Ukrainian fashion designer Anna October talks about fleeing Kyiv and maintaining her fighting spirit

Ukrainian fashion designer Anna October talks about fleeing Kyiv and maintaining her fighting spirit

Last month, Ukrainian LVMH Prize semi-finalist Anna October was about to launch her Fall/Winter 2022 collection, but in the space of two weeks she became a refugee. Now living in Paris, she tells Grace Banks how dramatically her business changed after Russia’s war on Ukraine.

Two weeks ago, the fashion designer Anna October I woke up to the sound of explosions, “I woke up in my apartment in the center of Kyiv hearing bombs, those first 24 hours of the invasion I was in Kyiv realizing that a war had started and thinking – what would I do, how would I hide from the gunfire?” October decided at that moment to flee Kiev and settle in the countryside surrounding the city: “It was a long road home in the forest we left for, but we managed to flee with friends in a car just before the tanks arrived in Kyiv. .

Since then, overnight October has been turned upside down – “It’s an animal fear you feel when you hear bomb blasts and see rockets through the window,” she says of the bombings in the Russian bomb that razed parts of Ukraine. A week ago, she made the difficult decision to leave Ukraine for Paris. “We drove to the Moldavian border, then to Romania where I flew to Paris,” she told me, “after arriving in Bucharest, I finally felt safe. But every morning starts with getting in touch with friends, colleagues and family – did everyone survive the night? “. October is based in Paris for the foreseeable future – “I just don’t know when I can go back to Ukraine” – and works to help other fashion workers in Ukraine to mobilize.

Just weeks before the Russian invasion of Ukraine a few weeks ago, October had returned from a trip to Peru. A significant part of her creative practice is inspired by travel, and she travels frequently, before returning to work in her hometown of Kiev, the only place she wanted to run her business thanks to the city’s rich history in ready-to-wear material. – wear design. “I had just returned from a month in Peru and felt very recharged, rested and healthy,” she says, “I was working on my new website and a great collaboration. Life in Kyiv was very calm and sweet, I was going to work out in the morning, then go to my office and have dinner with friends and plan future trips.

Ukraine’s capital, Kiev, is home to a group of highly talented fashion designers and Anna October is one of the most successful, with global stockists including Moda Operandi, FarFetch and SSENSE. She was nominated for the LVMH Prize in 2014, and in line with LVMH’s recent initiative to support all Ukrainian semi-finalists for the LVMH Prize, they will benefit from “access to essential financial and operational assistance”.

Although grateful for the financial support, for October it is a drop in the ocean, having invested most of her savings in her business. Yet October describes himself as having a fighting spirit “I plan to save everything, we are fighting with the circumstances to get everything out of the office in Kyiv and lose nothing. The most important thing to save is people, for everything else I have the support of my mentors. October is in the process of secretly mailing out their entire stock based at the Kyiv workshop.

She is disappointed with the global fashion industry’s lack of initiative in the face of the Ukraine invasion. “Showing a Ukrainian flag on social media is not enough. I want them to think of the Ukrainian colleagues and industry professionals who want to continue working and building their lives in this new reality. My mission is to help creative industry refugees find jobs and support businesses,” she tells me, “it’s important for the culture to keep growing, because Ukraine is so cool, we must continue. Rebuilding the country’s economy is our responsibility. And for that, we need collaborative support, not condolences.

When I ask the fashion industry what they can do to really help fashion designers in Ukraine, their opinion is pragmatic: “give designers fabrics and materials. It’s a big thing they’re missing right now and donating some gear would help a lot. The language used by many social media accounts during Russia’s war on Ukraine, calling the invasion a “conflict”, troubled her. “I want people to talk about this more and realize that this is a disaster for humanity that we must stop and avoid in the future, this is not a conflict, this is a war. And I want people get educated about the history of Ukraine and our culture and how we are established at the cutting edge of fashion.

From Paris, October now works twenty hours a day to simultaneously save his business and amplify and assist other Ukrainian fashion designers. “Fear turned into power,” she says, “and that gives me the fuel to win. I am a strong woman and this will undoubtedly make me even stronger. The designer stayed in Kyiv until she felt she had no choice but to leave. “I feel very connected to my land, to the people, to nature, to the rich cultural history. My friends and my team are my family and I feel strong with them,” she says. “I went to Paris because I can do a lot more here for my country than there. And of course I wanted to go somewhere without sirens or bombings. October is careful to note the horrific price at which this strength has come – “I would never want to get this strength at such a price,” she says, “but I’m very focused now on helping to save people’s lives. people and their work, so I barely think about emotions, I heal myself by creating.

In recent years Kyiv has become a destination for fashion design and production, with many brands working with a sustainable short supply chain model, designing, sourcing and manufacturing their collections in Ukraine. Today, after producing its collections in Kiev for more than ten years, October is looking for a new place to produce its product. “Luckily our FW22 collection was in New York for fashion week showings so we were able to fulfill orders, but now I’m looking for where to produce if we won’t be able to do it in Ukraine.”

Thoughts of what will happen to his workshop in Kiev if it is bombed are at the forefront of October’s mind. “I have a flexible business model and everything can be replaced,” she says, “only the team matters. Of course, if I lose all the stock and fabrics, it will be a big loss of money that we will repair, but I can build new operations in other countries, we thought of Estonia and Turkey. Also a major concern is how its garment makers will be treated in the future – “The new system we are going to build will make good working conditions crucial.” She operates now, she says, with a sense of fearlessness. “I feel that the future is solid. I will take the courage to achieve my biggest dreams and ambitions, because there are no more fears.