During meetings at Paris Fashion Week, executives from Ukrainian brands including Bevza, Katerina Kvit, Kachorovska and Chereshnivska said their production has somewhat normalized more than a year since Russia’s initial invasion, which has decimated the country. They also pointed to a new sense of unity among them, now that they’ve banded together and shared resources over several months. In fact, they said, they now see Ukraine as a budding center for Europe’s high-end tailoring and production.
Ukrainian designers in Paris
Paris has become a welcoming hub for Ukrainian brands. Seven of them that are part of the Ukraine-based Ukrainian Designers Showroom traveled to the French capital to showcase their brands, develop new connections and meet with buyers during Paris Fashion Week. They included My Sleeping Gypsy, Frolov, Olena Dats’, Chereshnivska, Kacharovska, Katerina Kvit and Paskal. Some traveled for more than 40 hours across European borders.
Several of the designers said there is still a sense of distance to being in a country where normalcy is not hard-won. “It’s just such a contrast every time I come [to Paris],” said Alina Kachorovska, CEO and co-owner of the Ukrainian fashion holding company Kacho Group, and designer of 8-year-old heritage footwear brand Kachorovska. “We also have a lot of our raw materials developed in Italy, and every time I cross the border, I want to go back home [to Ukraine] immediately. This border divides an abnormal life and a normal life. And when I come into this normal life, I feel like I’m playing pretend.”
She added, “Each year, I do a business presentation in December. The only focus I had for the company this year was to help the workers lead a happy life and to support them during this time.” The brand has 100 specialist workers, many of them male working in its factory and Kachorovska is still worried they’ll be deployed in the coming months.
Production is stabilizing in Ukraine
Production has become relatively stable for Ukrainian brands, despite some difficulties. “We are in a normal situation – not good, but normal,” said designer Katerina Kvit, whose namesake leather outerwear has a loyal customer base in Ukraine and abroad. The brand sells online through partnerships with Farfetch; Kyiv=based Tsum, Ukraine’s biggest luxury retailer; and Nordiska Kompaniet, a department store in Stockholm. “Our production is based in Kyiv, so we’ve had to deal with electricity outages.”
She added, “And there’s always the problem of people. Sourcing good workers right now is difficult.” Staffing was called out as an issue by many of the brand leaders. Brands focused on luxury-level craftsmanship claimed to be having an especially difficult time.
Many of these brand leaders said looking outside of Ukraine for production was out of the question, as they saw it. Svitlana Bevza, founder of 17-year-old luxury fashion brand Bevza, moved her children to Portugal at the start of the war and began exploring production in the country. However, soon after, she returned to Ukraine. She preferred the quality of her own country’s manufacturing and wanted to employ local workers, many of whom were out of jobs. “Within a couple of months, our ateliers were open again,” she said.
“Our spring 2023 collection was produced online via online communication with our offices in Ukraine. We went back to Ukraine to shoot the lookbook, and then we went to New York to showcase it there,” Bevza said. “Since then, our atelier in Kyiv has been the one turning out all of our samples.” The brand’s fall 2023 collection leaned heavily on local tailoring for its dramatic gowns. It also features jewelry pieces shaped like eggs as symbols of rebirth and ears of wheat to symbolize Ukraine. As the “breadbasket” of Europe, Ukraine’s blue and gold flag symbolizes its blue skies and fields of wheat.
For brands focused on upcycling, sourcing materials has become easier as time has gone on. “Ukraine has a lot of companies that sell secondhand items like jeans, and we’re just sourcing from them,” said Iryna Kokhana, co-founder of the brand Chereshnivska. The brand also produces its own hand-woven fabric from leftover materials, in collaboration with Ukrainian artist Tereza Barabash. It turns it into jackets, dresses and shirts that are featured in its collection.
In contrast, the brand’s textile prints that it started producing in Kyiv just before the war have a much longer lead time now. “We have to think more about shipping deadlines and timing, because everything takes more time, and there are always delays,” Kokhana said.
Growth in international orders
With ongoing support from the international community, Ukrainian fashion brands are seeing a rise in international orders following an order freeze in 2022. For 7-year-old Chereshnivska, which specializes in classic shirts, reworked jeans and outerwear, international orders now comprise over 60% of all orders. Formerly, 98% of the brand’s sales were made in Ukraine. Moving forward, the brand’s aim is to get more international buyers, especially in the U.S., where the majority of its online sales are currently made.
For Kvit’s part, she said her brand is now looking to sell in more concept stores around Europe and the U.S., after seeing successful sales through Farfetch and Nordiska Komapaniet. After the height of the pandemic, Katerina Kvit started to focus on limited collections, cutting production from 50 items to 20 per season.
“I had never considered [this channel] before, but my brand is well-suited for small concept stores where there is a high-end, exclusive clientele,” she said. “We are in one department store in Vienna, but I’m finding that concept stores are good business partners. For this level of product, you want to feel the quality and have a conversation with the store owners.”
Could high-end production move to Ukraine in the near future?
Many of the brands from the showroom expressed a new sense of togetherness and sharing of resources. “Previously, when you would go somewhere internationally and see other Ukrainian brands, it would be a competition,” said Kvit. “We knew each other, but we didn’t speak to each other’. Nowadays, it’s all about sharing information to keep all of us going, and sharing support. We have collective chat groups where we talk about buyers, designs, new ideas. Everybody is open.”
Bevza added, “We now talk about everything together, and share deliveries and warehouses. […] I hope we are going to move forward and create a peaceful country. The quality of tailoring in Ukraine is very good, and has real potential for the international fashion market.”
Kvit, who also runs a knitwear brand, is exploring opening a factory in Ukraine near Kyiv in the coming years, an idea that she had before the pandemic. She also provides B2B production for companies in Europe through Katerina Kvit’s current factory in Ukraine.
“A lot of our production is B2B now, because brands in Europe are impressed with our quality,” she said. “Ukraine could become a production hub like Turkey has been for high-end garments going forward. It’s not cheap to produce higher-end goods in Europe. It would be a good opportunity for the country in an area where there are a lot of skilled workers.”