Top 7 Ukrainian Fashion Designers I Love for SummerDate: 04/22/2022
Summer is almost here, and I’m grateful for so much that comes with the changing seasons. And with a new season comes a new source of celebration: Summer fashions!
Not that everything about this coming summer is as joyful as the clothes and textiles coming off the runways. To be honest, it’s been a tough couple of months grappling with the dangers that ring out from Ukraine—where much of my family still lives.
They are – thankfully – so far safe. It is this I have been celebrating these last weeks while the sun shines upon me here in California, where I am blessed to be close to those who love me, and who I love.
That’s why, in my own way, I wanted to take a moment to celebrate my heritage through the lens of the fashions by which I continue to be inspired. These are the same fashions which motivated me early towards a career filled with bold color inspirations—as bold as the people who stand up for their rights in the place I once called home!
It’s not so often that I use culture to explore the world of fashion, which is what I think makes this article so special…not to mention timely. So, today, I want to showcase some of my personal favorite designers out of Ukraine, who are making their own mark on this world—even amid turmoil.
It is my hope that you’ll find as much inspiration within these designs as I do—and I am so proud to share this part of myself and my heritage with you! I feel deeply connected to the experiences of these designers as I share my own love of fashion in this way, and hope you’ll find similar connections as you explore the textiles and fabric arts that come to us from across the world.
But I won’t keep you waiting any longer! Please enjoy this list I’ve compiled of the top seven designers I love who work out of Ukraine, and who take their own inspiration from the world they inhabit there. These designers include Sleeper, 91Lab, Paskal Clothes, Frolov, Ruslan Baginskiy, Bevza, and Anna October.
Whether you’ve heard any of these names before, I would ask that if a piece or a collection stands out to you that you show your support in a way that feels comfortable to you—either with a purchase, or simply by sharing their work with your friends through social media.
It’s just a small, additional way you can commit to reciprocity. Consider it a way to show your support for those who are currently living in an unsafe environment filled with emotions I hope none of us ever have to witness or experience.
So, without further pause, let’s look at the seven summer fashion designers out of Ukraine I love for this season!
7 Ukrainian Fashion Designers You Should Check Out this Summer
Now, it’s not every day that we see someone wearing PJs on the street and think “cute!”, but if you can believe it, Sleeper has made it happen!
This fashion house is all about bed-time-wear made day-wear, and is most known for the feathered cuffs that mark many of their designs. In fact, launched in 2014 by Kate Zubarieva and Asya Varesta, the whole theme of these ethically crafted sleepwear designs came from…you guessed it! A dream! One of the founders imagined (while sleeping) herself in the middle of a pajama factory, and from there, Sleeper was born.
Since then, the small team has grown to include incredible Kyiv-based ateliers (both men and women) who work diligently and with the freedom to nurture their own individual design talents in-house. Production is also local to Kyiv – or was, when Kyiv wasn’t in immediate danger – and every garment remains handmade.
Sleeper even boasts zero-waste production…they donate all their fabric remains to their in-house tailor who then teaches children about cutting and sewing. Amazing!
Material-wise, these incredible designs are made with natural materials such as linen and silk, perfect for day to night transitions. Think slip dresses, puff-sleeves, linen dresses, and sheer capes adored by women like Brie Larson and Katy Perry—they even have a bridal line for post and pre-wedding attire.
Whether you’re interested in getting some cozy, stylish garments to wear around the house, or want something really tranquil and sweet-heart for summer, I suggest checking out Sleeper’s latest lookbook or their Instagram for some truly incredible designs fit for the season!
Slightly newer to the Ukraine fashion scene is 91Lab, founded in 2018. Focused entirely on comfortable, hand-made knitwear with a ton of flair, I continue to be surprised by the versatility of the materials they use for their designs, and especially so by the sophisticated effect they give off each season.
Focusing on feminine silhouettes for their clothing styles, 91Lab’s knitwear collections toe the line between athletic and sensual. Each piece can work as an essential part of every wardrobe on their own, and move easily from cozy and casual to classy and totally luxurious. In fact, I’ll even catch myself going through their lookbooks to experience how their models uniquely present each design. These are truly ‘fun’ clothes that can go anywhere!
This brand, like Sleeper, has a ton of connection to Kyiv and Ukraine in general. Tetiana Abramova (the brand’s founder and CEO) for example graduated from Kyiv National Economic University, and since then, her work with the brand has helped establish the Ukraine Fashion Alliance, themselves with a mission to promote Ukrainian fashion across the globe.
Aside from these aspirations, 91Lab remains a Ukrainian label specializing in couture-quality knitwear that maintains an aura of elegance no matter how they are worn (although designer Anna Panchenko enjoys when her collections are worn in head-to-toe combinations).
I am always eager to see their latest collections, especially since their last one experimented with knitwear weaves in a really exciting, bright, and colorful way, including oranges, yellows and purples—and you all know how much I love color! My favorites so far are the mini dresses and 3D knitted pleats that combine several shades. Be sure to check them out on your next online shopping trip, here.
