At the beginning of the full-scale war, some directors of Ukrainian fashion brands felt unsure about the field’s relevance; however, a few months into the conflict they realized that continuing their creative processes is especially valuable at this time. In addition to bringing attention to Ukraine by engaging in shows and contests, making designs for clothes now meant remaining strong and fighting against Russian attempts to destroy Ukrainian culture. Ksenia Schnaider, a creative director of KseniaSchnaider, said that she initially thought that the brand she and her husband Anton created in 2011 would no longer exist.
On Feb. 24, 2022, Schnaider and her family had to unexpectedly leave Kyiv for the western part of the country because of the uncertain nature of the situation in the capital. They, like many fleeing Ukrainians, did not have a chance to prepare for the forced move, and their materials and orders were left in the studio. Later, in the spring of 2022, they returned to work, since the employees needed to earn funds to sustain themselves and their families. Additionally, mass-market foreign brands, like Zara, left Ukraine, forcing people to look for local alternatives.
Due to the war, Ukraine Fashion Week had been moved to London, and several Ukrainian brands showcased their new designs. According to Schnaider, the event was “a chance to make sure the world remembers the vibrant Ukrainian fashion industry that existed before last year.”
During my winter trip to Ukraine, I noticed that people tended to wear more convenient clothes. This was in part due to the frequent air raid alerts and attacks that require finding a shelter as quickly as possible and also the potential of spending a long time underground. The simple outfits are often combined with small accessories or prints in the form of Ukrainian national symbols.
The Ukrainian railway, like some other institutions, has launched its own merchandise, so travelers can get items like necklaces to honor the transportation system that still functions despite the Russian shellings. Another example of powerful accessories are bracelets made from the last pre-war batch of steel manufactured at the Azovstal plant in Mariupol. Both the port city and the steel plant within were heavily bombed and nearly destroyed by the Russian military. The profit from the sales of these items was transferred to the Fleet of Naval Drones to protect Ukraine.
A year into the war, it is still challenging for me and other Ukrainians to accept that we have to learn to live and work despite the countless tragedies that occur every day. Yet carrying on with our daily routine and tasks, and altering them to the context of the war, is the only way to preserve the Ukrainian cultural legacy — particularly achievements in the world of fashion — and remind the global community about the talents we are fighting for.