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"Resistance Is in Our Blood”: 5 Ukrainian Designers Reflect on Their New Reality a Year on From the Russian Invasion

For the fashion world in Ukraine it has been a time of recalibration, rehabilitation and resistance, as brands have worked to adapt against a backdrop of hardship and suffering.

Almost a year has passed since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, 2022, giving rise to a conflict that has destabilized the lives of millions and led to excruciating hardship as Ukrainian civilians work—whether at home or abroad—to keep their families safe and livelihoods intact. For the fashion world in Ukraine—a diverse and highly skilled industry with specialisms in luxury, bridal and outerwear—it has been a time of recalibration, rehabilitation and resistance, as brands have been forced to adapt and pivot amidst incredible hardship. Blackouts scupper clothing production, power cuts prevent communication and creatives reel at the decimation of their country’s cultural touchstones and landmarks.

But even amidst the pain and uncertainty, strength shines through. “Inside we are all stronger than before,” says Yana Olenich, founder of the eponymous womenswear label Olenich. “Unity and resistance is in our blood.” A year on, five designers reveal what their personal and professional realities look like now.

For Gudu creative director Lasha Mdinaradze—who grew up in Georgia, but calls Ukraine his fashion home—his day-to-day (gym, breakfast, office) doesn’t look all that different. It is, says Mdinaradze, the emotional state of the country that has changed dramatically. Maintaining a sense of routine has become imperative to help him psychologically withstand the stress of seeing Kyiv—its art, its raves and the people he finds endlessly inspiring—torn apart.

“It is still difficult for me to come to terms with blackouts that do not allow me to plan work, but when you understand the front-line conditions of Ukrainian defenders, these problems no longer seem so serious,” shares the designer, who has poured his energy into making smart upcycled denim and patchwork pieces that tell the country’s stories. “In Ukraine, we now joke that we have completely overcome procrastination. You do not have time for long reflections—everything needs to be done here and now.”

The decision to remain in Kyiv was a no-brainer for Mdinaradze—“how could I go to a safe place and tell my team what to do?”—who believes that Gudu’s united front has become its greatest strength as the Ukrainian fashion industry makes waves in an international market. “New buyers have paid attention to us, new customers have appeared,” he says of his label’s expansion, helped in part by presenting Gudu’s work in New York and Budapest. “What scared us in February brings a smile today. We have goals and we are moving towards them.”

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