Paskal is unique, not just because of their clothes or use of laser cutting techniques, but because of designer Julie Paskal’s background in architecture. She graduated from Kyiv National University of Construction and Architecture, and it seems to show through her use of innovative, sculptural silhouettes and dream-style attire in her fashion designs. She’s totally bold it seems, and so are the clothes known to her brand!
You might be surprised then to see a lot of minimalism in her work, thanks to the precision tailoring used to construct even the most delicate shapes and dresses. Still, Paskal’s designs speak to a strength of personality that is perhaps echoed by her personal journey since the war in Ukraine began. Indeed, this optimistic designer was displaced by these events to Halle, Germany, where she safely continues creating.
Even more interestingly to those of you who are obsessed with today’s increasingly digital landscape is that Paskal is known to create clothing for avatars who exist in the ‘metaverse’! (What?!)
To her, virtual fashion marketplaces are a ‘playground for avant-garde fashion, much more than what we wear in our everyday lives”. It is the opportunity to make unusual fashion dreams come true, and such inspirations keep her designing in this new and exciting medium—which have perhaps also been inspired by her beginnings in architecture and construction.
Certainly, Paskal’s work shows less focus on the hand-made and an increased focus on the technological—while she nevertheless explores and experiments with shapes, lines, and unique structures in her garments. Finally, she shares a deep connection with Ukraine, and was in fact one of the first Ukrainian designers who began to export her clothes to an international market.
For summer though, I would suggest checking out her floral patterned prints that really jump off the fabric…or which literally do, like this laser-cut coral mini-dress in turquoise that I totally love!
Ivan Frolov is quite an enigma to Ukrainian fashion. Smart and sensible, he completed a PhD while founding Frolov—a ‘couture to wear’ brand famous throughout Ukraine, and the world. In fact, you might recognize his focus on corsets, jumpsuits, and crystal-embellished gowns from starlets like Dua Lipa, Rita Ora, and all-time fav, Gwen Stefani.
One of my favorite aspects of Frolov’s designs though, are his focus on freedom, equality, and true expression. Like many other designers in my list, his work originates in the heart of Kyiv – where Ivan was born – however he departs from the others in strong messaging that aligns itself with the LBGTQ+ movement. According to Frolov, he designs “for people who love to express themselves in their own unique way”.
In short, his clothes are meant to make a statement. They are built to accept sex and sexuality, and through deep research of tailoring techniques and human anatomy, he ensures that these far-out pieces liberate their wearer while still allowing for comfort. In fact, one of the standout features of this brand is that he customizes clothes for the unique measurements of each client for which he designs.
At the moment, his mainstay collections focus on women’s couture, unisex garments, and a wedding line—but he too has been affected by the recent events in Ukraine. From the first explosions in Kyiv, Frolov chose to stop all production while he and his family moved to western Ukraine. While the company is doing all it can to support the Frolov team financially, and much of the work they do is now voluntary, the business itself is completely on hold. All the more reason to pick up some of his existing wearables wherever you can find them—here’s his stocklist to help!
Personally, I love Bevza as being one of the most conceptual women’s-wear designers on this list. Founded and based in Kyiv, this design house has an aesthetic that is focused on clean silhouettes and sharp tailoring. Still, because of their desire to remain sustainable with the materials they use, these designs are created with recycled plastic or even deadstock fabric—which is basically the remains of other pre-used fabrics.
“Sustainability means so much for me,” says Svitlana Bevza, who notes that all yarns are ordered from the Italian factory Pinori, who produces threads from recycled plastic bottles caught in the ocean.
You can also recognize Bevza designs anywhere, especially their latest looks which feature chic balaclavas, origami-inspired bags, and minimalistic boots and flats. The soft color-palette is also supremely eye-catching, and provides a sort of chic, sensual effect that is totally perfect for summer time. Some go as far as to declare the brand emmenates a sort of ‘refined minimalism’.
Unlike the other brands on this list though, Bevza is highly focused on concepts that have grown out of Ukrainian culture specifically. Svitlana Bevza – the brand’s founder and creative director – is known to explore her national heritage through delicate designs that emphasize ethnic symbols and markers of the cultural codes known to her country.
In fact, one of her recent collections focused (or harnessed) the idea of her writing a love letter Ukraine through the creation of letter-shaped bags, even using recycled bottle caps sourced from the area as the ‘wax seals’ for each letter.
“Ukrainian cultural heritage is an endless inspiration for me. I share this with the world, with the greatest pleasure. Fashion is a strong voice that can make national heritage which is implemented in clothes to become modern and wanted and drive people to at least Google where Ukraine exactly is,” says Bevza.
This devotion to her country through her designs is especially important considering the current landscape in Ukraine. Much like the other designers on this list based in Kyiv, she also had to flee her home—but unlike Frolov for example, she feels it is her mission to continue or return to work. Although this mission is noble, it is the simple reality of her situation (she says) that she has to work to live, to feed her children, and to keep her mind away from the disastrous effects of the war at home.
