We met with Viktorija Ceplike, a women entrepreneur changing the fashion production industry from the inside. VIKE is a family-run fashion manufacturer in Lithuania that celebrates their employees and tries to spark dignity and self-respect in women who make our clothes. We talk about emerging designer problems, challenges of an independent fashion manufacturer and all things in between.
Fashion Bloc: VIKE is an independent fashion manufacturer based in Lithuania. Most of your clients – international, often well-established fashion companies. How do they find out about your business?
Viktorija Ceplike: When I started working for my family business, fashion manufacturer, I travelled extensively establishing contacts in the United Kingdom, Scandinavia spreading the message about our services and trying to establish relationships with fashion agencies, designers, fashion brands. To be honest the demand for reliable manufacturers is huge. Manufacturers who have a quick turnaround, are capable of guiding the client and dealing with technical demands are sought after. It is very important to work effectively using modern technologies and avoiding all the unnecessary bureaucracy and you will be in demand.
Fashion Bloc: Do well-known fashion brands make your life easier or more complicated? Are they more demanding?
Viktorija Ceplike: Yes and no. Each client is different. The main difference is – either they know what they want and how to achieve this or they don’t. If production process inside the company is poorly managed, there is no quality control and no one is responsible for managing those processes, in general, it will be complicated to achieve a seamless working relationship. If a designer is capable of creating art on a piece of paper and have no knowledge of how to transfer his visions into reality then the process is challenging. If a designer or their team think that creativity is the only responsibility of a designer brand and they will leave the rest to the factory – the cooperation is practically impossible. If a client is eager to learn, understand the processes and wants to get involved, the result will most likely be better than anticipated.
Obviously, it is a pleasure to work with established brands who are trendsetters and are obsessed with the quality, let’s say Acne Studios. Starting with the first sketch, everything is clear, well documented and translated into the technical language. The decision-making process is quick, the design is a seamless integration with the production process, methods and technologies.
Fashion Bloc: Can you reveal any well-known client names?
Viktorija Ceplike: Acne Studios, Karen Millen, APC, Samsoe Samsoe, Filippa K – we manufacture some of the range for these clients. Mostly, our teams are responsible for pattern cutting, sewing, ironing, marking, packaging. We are proud to have supported Lithuanian designer brand Robertas Kalinkinas and Dear Freedom – some of their products have been complicated in terms of construction and fabric combinations which proves high-quality and attention to details.
Fashion Bloc: Do you remember any unconventional client requests?
Viktorija Ceplike: Anything can happen. For example, a UK-based childrenswear brand was using hand-embroidered sequined fabrics from India. We received hand-made details and a couple of bags of sequins and had to construct finished products with those details. Hand-finish has become in demand. As well as attention to the producer. Transparency. Some clients request to insert garment number and a name of the production company. Sometimes we also learn from the designers how they can turn a seemingly dull fabric into something extraordinary with the help of embellishments or prints, unexpected design details or accessories.
Fashion Bloc: How do you work with emerging brands and what is most challenging?
Viktorija Ceplike: In this case, we take production management into our hands. Obviously, it is a two-way communication, we need to understand what is the end result a client (normally, a designer) envisions. Often, we will be the ones to suggest fabrics, accessories and the production process to achieve the end result. We will then construct samples and start from there. Production management services are not part of the manufacturing services but are normally required for emerging brands. To be honest, emerging brands quite often lack any production related knowledge. Construction is not something they can do, sometimes they can’t sew. I am not trying to imply that every designer needs to sew but to have a basic understanding of garment construction is essential. Even if a designer has no clue about the construction process they at least need to be eager to learn and be a part of it and understand how their ideas become a digital sketch, a sample and a product. They need to understand how to work with different fabrics, how fabrics will change in a process. To not get involved and leave it all to the producer without understanding a thing is a huge mistake and loss of quality. Anything can be manufactured but if you’re aiming to sell a wearable product, construction is very important. Everything, from labels to packaging is a part of a process. Did you know that most of the production cannot be started without labels? Quite often they will arrive at the factory the last. Absolutely every detail matters. From the density of the stitch and the thickness of the thread to the logistics of the final product. If creativity is the only thing you care about, you are paving your way to failure.
Fashion Bloc: What is VIKE factory specialisation?
Viktorija Ceplike: We specialise in outerwear including coats, raincoats, trenchcoats, parkas. I have noticed an increasing demand for producers working with silk and velvet. We have taken on some new projects and are trying to increase operations there as well.
Fashion Bloc: Tell us about the challenges you face as an independent family-run production company.
Viktorija Ceplike: Being accountable for so many things and processes is really challenging. We run our factory as a family and we want everyone to be happy and motivated including the employees, clients and partners. Another challenge – different personalities of the team that need to be managed. Our industry is female dominated and they come from different backgrounds and experiences. Our Lithuanian women carry a lot of weight in the family and it is reflected in the workplace. The Lithuanian ecosystem for SMEs is also very challenging – we have high taxes and effectively limited budgets, salaries. At the same time, it is very complicated to employ foreign employees. We work a lot with refugee women from Ukraine and the system of employing them is unforgiving. Finally, unorganised clients, poor quality fabrics –everything that is stopping the process creates a lot of chaos. You know, it is also challenging and almost impossible to think about yourself. Running a family business we work tirelessly without counting hours, exhausting ourselves physically, psychologically and financially. At the end of the day, I have to think more about myself and my two young daughters that I am raising on my own. I need to force myself to stop, think about them and be a present mother.
Fashion Bloc: Your team is mostly women, do they follow fashion trends are they interested in fashion?
Viktorija Ceplike: I encourage our employees to take interest in what they do. I contribute to several Lithuanian magazines writing about fashion and style and share my columns with employees. We publish internal VIKE newspaper where we talk about fashion, our achievements, clients and employees. I try to share the insights of the fashion industry with our employees, inspire them and help them understand that they contribute to the success of these global fashion labels. I know that normally manufacturing industry is detached from the fashion world but this is not the case in VIKE.
Fashion Bloc: Is it true that a sewer or machinist is not a universally respected profession in Lithuania? What is your approach?
Viktorija Ceplike: Unfortunately it is very true. It is a versatile and interesting job with plenty room to improve and grow. It is also demanding and hard work that requires patience. However, many things depend on the person doing the job. If a company is well-respected and respects its employees, a lot depends on the employee – self-respect, motivation and their own understanding of this profession. For example, recently one of my employees told me she was embarrassed to tell the man on a date (who was an officer) she was a machinist. This is outrageous. She is a great specialist and can manipulate complicated machinery it is her self-confidence that stands in a way.
Fashion Bloc: How do you try to change that?
Viktorija Ceplike: A decent salary and social security is the main motivation for the specialists in this industry. We do guarantee all of that. Secondly, our employees can be sure to have an equal opportunity to progress in their careers. Only an employee who is absolutely not interested in their job will not use an opportunity to progress in their career. Naturally, we have a company culture that we preserve by inviting our employees to celebrate seasonal holidays and business anniversaries together, we nominate and celebrate best employees and never forget a birthday.