Ukrainian Fashion Designers Resist War, Weaving Resilience into Creativity

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Despite the arduous battle plaguing her nation, Ksenia Schnaider, alongside other Ukrainian fashion designers, refuse to let war extinguish their creative flames. Instead, they have allowed it to fuel their indomitable spirit— a manifestation of resilience sewn seamlessly into every stitch of their creations.

The past year saw Schnaider and her cadre of skilled seamstresses painstakingly produce their new collection of upscale daywear and designer denim in their Kyiv suite. An increasingly hostile environment replete with air raid sirens, drone attacks, and power outages threatens their operation, yet their productivity perseveres against the escalating odds.

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In 2022, the 39-year-old Schnaider, along with her husband and young daughter, relocated to England after Russia invaded their homeland, Ukraine. Here, they found residence within a British family’s tranquil abode nestled in Southern England. Despite the geographical shift, Schnaider remains steadfast in her commitment to her fashion business established 12 years ago, juggling her time between the UK and Kyiv, where her creations continue to take shape.

She reaffirms that her business operation’s continuity is a lifeline for her team as they seek normalcy amidst turmoil. Their collective approach to adversity echoes Schnaider’s underlying sentiment: “We won’t be cowed into submission.”

During the London Fashion Week, Schnaider joined two other Ukrainian fashion designers in displaying their latest creations. This joint catwalk spectacle served as a critical platform for the Ukrainian fashion industry, now bereft of a home base due to ongoing conflict. Wearing the Ukrainian flag signed by three different military units, some of whom have fallen since the signing, they concluded the show in a somber salute to their national identity.

It is this unity of purpose that Schnaider highlights, describing their shared struggle as a unifying rather than a dividing factor. They are not adversaries but comrades united for a common cause, she asserts.

The war has seen over 60 Ukrainian fashion labels exhibit their products in various global cities such as London and New York. Despite the destruction wrought by the war, Ukraine’s fashion industry continues to create and showcase their resilience.

Amidst this adversity, Schnaider, who has dressed celebrities like Dua Lipa, questions their ability to press on but firmly believes in the significance of continuing production in Ukraine. This personal commitment is a testament to her desire to bolster the country’s people and economy.

While the catwalk seems a world away from the battlefield, the fashion industry is merely one aspect of Ukraine’s concerted national effort to keep the global discourse focused on the war, while raising funds and awareness for the issues its citizens face.

Designer Ivan Frolov, whose work has been chosen by prominent figures like Beyonce, leverages the power of a celebrity fashion moment to aid Ukraine’s efforts. Aware of fashion’s role as a media platform, he uses his designs to effectively relay Ukraine’s narrative.

To illustrate the challenging realities faced by her team, Schnaider designs labels that, when scanned by customers, emit the sound of air raid sirens. Last winter, as they tiptoed around regular drone attacks, work came to a halt when power was restricted to just two hours a day, turning these precious moments into a burden as they tried to condense a day’s worth of work.

Yet, the spirit of resilience is not restricted just to Schnaider’s studio. Small businesses and workers across Kyiv are equally determined to maintain some semblance of normalcy, focusing on their tasks and buoying each other’s spirits.