Forty days after Russia invaded Ukraine, representatives of the fashion industry are supporting or creating initiatives to try to help the country’s designers and people.
A new e-commerce site that solely supports Ukrainian brands and designers quietly debuted Friday. Angelforfashion.com founder and chief executive officer and founder Jen Sidary became engrained in the Ukrainian fashion community while living in Kyiv during the pandemic. The Los Angeles-based executive presented the collections of six Ukrainian designers last month in New York that had been arranged prior to the Russian invasion through a grant from the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Competitive Economy Program.
In a matter of three weeks, Sidary created the e-commerce site that features more than 700 items from 30 prominent designers. Her previous work experience, overseeing Zappos’ couture business for more than seven years, helped her to create Angel For Fashion so swiftly. During that run at Zappos, couture sales boomed from $15 million to $100 million, she said.
To humanize the Ukrainian designers behind the labels there is biographical information and photographs of each. Angel For Fashion is coordinating getting the assets of two brands, Syndicate and Riot Division, whose respective owners are defending Ukraine. One of the featured designers, Valery Kovalska, is temporarily staying with Sidary in Los Angeles.
All of the Ukrainian designers are working to set up production outside of Ukraine and several of them have transported most of their merchandise from Kyiv to other parts of the country. “They are diligently carrying on even during the war, which is incredible,” Sidary said, adding that live inventory and select pre-sale items are being offered.
Developing a multibrand Ukrainian site was something that Sidary had been interested in doing since she first started exploring the sector in December 2020. Once orders are placed on Angel For Fashion, the brands will contact the consumers to let them know when the product will ship. A local shipper in Ukraine, Nova Poshta, is still handling ground shipments in the country and is coordinating deliveries to other countries with companies like DHL, FedEx or UPS.
Consumer interest is high for Ukrainian-made labels, according to a recent survey by Lovethesales.com. There has been an 809 percent surge in fashion demand for blue and yellow clothing and a 306 percent increase in searches for “Ukraine clothing,” as well as a 100 percent gain in fashion demand for camouflage printed clothing, based on the survey.
“The Ukrainian fashion industry is about 80 percent women. Most of the women are out of the country and it is a little bit easier to set up production outside of Ukraine. Since they were so well-established, they still have some money,” Sidary said. “Of course, it is running out quickly. I felt if people had an opportunity to support this industry directly, this would be the way to go.”
From her viewpoint, supporting designers and the Ukrainian fashion industry directly through purchases will strengthen their existing and future businesses, as well as their employees, “who are either still in the country or are refugees finding a new place to live in the world.”
Plans are going forward for the Kyiv Art and Fashion Days, which is scheduled for New York in September. The founders of six designer labels from Ukraine — Frolov, Gudu, Valery Kovalska, Elena Burenina, Lilia Litkovskaya and Lake Studio Situationist — will showcase their collections, gain industry advice, network and meet with media as a means to sustain their businesses. Fashion designer Keanan Duffty, who attended Kyiv Art and Fashion Days last fall in Ukraine, has conceptualized the New York event. Sofia Tchkonia, founder of the original festival, is overseeing the U.S. edition.
The three-day event will include a runway show at Sony Hall in partnership with Runway 7. Mastercard is providing its NYC Tech Hub space for a temporary showroom and the Council of Fashion Designers of America will feature the participating Ukrainian designers’ collections on its Runway360 site as part of the group’s official New York Fashion Week coverage.
Duffty and co-collaborator Mary Gehlhar are still working on a partnership with a Ukrainian aid organization to accept donations that will cover travel and hotel expenses for the designers. With the situation changing day-to-day, Duffty noted the disparate situations that the designers are facing at home and abroad. Frolov’s founder Ivan Frolov, for example, has been sort of drafted into the military, he said.
“We will go forward with this endeavor with the hope that these designers will be able to leave Ukraine and come to New York to stage this show. That depends on the outcome of this war and the freedom to travel that those designers may or may not have. But we’re going forward with the idea that this is providing a beacon of hope and all of the designers have said that,” Duffty said.
As for what people who haven’t traveled to Ukraine will be missing about the country, Duffty said, “There’s not really a concept of what Ukraine is. Obviously, people see the devastation and the loss of life, and what appears to be war crimes happening. It’s unbelievable that this is happening in the 21st century. But certainly from our standpoint in the U.S., it seems like it’s over there. Having been there, you have a very different perspective. We saw tremendous entrepreneurialism, creativity in expression. In the U.S., we kind of see Ukraine as part of that Soviet bloc. I really had the total opposite experience. I saw positivity and hope from creatives and designers, and a very defined Ukrainian culture with the heritage of that being utilized by designers in a very contemporary way.”
