The Grueling Story Behind What It Takes For A Ukrainian Fashion Designer To Showcase At Fashion Week
24 Hours From Kyiv To Milan, 2 Days From Kyiv To New York, Staying An Hour From The Showroom To Save Money…It’s Not The Few Hour Flights The Rest Of The Industry Enjoys.
In the fashion world, where glamorous runways and high-profile events often steal the spotlight, it's easy to overlook the untold tales of struggle and determination behind the scenes. While jetting from one fashion capital to another may seem effortless for many, it's a heroic odyssey marked by countless hours, trials, and resourcefulness for Ukrainian fashion designers.
For women fortunate enough to leave the country to attend fashion week, that's the first step. But male Ukrainian fashion designers are bound by a different reality. They can't experience the showroom buzz because they aren't allowed to leave the country due to the looming military draft.
Whether present or not, all Ukrainian designers face the challenge of transporting their creations. These journeys are still being determined; collections can arrive in the dead of night or get snagged at the Polish border and sent back to the studio in Kyiv.
For Ukrainian fashion designers, prestigious fashion weeks in cities like Milan, New York, and Paris are far from a simple flight booking. The journey begins with the daunting task of leaving their homeland. Often, it means days of travel by train, bus, and car, sometimes devoid of Wi-Fi or the comforts of air travel.
A Ukrainian female fashion designer embarks on a 24-hour train journey from Kyiv to Europe. The 8-9 hour train ride takes her to Western Ukraine, while the train option is a 12-14 hour journey that leads to Poland without Wi-Fi. In Lviv, a driver is hired to reach the border for €185, where she crosses on foot. Then, another driver at €75 takes her to Warsaw or Krakow for a flight to Paris or Milan. The timing is a gamble, as delays are unpredictable, so booking a hotel room while waiting for the flight is often necessary. Cutting it too close could mean missing the flight and purchasing a new ticket.
Every penny is precious for these designers, who struggle to cover employee salaries and keep their businesses afloat. Bank card restrictions limit them to €300 per week, making it challenging to manage hotel and showroom costs, let alone hire services like PR agents from outside Ukraine.
Despite the challenges, designers persevere. Some sleep at friends' homes during the expensive fashion season, avoiding overpriced hotels and Airbnb rentals. These are the real stories of Ukrainian fashion designers' journeys, often leaving their children behind in the war-torn country.
Behind the scenes, designers, organizational teams, and even Ukrainian models hand-carry collections. Designers often rely on last-minute favors from friends and colleagues to overcome logistical hurdles. These efforts go beyond fashion; they impact lives. Text messages between Jen Sidary, Founder and CEO of Angelforfashion.com, and her designers consist of pleas like, 'My box didn't make it from NYC to Paris. Is anyone coming to Paris from Kyiv and hasn't left yet to bring some samples?' Ukrainian models are also part of the effort. Jen hired a model from Kyiv for Milan and Paris, which was life-changing for her as it allowed her and her boyfriend to purchase a used car. Without these jobs, she couldn't have made it happen.
The journey of Ukrainian fashion designers is a testament to their resilience and determination. It's a reminder that beyond the glamour and bright lights of the fashion world lies an untold story of sacrifice and commitment that fuels their creative passion.
Then comes the showroom period, and the designers need help transporting their collections to the next market or back to Kyiv. Jen and her team personally packed six of the eleven groups in Paris to assist designers and reduce showroom costs. On the final day of the showroom, they had friends pick up two collections at 5 p.m., setting an alarm for 4 p.m. as a precaution. While conducting appointments with top retailers, a brand called, saying a taxi to pick up their collection would arrive in two minutes. As soon as that one left, two more drivers came to collect two additional shipments. These experiences are unexpected and challenging, as brands must get creative to move their designs to the next city.
Three Cities, One Remarkable Season
The latest fashion season witnessed an extraordinary project: the seventh Ukrainian fashion brand showcasing its creativity in three of the world's most iconic fashion capitals. This ambitious endeavor, made possible by a generous grant from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), began in September 2023. Collaborating with Jen Sidary, this initiative, which started its journey two years ago in September 2021, has introduced twenty-six different Ukrainian fashion brands to international audiences. It underscores the steadfast commitment of Ukrainian designers to the creative industry.
For the first time, a record-breaking run occurred with showrooms in the vibrant cities of New York, Milan, and Paris.
Beyond the Spotlight: Ukrainian Fashion's Profound Impact
While Ukraine is often associated with its heavy machinery and defense needs, a compelling case exists for championing its creative industries, notably the fashion sector. Ukrainian fashion transcends mere clothing; it embodies the triumph of the human spirit and the boundless power of ingenuity. In the face of adversity, it symbolizes unity and resilience, providing tangible proof of art's enduring ability to inspire and unite people across borders.
In a world where the idea of a third world war was once deemed inconceivable, recent events, particularly the conflict in Ukraine, have thrust geopolitical tensions into the limelight. While the likelihood of such a conflict remains remote, it underscores the importance of safeguarding not only heavy machinery and defense sectors but also the dynamic and resilient creative industry. Ukrainian fashion, in particular, emerges as a compelling reason to rally behind this creative sector, serving as a beacon of creativity, resilience, and unity.
