets, walkie-talkies, Starlinks, cars, and much more for them."
Valeriya does not hide that it is increasingly difficult to collect financial assistance – people are getting tired, and resources are decreasing. Therefore, with the team, she invents new ways to attract the audience – even fans. First, the Patriotic Freedom collection was released, and all sales profits went to the foundation. The bestsellers of the collection are bracelets with a Ukrainian trident and chokers with neat gold hearts on blue-yellow ribbons. These are worn by the first lady of Ukraine, Olena Zelenska, the president of the European Parliament, Roberta Metzola, and the Hollywood actress with Ukrainian roots, Milla Jovovich. Promotions on Instagram are going well: thanks to the Guzema Fine Jewelry jewelry wardrobe raffle, funds were collected for five powerful drones for Ukrainian defenders.
"Volunteering calms me down, introduces me to cool people, and gives me hope that the war will soon end with our victory," says Guzema. — I know that together we are an invincible force: we work, look for contacts, and finally learn to ask for help. It is not shameful but vitally important."
Over the past year, Valeria has done a lot to develop her jewelry brand. In the spring, the company began to actively work in foreign markets, realizing that this would help keep the team, provide it with work, allow us to continue paying taxes in Ukraine, and support our struggle on the economic front. Participation in the GemGenève jewelry exhibition within the Strong & Precious platform and in numerous pop-ups throughout Europe, publications in Vogue, Condé Nast Traveler, and Forbes, and cooperation with world celebrities helped the brand to make a statement outside of Ukraine.
Until February 24, Guzema Fine Jewelry's activities were focused on the local market — according to the designer, domestic demand completely covered production facilities. The story that happened in the first days of the war eloquently testifies to the love of Ukrainian customers for the brand. "We received a message asking us to reserve one of the jewelry pieces and send the payment details as soon as possible. It turned out that at that time, our client was under fire in the basement of her own house and had a bad internet connection. Still, after seeing a discount on the necklace she had been dreaming of for a long time (we usually don't have sales), she decided to buy it anyway. Literally, despite the shooting all around," the designer recalls.
Valeriya Guzema opened a second store in Kyiv at the end of January precisely for Ukrainian clients and with the belief in the fastest possible victory. It is located in the historical part of the city, on Olhynska Street – until recently, there were boutiques of the world's leading jewelry brands. Guzema dreamed of being among them – the opening was planned for March last year but was postponed indefinitely. "Opening a new space during a war can seem crazy, and I'm aware of all the risks," says Guzema. "But at the same time, I understand more than ever that the best years of life are passing now, so dreams must come true."
Photo: Lesha Lich