Ukrainian designers talk about the challenge of outsourcing
The Russian invasion of Ukraine had an immediate impact on the fashion industries in both countries. Ukrainian designers have been forced to flee their homes and many global brands have pulled all of their operations to Russia.
Ukrainian designer Anna Osmekhina, founder of Brand TTSWTRS, which specializes in leggings and bodysuits, is among many people who have been forced to flee their home. Now living in Poland, she is in the process of uprooting her entire 9-year-old business and transplanting it to a new country. The complicated process is something that many Ukrainian designers are currently facing. This both speaks to the resilience of Ukrainian fashion and shines a light on what the Ukrainian fashion industry really needs from its international counterparts: material help and not just friendly Instagram posts.
Osmekhina has been living in Poland since March, but it wasn’t until April that she started the process of transferring her business. Most of March was spent dealing with the immediate need to leave Kyiv and go through the complex process of seeking asylum in another country. Osmekhina said her two main business concerns so far were finding a head office and moving inventory to a new warehouse.
For the former, Osmekhina said she hopes to set up a new headquarters for the brand in Gdańsk, Poland. But moving without a full team is difficult, she says. Of its 20 employees, mall of his team members are still in TTSWTRS’ former home in Kyiv. Poland has taken in more than 2 million Ukrainian refugees since the start of the invasion, but the process of leaving the country is difficult and dangerous.
“It’s heartbreaking that our team fell apart,” Osmekhina said. “We are all in different places right now. Since relocation is taking so long, we’ll probably have to miss a fashion season.
Fortunately, Osmekhina said she was able to get much of the brand’s inventory out of Ukraine, but it has been stuck at Polish customs for the past three weeks. The wave of refugees fleeing Ukraine has caused congestion at import sites throughout the region, such as Constanta in Romania and the port city of Gdańsk.
Osmekhina said it was hard to guess at this stage what the total cost of the relocation would be, but the strain on her company’s budget would be considerable.
“Ukrainian designers need money to relocate their businesses, because it’s terribly expensive and almost impossible for many,” she said. “All Ukrainian brands are at risk of closing, because the cost of relocation is too high. This requires the purchase of new equipment and fabrics. It’s not like you can ask your team members to just pack up the materials and send them to you from Kyiv with bombs dropping from the sky.
Osmekhina and other Ukrainian designers have all echoed the idea that Ukraine and its fashion industry needs more than just slogans. “Concrete actions”, as Osmekhina said, are what the Ukrainian fashion industry needs to survive.
Ksenia Schnaider is another Ukrainian designer working to relocate her eponymous luxury brand. She is currently in Nuremberg, Germany, but her team of 30 is spread across several countries. Some are still in Ukraine, while others have fled to Poland. Schnaider said she was initially disappointed with the international response from the fashion industry.
“I was shocked to see how [the fashion industry] ignored such a horrible war in central Europe,” Schnaider said. “But now it seems they have finally realized that one of the biggest countries in Europe – Paris is only a two-hour flight from kyiv – is in danger and people are suffering.”
Projects like Angel for Fashion, an American e-commerce site facilitate sales of 36 different Ukrainian designers, have been lifelines for Ukrainian brands. Angel for Fashion launched in early April, but founder Jen Sidary said she has already received orders from more than 70 different countries, 70% of which have already been shipped.
According to Sidary, coordinating aid to Ukraine is difficult for people outside the country, but it is vitally important. Like TTSWTRS, many brands in Ukraine have products tied up in inaccessible warehouses and team members in multiple countries and time zones. Shipments through Angel for Fashion could take up to six months, although so far most have been made much faster.
“I worked 17 hours a day to get in touch with all the Ukrainian designers while I was in Los Angeles,” Sidary said. “But I’m so impressed with the speed of brands [in fulfilling orders] given the horrible war against Ukraine.
Sidary is heading to Europe next month to help bridge the time gap between herself and the designers she works with, as well as to promote the website in Europe throughout the summer.
Osmekhina is confident that once the war is over, the Ukrainian fashion renaissance that began in the late 2010s will continue. For this to happen, Ukrainian designers need the support of the fashion industry outside of Ukraine to get through the most difficult period of their existence.
“Some people talk about wanting to help, but it soon becomes clear that what they really want is to benefit in some way,” Osmekhina said. “It hurts because right now we need support more than ever. I am hopeful in TTSWTRS, in Ukrainian designers and in our talent, but we desperately need support and funding.