Photo-Illustration: by The Cut; Photo: Courtesy of Frolov
During the first explosions in Kiev on February 24, designer Ivan Frolov decided to stop all production. His clothing brand, which makes punky and dramatic clothes for nightlife, employs 35 people. He and his family fled to safety in western Ukraine, and although his team was scattered across the country, a significant number of them remained in Kyiv. They are now engaged in voluntary war work – his communications team fights misinformation, while Frolov’s managers help place refugees in shelters. The company is doing its best to support everyone financially, but the company is completely on hold.
“There’s no possible way we can even think about operating the business right now,” Frolov said. “We are at war.
Other Ukrainian designers — Kate Zubarieva and Asya Varetsa, the founders of Sleeper; Katya Timoshenko, the founder of the women’s clothing brand Katimo; designate Anna October — have operations in Kiev. The early days of the invasion were spent dealing with immediate security concerns as Russian troops invaded. Then they repurposed their teams to support war efforts, from raising and donating money to volunteering in the military.
Some are trying to keep their brands and staff alive outside the country. Sleeper’s workforce of 120 is mostly young women – seamstresses, pattern makers and other garment workers – and the company’s first choice was to bring them to Portugal or Istanbul. , where work could continue and they could remain employed.
But many Sleeper employees chose to stay in Kyiv; some joined the local army. The company continues to pay their salaries, but could not predict how long this arrangement might last.
Sleeper was founded in 2014, the same year Ukraine overthrew its pro-Russian president. The brand found success in 2018 as the nation was trapped in a seemingly never-ending conflict with Russia. Now he will do his best to continue his operations in the midst of a real war.
“Sleeper was created in dangerous times; it’s part of our DNA,” Zubarieva said. “But we strongly believe that even in dark times we have to live.”
researchers for the Clean Clothes Campaign Recount WWD that there are about 6,000 textile factories employing up to 220,000 Ukrainians. These clothes are, for the most part, not for Ukrainians: UkraineInvest, a government-established foreign investment promotion agency, said up to 90 percent of the country’s textiles are exported. “The Ukrainian fashion industry plays a huge role in how the world perceives our country,” Frolov said. “By doing our work, we build bridges with others, representing our creative nature and our culture.”
Tymoshenko, the founder of Katimo, has its flagship women’s clothing store, production studio and cafe in the historic district of Kiev. Some of its 31 employees escaped; some stayed. It stopped production, and from now on all income from orders placed on the brand’s website will be donated to the Ukrainian army. come back alive funds. Likewise, his cafe’s budget is used to support organizations that deliver food and medicine to Ukrainians. She says the brand has enough money to keep things afloat for a while, but right now it’s not their priority.
“We are focused on stopping the war as soon as possible,” Timoshenko said. “We are sure that after this we can recoup our losses.”
Designate Anna October is trying to maintain her business now that she has managed to escape Kiev after a week-long odyssey. She first ran to her office to collect documents and money, spending 24 hours in Kiev as she was besieged. Then she and her friends went to a house in the woods near the Romanian border. When she spoke to us on March 2, she had passed through Moldavia to Romania; his team of 12 had been brought to safety.
Like Frolov, she and her employees work on various humanitarian efforts, but she’s also looking for ways to keep her business afloat. She specializes in ethical women’s clothing that uses traditional knitting and embroidery techniques; she often employs elderly Ukrainian women to do the intensive manual work. Her latest collection was shown during Paris Fashion Week just a few weeks ago, and she is already in contact with manufacturers in Lithuania and Romania, has set up backup production and is ready to collect the wholesale orders from retailers. She plans to fulfill her pre-fall orders: “We will produce them overseas and we will deliver them and pay the taxes for it to my country to support the military,” she said. Sales of the website will also be donated to the army.
“My grandmother, in World War II, she was a shooter and – we didn’t have the word ‘designer’ – but after that she was making clothes,” October said. “So I think that bravery, and that respect for aesthetics, and the drive to make life more beautiful, I think it’s in my blood.”
These designers were clear that the political fabric of their nation is inextricably tied to their clothes; in some cases, the clothes wouldn’t exist without the politics.
The country is known for its embroidery works like those in October. During the Soviet era, Ukraine was a center of textile production for the Soviet Union, and while the industry was nearly wiped out with the collapse of the USSR, a free trade agreement with the Union European, coupled with an influx of manufacturing from the world of fashion brands such as Zara, Adidas and Hugo Boss have helped it stabilize and grow.
“There was an internal tension in the development of the Soviet fashion industry,” said Jukka Gronow, professor emeritus of sociology at Sweden’s Uppsala University and co-author of Fashion meets socialism: the fashion industry in the Soviet Union after World War II. “Regular seasonal fashion cycles and new releases didn’t really fit the system of a planned economy; one could almost say that they are antithetical to it.
The post-Soviet generation of designers overturned or outright rejected the ideals of those previous generations, leaning more towards provocation than anything else.
“We were born in a sovereign Ukraine,” Frolov said. “Unlike previous conservatism, we could do anything – we had nothing to stop us with.”