The end of the year is the time to sum up and plan for the future, no matter how challenging it may be in today’s realities. About how the three seasons of UFW took place during the full-scale invasion on the runways of other Fashion Weeks, about a unique case that has never happened in the history of the world fashion industry, about 21 months of the Ukrainian fashion industry during the war and what will happen next, Violetta Fedorova, Editor-in-Chief of vogue.ua, spoke with Irina Danilevska, co-founder and CEO of Ukrainian Fashion Week.
Survive, withstand, preserve
“Survive, withstand, preserve” – I wrote these words on Facebook almost immediately after the start of the full-scale invasion to capture my feelings in that specific moment. It was hard to believe the horror that was happening. Just a few weeks before February 24, we celebrated our 50th season, announcing plans to mark 25 years of Ukrainian Fashion Week with powerful projects in the fall. And here I am sitting by the monitor in my room near Kyiv, hearing explosions. Surviving physically was the most important task then. To survive and to help.
I remember the moment when, in the first days after the attack, Tetiana Zemskova and Olena Vorozhbyt, designers of the VOROZHBYT&ZEMSKOVA brand, wrote to me. They asked for the contact of a technical specialist who could reconfigure their sewing machines. “Our machines are set up for silk dresses. And now we are sewing uniforms and platoon socks,” the designers explained their request. I remember the bags of clothing for our soldiers from Ihor Sidletskyi (Lviv brand SIDLETSKIY) standing in the middle of our room. It may not be necessary to mention someone specific. Because countless examples can be given – I can’t mention any brand now that hasn’t done something for our soldiers at the beginning of the full-scale invasion or isn’t continuing to do everything possible to help the country now.
Support Ukrainian Fashion
After the initial shock, we began to act. For 25 years, we emphasised that the mission of UFW is to support and promote Ukrainian fashion brands. Now, this mission has taken on new forms. How do we help preserve brands and teams? Not to suspend Ukrainian Fashion Week. Thus, in the spring of 2022, our initiative “Support Ukrainian Fashion” was born. We reached out to organizers of Fashion Weeks in Europe and the USA, asking them to support Ukrainian designers in these challenging times. We wrote letters explaining that we couldn’t organize physical shows in Kyiv, but it was crucial for brands not to skip seasons and to continue showcasing collections to sustain their work, support their teams and pay taxes. We asked them not just to provide opportunities for shows but to create the most comfortable financial conditions for the participation of Ukrainian designers.
Brands couldn’t invest in their shows and presentations abroad. There simply was no money for that. They were spending their resources on helping their teams, acquiring essential items for the military, relocating, or organizing production in extremely difficult conditions. We wrote about this in our letters to colleagues. Out of 16 Fashion Weeks, 10 responded immediately, offering various conditions, but sincerely trying to do as much as possible for Ukrainian brands. For example, our colleagues in Berlin, Budapest and Los Angeles covered all the costs of organizing shows for Ukrainian brands; in Copenhagen, Madrid and Vienna, such opportunities were unavailable, but organisers helped our brands to minimise expenses.
Our big friend, the British Fashion Council, which organises London Fashion Week, also responded. Today, thanks to the British Fashion Council Foundation’s support and within our partnership, five Ukrainian brands have been able to showcase their new collections on one of the main fashion stages in the world. London was crucial for us for many reasons. There’s an incredible concentration of creative energy and a large number of media and buyers come here. The atmosphere of active and sincere support from the British in the war is also important.
When we held our first season in London, at every seat during the joint show of FROLOV, KSENIASHCHNAIDER, PASKAL (February 2023), there was an envelope with a press release and a gift (a scarf in the colours of the Ukrainian flag). On the envelope was written: “We strive to create. Creating collections is our resistance to war. Today, more than ever, we need creativity for life. This fashion show at London Fashion Week is a manifestation of our will. It is an embodiment of our strength and resilience. It reflects the bravery of all Ukrainians. Creating despite everything. Despite working in unstable and challenging conditions, amid the sounds of air sirens and explosions… We continue to work on collections. We know that all this is for our common peaceful future. To invite all of you to our shows in a liberated and free Ukraine next season. We will never destroy, but we will always create.”
