Ukrainian Designers Unleashed A Year After The Russian Invasion, Fashion Finds Its Voice

Ukrainian designers

Russia invaded Ukraine about a year ago, starting a conflict that has caused the nation great suffering. Several industries, especially the fashion world, were significantly impacted by this invasion. It was challenging for businesses to function and for creatives to deal with the loss of cultural sites due to the conflict’s blackouts, power outages, and communication disruptions.

However, amidst the pain and uncertainty, Ukrainian designers have shown incredible resilience. They don’t let the invasion crush their creative soul; it’s as if they were born with resistance in their blood. The tales of five Ukrainian designers who overcame obstacles and found inspiration in the middle of chaos will be explored in this blog.

In addition to showcasing their extraordinary talent, these designers have preserved key elements of Ukrainian culture and empowered women via their creations. Stay tuned to find out what the future holds for Ukrainian fashion realities look as well as how they have transformed obstacles into superpower.

Ukrainian Designer’s Resilience

It has been a year since Russia invaded, but amidst the turmoil, the fashion industry in Ukraine has stood strong, showcasing resilience and creativity in the face of hardship. Let me introduce you ainian designers who have managed to find inspiration and hope.

First up is Lasha Mdinaradze, the creative director of Gudu, has maintained a fairly regular daily routine despite the challenging times.  He acknowledges the difficulties caused by power blackouts that disrupt work planning but believes that understanding the harsh conditions faced by Ukrainian defenders puts these problems into perspective. He has channeled his energy into creating upcycled denim and patchwork pieces that reflect the country’s stories. In Ukraine, they humorously claim to have overcome procrastination, as there’s no time for long reflections everything needs to be addressed promptly.

Staying in Kyiv was an obvious choice for Mdinaradze, as he couldn’t fathom going to a safe place and remotely guiding his team. He believes that Gudu’s united front has become its greatest strength as the Ukrainian fashion industry gains recognition globally. The label has attracted new buyers and customers, partly due to presenting Gudu’s work in New York and Budapest. What once scared them in February now brings optimism, as they have clear goals and are actively pursuing them.

Designer’s Stories

Then we have Dima Ievenko, the founder of Ienki, has been based in Milan since the war began, while his team members are scattered across Europe, the US, and Canada. Despite the challenging times, Ievenko is proud of how they successfully restructured their business while maintaining their employee count. Ienki Ienki is known for its colorful and technically advanced puffer jackets, even outfitting members of the National Antarctic Scientific Centre of Ukraine.

Before the war, the brand was headquartered in Kyiv, but they have since relocated their manufacturing facilities to safer regions in Ukraine, such as Ternopil and Cherkasy. In October 2022, their Ukrainian based employees faced countrywide power outages resulting from the Russian invasion, enduring only two to three hours of electricity per day. To overcome this, they acquired and installed generators powered by diesel fuel. Ievenko sees their renewed commitment to creating fashion as a symbol of resistance, calling it their battlefield.

Next on the list is Julia Bogdan, a Kyiv based designer known for her brand “Six”, faced a significant shift in her business as her clients left the country due to the war. She had to adapt by moving private fittings online, which was a challenge for a designer who values personal interaction with her loyal customers. It took two months for her and her team to transition to this new digital reality and establish tech driven atelier skills to continue delivering bespoke Six pieces remotely.

Julia is proud of her team’s resilience and bravery, as they all chose to remain in Kyiv despite the conflict. Their united spirit allowed her to retain her entire atelier staff and deliver all orders on time, a feat not all Ukrainian businesses have achieved. This experience has given her a renewed perspective on Six’s position in the fashion world.

She believes that they are worthy of representation in Europe and are determined to showcase their expertise. Julia is using her current situation as an opportunity to raise awareness about Six’s exceptional craftsmanship, through pop up events in London and Paris. She feels seen, heard, and respected and hopes the same for her fellow designers. She strongly believes that this is just the beginning for the Ukrainian fashion industry, a time of discoveries that they cannot afford to miss.

Then another designer Yana Olenich, an Odessa born designer, made a perilous solo journey of 300 miles in her Range Rover over three days through military checkpoints to reach safety in Greece after the outbreak of war in February 2022. However, she later returned to Kyiv, where her eponymous women’s fashion realities look atelier is based, drawn back by the city’s resilient energy and her commitment to her team, family, and friends.

Despite the challenges, including designing collections by candlelight and enduring harsh winter conditions without amenities, Olenich now views these hardships as sources of strength and considers them a kind of superpower. Her spring 2023 collection, produced entirely in Ukraine and featuring traditional handmade embroidery from the Poltava region, reflects a sense of relief and is a tribute to Ukrainian handcraft.

Looking ahead to 2023, Yana Olenich has ambitious plans to expand her brand further, finding fulfillment in living and working in her native country despite the difficulties faced by the nation. She envisions a new adventure and project that will be an extension of the Olenich universe.

Finally, Masha Popova, a women’s wear designer who left Odessa in February 2022, has rapidly gained international recognition. She lived in Odessa since the age of 11, having grown up in the industrial town of Podilsk. In September 2022, she made her debut at London Fashion Week with a grungy and motocross inspired take on her Y2K aesthetic, reflecting the somber mood brought on by the war’s outbreak.

Popova’s London Fashion Week show was a success, attracting serious attention from buyers and the press. With an impressive list of stockists and a dedicated following, including celebrities like Dua Lipa and Bella Hadid, she now has 13 global retailers, including Dover Street Market for her spring 2023 collection. Despite the conflict in Ukraine, Popova returned to Odessa to spend time with her family and work on her upcoming fall 2023 collection, building on her current offerings. She notes that her parents have become accustomed to the ongoing conflict in the region.

These designers represent the spirit of Ukrainian fashion, a spirit that refuses to be broken by the trials of war. They are an inspiration to us all, showcasing the power of creativity and resilience. As we look to the future, we can only hope that Ukrainian fashion will continue to grow and thrive, supported by the international community.

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