Tearing the fabric of unity: Russo-Ukraine war disrupts fashion sector

Photo credit: Volodymyr Shuvayev

Under the escalation of the Russo-Ukrainian War, Ukraine’s fashion sector continues to evacuate and adapt to its intensity. Tank movements and airborne strikes on cities like Kyiv render a daunting task for designers: obtaining a net of security while maintaining a buisness. Faced with the uncertainty of returning home, the rapid rise of conflict has scattered creative teams both domestically and abroad.

Several Ukrainian brands ceased production out of inherent risk, yet some factories continue to function under dangerous conditions. Many flee the nation in light of the immediate safety issues. For example, while most members of womenswear brand Katimo have escaped, others continue to maintain a presence in Kyiv.

With disruptions in the chain of production, some Ukrainian designers attempt to resume production in the manufacturing hubs of Porto, Braga, and Guimares in Portugal. Moreover, seamstresses migrate to garment metropolises like Istanbul to escape the lines of fire.

While members of the garment trade distance themselves from the violence, other portions of the percentile choose to increase their involvement with the war effort both physically and politically.

Teams of sewers volunteer their strengths and efforts to transform into local armies. Founder of Katimo, Katya Timoshenko donates the revenue of her online brand to uphold the Ukrainian Army’s Come Back Alive Fund. Once-thriving Ukrainian labels now carry the weight of humanitarian organizations.

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Over two hundred thousand Ukranians are employed in the construction of design and fabrics. A majority of garment production does not supply the Ukrainian consumer. Manufactured articles of clothing are exported to foreign labels including Adidas, Zara and Hugo Boss.

Outside of the immediate populace, the disrupted assembly lines are sending waves to the brands in their market production and distribution channels. Despite these effects, brands like Adidas have partnered with organizations to offer relief funds. Financial assistance continues to serve a major form of defense.

Since the invasion, global publications are also demanding the economic blockade. Vogue Ukraine published a statement to “cease any collaborations on the aggressor’s market effective immediately,” hence demanding worldwide embargoes on products exported to Russia. The publication’s words on the humanitarian crisis seek to gain the attention of the international industry, especially luxury conglomerates and houses such as LVMH, Prada Group, Richemont and Hermès.

“Showing your conscience and choosing humanity over monetary benefits is the only reasonable stand one can take in confronting the violent behavior of Russia,” said @vogue_ukraine.

Many, including LVMH and Kering, ordered emergency donations in recent weeks. The house of Chanel has ceased online commerce in Russia and closed down boutiques. On the other hand, Burberry continues to maintain two open shops despite also forwarding a suspension of deliveries. Iconic western brands like Balenciaga utilize social media platforms to amplify the voices of the Ukrainian front by maintaining updates on the situation’s key players.

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While these initiatives show encouragement, Russian consumers only make up three percent of the global luxury market sales. Thus, the effect may not be as strong as the sector can support.

In addition, despite being a financial conduit, the practice of fashion is a cultural and social tie between Ukraine and other countries. During the Soviet Era, Ukraine functioned as the core of textile production. In the years post, partnerships with global scale brands and a free trade agreement with the European Union contributed to the growth of the burgeoning industry.

After the fall of the Berlin wall, re-energized development in the sector allowed Ukrainian designers to speak out regarding the communist experience and build bridges with fashion’s international scene, gaining international recognition for their talent through opportunities such as the esteemed LVMH prize.

Brands like Vita Kin, Sleeper, Frolov and Ruslan Baginskiy built a significant reputation on their heritage and national pride, employing techniques that emphasized traditional Ukrainian craftsmanship as well as innovative methods in technological and sculptural construction.

These companies ushered in a space for younger generations to express their creative visions, including progressive stances in the upcycle movement, the avant garde, and the chameleonic energy of the street youth.

The string of fashion is plait to the string of independence. Geopolitical conflicts like the current war pose a threat to the creative and cultural commons between nations. But, in the wake of Russian attempts to tear a fabric of unity, Ukraine and its allies continue to sew the colors of resistance.