The influence of Ukrainian fashion extends far beyond the glitzy showcases. Ukrainian Brands proudly acknowledges the USAID COMPETITIVE ECONOMY PROGRAM in Ukraine grant awarded to Lviv Fashion Week. This recognition is a testament to Ukrainian fashion's global significance and cultural impact. It underscores the pivotal role of creativity in nurturing international understanding and cooperation, even amid geopolitical challenges.
Ukrainian fashion is a testament to what can be achieved through unwavering determination, artistic brilliance, and a spirit of unity in a world of uncertainty. It calls upon all of us to celebrate and support the creative industries that enrich our shared humanity.
T. MOSCA leads the way with its AW23-24 collection, embodying the essence of an adventurous and free-spirited woman. The collection seamlessly merges iconic dresses and suits with whimsy and elegance, featuring delicate feathers that symbolize boundless spirit and grace. KATERINA KVIT, a Ukrainian label founded in 2012, redefines leather as a second skin. Known for its ‘Pleather principle,’ the brand combines minimalist design with luxury materials and tailoring to craft timeless pieces that balance practicality with sensuality. ELENA REVA’s SS'24 COLLECTION draws inspiration from the Mother Goddess cult, harmoniously blending feminine and masculine elements. The collection showcases structured jackets, transparent chiffon dresses, woolen bustier dresses, silk suits, and bold palazzo pants with intricate fabric patterns inspired by Trypillian jug ornaments. Bobkova celebrates Ukrainian heritage with its mallow-inspired collection, embodying cultural reverence, sustainability, and empowerment. The brand’s commitment to conscious fashion production, upcycling, and handmade details underscores its dedication to craftsmanship and female empowerment. A.M.G.’s ‘X’ collection empowers modern women with timeless, eco-friendly designs crafted from premier materials like cotton, viscose, linen, and wool. The exhibition celebrates the multifaceted essence of women, offering tailored suits, vibrant summer ensembles, and elegant dresses. GASANOVA, a ready-to-wear fashion brand, effortlessly blends elegance with a playful twist, offering bold colors, textured materials, crystal-adorned gowns, and accessories that make a fashionable statement. GUDU’s SS24 collection showcases innovative cuts that accentuate individuality, transforming familiar pieces into fresh interpretations that seamlessly integrate into any wardrobe. J’AMEMME is a couture brand renowned for pure yet wearable designs characterized by architectural silhouettes and distinctive pleats. The brand’s zero-waste approach and unique fabrics symbolizing vulnerability and power have gained international acclaim. MY SLEEPING GYPSY introduces the ‘GLASS HOUSE COLLECTION,’ marrying art, architecture, and fashion in a unique blend inspired by the GLASS HOUSE by Philip Johnson. OMELIA, a Ukrainian redesign brand, celebrates the beauty of diversity. Their upcycling of vintage and surplus shirts reduces environmental waste and breathes new life into clothing items, promoting tolerance and acceptance. KULAKOVSKY, a Ukrainian brand by Artur Kulakovsky, crafts handcrafted leather goods. With roots in a family leather workshop, they redefine classic silhouettes into timeless pieces, emphasizing responsible sourcing, premium quality, and customer experience. Initially known for leather outerwear, KULAKOVSKY now offers women's clothing and accessories, all expertly handcrafted from top-quality leather. OLIZ is an ethical Ukrainian brand with a complete production cycle in Kyiv. Inspired by art and cultural heritage, their designs are handcrafted by painters and copyrighted. Committed to slow fashion, they create timeless styles using eco-friendly materials, drawing from Ukrainian folk traditions and collaborating with global artists to celebrate the country's rich cultural heritage. PODYH is a Ukrainian womenswear brand inspired by architecture, creating collections that harmoniously blend simplicity and sophistication. With a keen eye for detail, every element in their clothing is thoughtfully selected, reflecting various architectural styles and embodying the brand's unique approach, influenced by Daria Plaksyuk's background in architecture.
KACHOROVSKA, a Ukrainian shoe brand, is synonymous with comfortable, self-sufficient classic designs crafted from natural materials. Their anatomically designed footwear combines style and comfort.
DUKACHI crafts distinctive jewelry pieces that symbolize cultural heritage, with a standout collection featuring doll pendants that reimagine traditional toys as wearable art. Inspired by childhood memories and rich cultural traditions, their collection has gained significant popularity for the brand. GUNIA PROJECT is a brand that fuses traditional ethnic cultures with modern design. Their collections are a unique blend of ethnographic research and artisanal craftsmanship, creating exceptional pieces that honor tradition while being suitable for everyday life. SAMOKISH offers original handmade jewelry, combining natural stones with Italian chains to embody femininity, elegance, and inner strength. Their creations seamlessly blend natural stones with Italian chains of varying textures and sizes, representing more than just jewelry; they embody true femininity, elegance, freedom, inner strength, and beauty.