For non-visitors to Ukraine, it would be hard to imagine the destruction, what has been obliterated and what Russian President Vladimir Putin is trying to obliterate, “which is the spirit and soul of the country,” Duffty said. “People are seeing this amazing vitality and strength of the [Ukrainian] people and the culture to resist this onslaught, it probably would have been in some ways easier to just lay down their arms and say, ‘OK, fine.’ But they didn’t do that. That courage of conviction was what I saw when I was there. There were designers doing something really great on par with Paris, London, New York. And very proud of their own culture and heritage.”
Faced with round-the-clock images and updates of how the ongoing conflict is impacting people in Ukraine, and in some instances has ravaged communities like Bucha and Mariupol, some fashion and design-leaning professionals are seeking to contribute in different ways. Kenneth Cole is among the brands donating a portion of its e-commerce profits to a humanitarian nonprofit, by using the ShoppingGives tech plug-in. Meanwhile, Capri — parent of Michael Kors, Versace and Jimmy Choo — this week revealed plans to donate over 1 million euros of essential clothing to those impacted by the war.
On April 2, the Brownstone Cowboys Apartment Stoop Sale was held on East 32nd Street in Manhattan with 100 percent of the proceeds going to Ukrainian refugees. Fifty to 60 people turned up, according to the event’s organizer Heathermary Jackson, who is founder of the magazine and vintage e-tailer Brownstone Cowboys and a stylist represented by The Wall Group.
The gathering was inspired by freelance photographer and TikTok-er Valeriia Shashenok, who had been chronicling the war in Ukraine until recently and continues to support her town of Chernihiv. When she decided to leave the country, Jackson bought her a $500 flight to Warsaw, then lined up bus transportation to Milan and for Shashenok to stay with Plan C’s founder.
Another inspiration for Saturday’s Brownstone Cowboys sale was a Ukrainian family now living in New York. After Jackson asked a few friends to donate vintage clothing for them, some over-generous ones like Michael Stipe provided an abundance of clothing, which led to last weekend’s sale. Nearly $3,000 was raised for relief efforts and a percentage of proceeds from Brownstone Cowboys merchandise are still being tallied. Photographer Myles Loftin, makeup artist Romy Soleimani, photographer and hair stylist Conrad Dornan donated items, too. Jo Rosenthal handled a bake sale, Alaric Flowers donated posey arrangements to sell, Gia Coppola provided some wine and a small distillery offered a whiskey drink.
“It just ended up being a really lovely day. It really felt that people were there for the reason that we did it to raise money for the Ukrainians,” Jackson said. “It just felt like a real community, family affair,” Jackson said.
On track to raise $5,000 in total, an online auction is being considered as part of future events that will raise awareness about refugees and other social justice issues. The aim is for Shashenok to use her viral fame for a wider audience perhaps through the United Nations HCR, which Jackson’s friend Helena Christensen is involved with. The idea “is to have Valeriia be more of a face of someone, who is going to fight for all refugees,” Jackson said.
The hope is to do monthly events focused on helping specific groups such as the transgender community.
Meanwhile, Lutz Morris is donating $10 for every bag sold to support the estimated 80,000 women in Ukraine who are expected to give birth in the next three months. The Berlin-brand is coordinating with the Christy Turlington-founded nonprofit Every Mother Counts.
Separately, the U.S.-based, Ukrainian-born designer Nataliya Nova is selling original paintings and designs from her signature label’s scarves to help raise money for the people of Ukraine. The designer said she is trying to link up with a couple of stylists and celebrities to start fundraising with their help.
Representatives for Ukrainian brands like J’amemme, Kulakovsky, Marianna Senchina, Lake Studio, Gudu, Ienki Ienki and Santa Brands are working to raise awareness and boost production. Despite the Russian invasion, Kachorovska and Kseniaschnaider launched collaborative ankle boots as planned late last month. The campaign for it shows a woman on the road and at home. “How accurate it looks now, when the only thing every Ukrainian woman wants is to return home,” a company spokeswoman said.
Another Ukrainian label, Norba, recently unveiled its spring collection — a month later than planned — but the brand is hopeful for a steady return to production and global sales.