Her dedication to helping the war effort is none too little though, as she produces and maintains a working place in the economy. Right now, 10% of all orders are being donated directly to the Ukrainian army, as well as those she knows personally who have stayed behind—all the more reason to check out her wears as you do your yearly summer shopping!
Ruslan Baginskiy – also based in Kyiv up to the start of this conflict – has made a bold move in Ukraine’s fashion industry by bringing back and focusing on a somewhat forgotten part of couture in the 21st century—hat wear! He believes strongly that the whole culture of hat-wearing has grown out of fashion and has made a career out of creating hats that can become an essential part of men’s and women’s fashion.
His ties to Ukraine are also as strong as his hat designs: for instance he is often inspired by Ukrainian art and national costumes for his designs, and also finds great ideas for new styles by researching archival photos from his family and other vintage fashion shoots.
For instance, for his most popular design – the Baker Boy Cap – he talks about inspiration coming from 60s and 70s Ukraine, where hats were considered an essential part of any outfit. Thus, while his styles have reached the ranks of celebrity among top names such as Bella and Gigi Hadid, Pamela Anderson, and Janelle Monáe, he never forgets to emphasize his Ukrainian origins in each original design.
Even his early work – or his debut collection, I should say – featured a strict dedication to local craftsmanship and traditional bridal décor known to western Ukraine. To this day, each of Baginskiy’s hats are made locally in Ukraine with materials sourced from reserves nearby—bringing a truly special touch to the authenticity of each piece. Truly he has been able to transform his love for his homeland into incredible pieces that we aren’t seeing much of anywhere else in today’s fashion world.
To Baginskiy, and much like the other designers on this list, sustainability of the materials and methods are key. First, he talks about how the hand-crafted approach to his embroidered and felted hat designs are his way of remaining sincere in an age that is dominated by technology. At the same time, he does not shy away from embracing these very technologies as he brings out new and exciting couture collections, where he’s used 3D printing to mold eco-plastic materials he can use for accessories that he says refer to Ukrainian landscapes.
Even now – though of course things can change at the drop of a hat – Baginskiy is devoted to showing the world the style and culture of Ukraine. He, more than any other on this list, seems outwardly determined to bring this element to each of his designs, and to ensure that those who make his hats are Ukrainian themselves—even employing most of his family in the production process—including his mother who is head of production.
Seeing this passion for Ukraine in each of these creations, and knowing how much I love to class up any outfit with an amazing wide-brimmed hat or exotic accessory, I continue to be wowed by what this design house comes up with next—where each of the hats that they create feel like a true picture of home. Plus they’re extremely comfortable to wear in any weather, which makes them perfect for summer-time fun, paired with fancy dresses or a good wide-legged pant.
7. Anna October
Last on my summer list, but certainly not least is Anna October. Just as others, October was forced to flee from Kyiv to Paris, where she now works to support other fashion creatives who have either been left behind or left without work due to unstable conditions across the country. Her story has hit me hard as the conflict persists overseas, but she has shown so much courage in the face of it that I could almost get carried away talking about her as opposed to the incredible designs she makes.
But on to her work! Known for her womenswear brand in particular, and often drawing inspiration from Ukraine itself, October works to foster female empowerment through her clothing. She wants all women to be pleased with the way they look in her garments, which feature mostly feminine and graceful dresses, cashmere knits, and even lingerie.
“These clothes are for women who are dressing for their own gaze,” she is quoted as saying.
An expert pattern-cutter (one of her claims to fame as a designer in the world of fashion), October thus founded her brand in about 2010, and relies much like others on a sustainable method of developing her designs and clothing. A lot of her designs focus on romantic signatures like a ruffle dress or peasant-style clothes, while remaining somewhat experimental over the yeas with bolder silhouettes that hark of another era. Soon, she was becoming famous for other design products such as multicolored turtlenecks and even denim pants!
Still, while October was based in Ukraine before the conflict, she doesn’t always draw inspiration from her homeland—though most of her pieces are in fact hand-knitted by communities of ‘makers’ and seamstresses back home. For example, one of her more recent collections is centered around a magical night she had in Paris, featuring a shimmering gold fringe coat, as well as bronze slip dresses and a few stunning pieces of lingerie.
For now, October is focused on using her work to help the designers and other fashion folks related to her brand who have chosen to stay in Ukraine. She wants to help other creatives discover where they can go, and how they can find ways to keep working amid the turmoil. She is fulfilling orders for pre-fall, which means that you should definitely be shopping now if you want to get some of these gorgeous designs!
I’ll close this list then with my love of this designer and her collections through an inspiring quote I think we can all take with us, whether we are designers, creators, or fashion lovers ourselves:
“It’s crazy how these dresses and the business become different and more meaningful because it all helps so many families to live. For those who buy them, it brings experience and emotion and beautiful clothes to their beautiful lives. But for those who made them, it’s their life. And right now, fashion is saving lives.”
Truly, this is a sentiment that represents the strength and resilience of Ukrainian designers as a whole, and showcases the dedication with which they stick to their craft amid adversity.
As always, with my love and support,
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