Pandemic forces Ukrainian fashion to innovate, make tough decisions to survive
When the pandemic hit Ukraine in March can‑ celing mass events, one of the country’s most successful clothing brands, ArtemKlimchuk, was caught off-guard.
ArtemKlimchuk’s once sought-af‑ ter fancy dresses, often spotted at big functions, were no longer relevant to clients who now spend most of their time in domestic slippers.
“You open the order list and it says ‘canceled, canceled, canceled,’” the label’s founder and designer Artem Klimchuk told the Kyiv Post.
The pandemic battered the fash‑ ion industry this year.
Sales dropped by 40% for most labels. Some lost as much as 80% of regular revenue, according to the Ukrainian Fashion Week. Fabrics became impossible to buy as fac‑ tories stopped working. Events that normally give brands visibility and attract customers kept getting postponed.
Ukrainian fashion has been buzz‑ ing far beyond the country’s bor‑ ders in recent years. From milli‑ ner Ruslan Baginskiy to the denim masters behind Ksenia Schnaider, local designers have been spotted in the wardrobes of the world’s top taste-makers, grabbing international headlines.
Just as it started gaining momen‑ tum, the industry was hit by the pandemic’s changes.
Some young brands that hadn’t built a stable clientele before the crisis fell victims to the new reality.
Still, most of the brands survived. But to do so, the players of the Ukrainian fashion scene had to transform.
No season, no audience
The change started with the indus‑ try’s main event, Ukrainian Fashion Week, or UFW.
The biannual showcase has been a take-off platform for many Ukrainian designers throughout its 23-year history.
Iryna Danylevska, head of UFW says that the event’s primary goal has always been to support local designers. When the crisis fell, UFW stepped up to help.
One of the first innovative deci‑ sions was dropping fashion’s conven‑ tional seasonality. Its first event in the pandemic in August-September ran under the “no season” title. Instead of limiting brands to pre‑ senting spring-summer collections normally shown at that time, UFW
allowed them to showcase any appar‑ el they had to offer.
“No matter what collection you show, for current or next (season), you still stay afloat, you show your sustainability, stability, meaning your clients have greater confidence in you,” Iryna Danylevska, the founder and director of Ukrainian Fashion Week, told the Kyiv Post.
The warm weather allowed UFW to hold runway shows physically with most of the audience watching the live broadcast on the big screens outside. Half a year later, its next event scheduled for February didn’t offer the same privilege. So UFW experimented again.
The obvious decision would have been holding the event entirely online — like many other fashion weeks abroad — asking brands to film their own presentations and hand them in for screening. But that would have put an extra financial burden on designers already suffer‑ ing from the crisis. So UFW set up its main location, Mystetskyi Arsenal gallery, and offered designers a team and equipment to film runway shows. The only difference — there was no live audience.
Another reason for what they called a “phygital” format, which combined physical shows and a dig‑ ital audience, was the fact it could give more exposure through media
attention that brands desperately needed. That’s why media were allowed access to the event.
“In the fashion industry, it’s very important to have a constant influ‑ ence on clients,” Danylevska said. “Sales in the fashion business is a pretty emotional thing.”
The UFW’s shows reached over 370,000 views online, and Danylevska says, the format was praised by the foreign counterparts. And as UFW transformed to support local brands, it also set an example of flexibility and innovation for the fashion scene to follow.
The pandemic forced the world to go online and fashion was no exception.
When showrooms and stores had to close and fashion weeks post‑ poned or canceled, brands focused on promoting themselves by digital means and selling online.
Some brands finally made time to develop their own websites, others polished their visual style on social media.
The highlights of the digitaliza‑ tion process were the elaborate film presentations that expanded designers’ creativity through a new medium.
At the UFW in February, a num‑ ber of brands showcased collections through video. Ivan Frolov, the mas‑
ter of seductive apparel for women, got his models playing flight atten‑ dants wearing racy mini dresses and fitting jumpsuits. The “Love Airlines” collection film was shot on a plane, referring to an experience that has been missed much throughout the pandemic.
Another designer who made a video presentation was Klimchuk.
After experiencing a devastating drop in sales at the beginning of the pandemic, the brand reshaped its approach starting to craft clothes more casual rather than dressy.
Klimchuk’s recent collection “Modern Talking” features hoodies and sweatshirts, knitted vests, sweat‑ ers and blazers for both men and women. The brand couldn’t com‑ pletely abandon its love for extrava‑ ganza, so there are also leopard print tops and golden sequins dresses.
“Modern Talking” was in many ways a reflection on the past year. “What is freedom? What is modern? What is needed?” the film asks at the start. Klimchuk says these were the questions he had discussed with friends while sitting in the kitchen during the pandemic.
“These were conversations about what clothes people actually need,” Klimchuk said.
The film was shot at the brand’s