Kyiv Diary 4/1/2022: ‘Ukrainian Fashion Designers Support the War Effort’

Kyiv Diary, Latest

Moment is publishing regular updates from Helen, a Soviet American Jew living in Kyiv. Read all the diary entries here.

Working in the fashion industry, I’ve met many talented Ukrainian designers over the years I’ve spent in Kyiv. Some of them have become my friends. Nowadays all the creatives are cut off from their income, because, let’s face it, people at war are not interested in fashion. There is no demand for stylish outfits, which means that the designers can’t keep their businesses afloat, pay workshop rent and utilities, or pay employees even minimal wages so that they can buy food and medications.

While prominent international designers were busy doing major shows in New York, London, Milan, and Paris, Ukrainian designers have been using their sewing skills to support the Ukrainian army. Instead of fashionable shoes and stylish outerwear, they are now making camouflage nets, combat boots and even armored vests.

Ukrainian designer Serge Smolin (his brand is named Idol) is famous for his impeccably made suits for men, and men in his suits undoubtedly stand out. Nowadays his goal is to make men blend in by providing Ukrainian soldiers with camouflage nets, as Elina-Alem Kent reports in The Kyiv Independent. When Kyiv was heavily targeted by Russian artillery and missiles, Smolin left for Western Ukraine, where he grew up. Without wasting any time, he traveled to the nearest military checkpoint, where he learned that there was a need for camouflage nets—and for people who can weave them. Smolin organized a new team, foraged rolls of cloth and immediately got to work.

Kachorovska is a very popular Ukrainian shoe brand (it has recently expanded into creating garments as well) which had a chain of stores in various parts of Kyiv, some with cafes on the first floor. Comfort and beauty do not always go together when it comes to shoes, but the combination was Kocharovska’s trademark. I used to hold my business meetings at a cafe in the Kachorovska center located ateliera meeting place for old and new friends, creatives and business people. It was almost always packed. 

Now, sadly, all the stores are closed. But since the war with Russia broke out, the brand has started to produce combat boots, according to The Kyiv Independent. Now the brand works with three different factories that provide soles, leather and other materials and most importantly employees to manufacture boots for the Army and Territorial Defense. Kachorovska’s team produced the first 500 pairs using their own funds. Later, through social media, they organized a support group and started accepting donations in order to cover supplies. 

Other companies are producing bulletproof vests. When Russia invaded Ukraine, Nebesite, a popular brand of outerwear, was working on its new spring collection. “Within 48 hours of the first attacks, the team was already looking and contacting experts on how to use their skills to help the military,” The Kyiv Independent reports. “The brand found a manufacturer of metal plates for bulletproof vests and was able to partner up with them, designing a simplified version of the vests.”

Our only hope is that the world, rallying behind Ukraine, finds a way to help our businesses endure the war and resume operations when peace comes. It’s impossible to imagine the destruction of a country with such talented, courageous, creative and hard working people.

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