Ukraine’s Fashion Designers Are Fighting to Survive — Here’s How We Can Help
The story of Ukraine’s burgeoning fashion scene is closely linked with the nation’s struggle for independence and freedom. I’ve seen that first-hand. One decade ago, I launched my agency for designers from emerging Europe. And in the years since, Ukraine has become my personal favourite.
In February 2014, I’d made plans to attend Ukrainian Fashion Week for the first time. But The Revolution of Dignity had other plans. Often known as the Maidan Revolution, it resulted in deadly clashes between protesters and the security forces—ultimately leading to the overthrow of the pro-Russian Ukrainian government. It prevented me from going to Ukrainian Fashion Week that year, but my admiration for Ukrainian fashion talent didn’t vanish.
I visited Kyiv and Dnipro since and have met many Ukrainian designers and other creatives. Maidan brought international light to the Ukrainian fashion industry back then, helping the industry gain an international profile in the following years. But as Russia’s unprovoked war rages on and the world watches in horror, the Ukrainian fashion industry faces a struggle it hasn’t seen in modern times.
My heart aches to hear the personal stories of distress, loss, desperation, pain, and courage—definitely courage—that designers have shared with me since Russia launched its unjustified invasion. When designer Anna October called at the start of the war, I picked up with fear and anxiousness. I knew she had fled from Kyiv and was hiding in the woods with only a backpack. What was she going to tell me?
She called me to ask for help. She was already in Europe—safe—but most of her designer friends were still stuck in Ukraine, trying to flee the country. The last time I saw October was March 2019. I’d invited her to come to Vilnius as a guest speaker at a fashion business conference. She was there to share her success story with upcoming fashion brands from the post-Soviet bloc. But those were different times. She called me now to ask for help.
These designers were leaving all their life work behind—their studios, production facilities (many Ukrainian brands produce in-house), team members, unshipped stock (that international stockists can’t receive), and all their current and future revenues. Anna was already on a mission to somehow mobilise the lost souls and save the burgeoning Ukrainian fashion industry.
When I talked to October a month ago, she only wanted to save the collection of her friend, the designer Julie Paskal. But a week later, together with another friend—the well-known fashion art director Julie Pelipas—October had started developing a platform to help Ukrainian professionals from the creative industries.
As a former fashion director at Vogue Ukraine, Pelipas was mobilising the creative industry—from photographers to stylists and graphic designers—while October was creating a database for fashion brands. The database resulted in the community.bettter.us website, which profiles the professionals looking for work, financing, and much-needed industry support.
“Having been a part of the global fashion community for the last ten years, I feel responsible for my colleagues and talents from Ukraine who are now fighting for their lives and sustaining their brands. I can’t save the world, but I can support my community”, October wrote in an email.
Community.bettter.us highlights Ukraine’s talented creatives, including their current business needs, contact details, and present location. Among them is Ksenia Schnaider, who I like to call my long-term “upcycling crush”. Schnaider is currently based in Germany with her daughter.
“I was forced to leave my hometown at the beginning of the war. Since then, my daughter and I have changed a lot of places and cities. Now we are in Germany. A few days ago, I went back to Kyiv by car to pack all our collections and to meet with some of my team who are still there,” Schnaider tells me. “Luckily, we moved our stock to western Ukraine and soon will reopen our consumer sales.”
“It is hard to plan anything for the future and business as this terrible war is still ongoing.”
Like many of the designers on community.bettter.us, Schnaider is now looking for financial support to help the team members who stayed behind in Ukraine. She is currently selling ”Support Cards” that she promises to match with a gift certificate of the same value to redeem in their online store once their operations fully resume. Many designers, including October, are slowly resuming online sales.
For someone like me, who is always on the lookout for locally made and conscious labels to support, the Ukrainian fashion industry is the source.
Designers like cruelty-free Olenich (currently in Greece), vegan slow fashion queen Dzhus (presently in Poland), and provocative ready-to-wear Frolov (still in Ukraine) show that the spirit of the country’s creative community cannot be stifled.
Now more than ever, they need our support. And community.bettter.us gives us a direct line to do just that.