Forced to relocate and reinvent, six Ukrainian designers displaced by war are keeping their brands alive in the most dire of circumstances.
These designers were part of the inaugural Kyiv Art & Fashion Days, held in Ukraine in October, 2021. The event was created to establish the city as a cultural epicenter where all forms of art exist both independently and collaboratively.
Stars Design Group learned of the event through a conversation with award-winning designer, Keanan Duffty on our Clothing Coulture podcast. His first hand account described a vibrant city, full of talented designers, interesting art and an eclectic music scene, all of which combined to create an undeniable energy.
Just a few short months later, that would all change, now the people of Ukraine are fighting for their independence, their cities destroyed and the designers re-establishing their businesses.
We met the group at Kyiv Art & Fashion Days New York, an extension of the original event, held during NYFW at the Mastercard Tech Hub. During conversations with our CEO, Bret Schnitker, and Chief Strategy Officer, Emily Lane, all of the designers expressed the importance of returning to work.
Elena Burenina fled Ukraine in March and ended up in Paris where she was introduced to Maya Persaud, Co-founder of the non-profit organization Espero Atelier, which assists refugees in finding jobs.
Persaud, who was representing Burenina at the event, told Schnitker, “the first thing she said is, I want to get back to work. I have to get back to work. That’s the most important thing for me.” Burenina is now teaching sewing skills at the organization, and working on a collection made from 100 percent deadstock fabric.
A return to hands on work is providing a creative outlet for Valery Kovalska, who is rebuilding her brand, “it’s so cool to go back to, like, doing that… coloring the fabrics and just cut it, because I used to do it, but it’s been a long time” she told Lane.
It may seem contradictory to pour into fashion during wartime, however, work is a way for these designers to maintain cultural traditions, contribute to the economy and provide job stability to their manufacturing teams.
Ivan Frolov is taking it one step further with his Frolov Heart Project, which sells limited edition t-shirts and sweatshirts benefitting Ukrainian children and families impacted by war. Each garment prominently displays the Frolov logo, a human heart, made using traditional Ukrainian embroidery and beading details. The style of each heart differs based on family and region.
Frolov carries those traditions into his exquisite ‘hot couture’ collection, providing an elegant through line of artisan details in garments that are designed to be heirloom pieces, passed down to future generations, much like the craftsmanship in the Litkovska brand.
Founder, Lilia Litkovska honors her family’s four generation history of tailoring by softening and adding feminine lines to traditional masculine forms. At a time when those traditions are threatened, keeping them front and center is a focus. “This collection’s name is Vesnyanka. This is a traditional, ritual song to ask to spring to come.” Lilia Litkovska told Lane, “Terrorist state Russia has stolen our spring and I asked to spring come back.” The deeper meaning of spring, bringing hope for renewal and peace in the war torn country.
Lasha Mdinaradze, creative director of Ukrainian brand Gudu, is also familiar with the impact of war. The Georgian designer experienced Russia’s invasion of his country in 2008. Gudu’s Spring/Summer collection is also grounded in tradition, COO, Yana Linyva says “It’s a global change it’s something for back to your roots to your honesty to be honest with yourself.”
Honesty, optimism and pride are common denominators with these designers, through a translator Kristina Bobkova shared her vision with Schnitker, saying, “This collection was inspired by the Ukrainian’s brave spirit that we are strong and we continue to struggle for our freedom.”
Fighting for freedom, traditions and creative expression while the world watches and supports the efforts.
Watch complete interviews with the designers in the links below or listen to a compilation of the interviews through the audio link. Listen to our full-length Clothing Coulture podcast episode with Ivan Frolov here.
Denise Naughton is an Emmy award-winning producer and journalist who has worked in all sides of media. At Stars Design Group, Denise uses her journalism and production expertise in support of all media and communication outreach.