Everything fell into place. Both then and in the following season. In general, the Ukrainian Fashion Week seasons on the runway in London were extremely powerful events.
21 months and 19 projects
We organized 19 events within the Support Ukrainian Fashion Initiative by Ukrainian Fashion Week in the 21 months of the ongoing war. During official Fashion Weeks and international exhibitions, we showcased 65 brands. This number is impressive, but for us, it is equally important as it illustrates the level and diversity of the Ukrainian fashion scene. As an institution, we needed to show the world that we have many brands with a well-established philosophy, a strong visual code and European values. The quantity is good, but the quality is much more important.
For UFW, each show, each major project abroad, is a narrative about Ukraine, about the war, and about the necessity of helping us in our struggle against Russian aggression. It is a powerful promotion of our country as a nation of brave, resilient and talented people. Flags signed by our soldiers on the shoulders of Ksenia Schnaider, Nadya Dzyak and Olena Reva at the end of the show in London, or personally written posters like “HELP MARIUPOL” in the hands of Lilia Litkovska and her tears – these are not just photographs that have spread across the world’s publications. They are symbols of our unity, our resilience and a call to support Ukraine.
Export is in our focus today
Every day, I communicate with designers and see brands that have revived and are developing faster than we could have planned in times of a major war. I am thrilled to see the success of LITKOVSKA, BEVZA, RUSLAN BAGINSKIY, FROLOV, KSENIASHCHNAIDER, GUNIA Project, the COAT by Katya Silchenko, and many (really many) others. Today, when brands communicate with customers, they don’t talk about quality – it’s a component that isn’t even discussed. It’s become a consistent approach to doing business. They manage to prove to their customers worldwide that they are like-minded individuals, sharing the same values. The brand’s values take centre stage – this is crucial for both domestic and international customers. Working with International customers today, against the backdrop of reduced opportunities in the domestic market, is a strategic direction for the Ukrainian fashion business – maintaining interest in Ukrainian products and demonstrating their competitiveness.
The Support Ukrainian Fashion initiative is greatly aided by grant support from USAID under the Competitive Economy Program in Ukraine. We are moving forward, working and initiating dialogue with the government alongside designers. Because our challenges are the same as those faced by all businesses now. Not only players in the fashion industry are talking about problems with paying foreign bills, double taxation and other issues that need to be overcome to ensure stable operations. As an industry, we are not asking the government for money. The government’s funds should go to the military and what we need are changes that will primarily facilitate the export activities of brands.
We are coming back
For me, it wasn’t the 53rd season of Ukrainian Fashion Week. The UFW team, like everyone whose lives changed after February 24, 2022, began a different reckoning of time. So, it was our third season, which, like the two previous ones, took place outside Ukraine – the third UFW International season.
When people die, cities are destroyed, when there is so much pain and sorrow around, it is difficult to talk about achievements, about successful projects… It is difficult to dream. And yet, Ukrainian Fashion Week plans to return to Ukraine in August next year. We really want to put Kyiv back on the fashion map and give our brands the opportunity to showcase at home, to show how they have changed during this time. We have a restrained optimism that despite everything, the industry is recovering – showrooms of Ukrainian brands are opening in the regions, especially in the western part of the country, production is picking up, demand is increasing, people are returning… I believe that we will be able to hold this important season of Ukrainian Fashion Week in Kyiv. With sincere gratitude to our defenders, we will be able to.
Fashion is solidarity and support
Since February 24, 2022, we have been working as volunteers, not taking money from brands for our work – it is our responsibility to the country, the Ukrainian Fashion Week brand and the future generations of Ukrainian fashion. For three seasons, we have conducted the unique International Season format and understood the main thing: fashion today is not only about diversity or sustainability but also about solidarity. I want to thank all the Fashion Weeks who responded and supported us.
Our case is unique – for the first time in the history of the global fashion industry, one Fashion Week takes place on the platforms of other Fashion Weeks. I do not wish anyone to repeat this experience. Let it remain only in the history of fashion.
Photo: Yuriy Yatskulych