This season, global sales and communications agency Rainbowwave and Kyiv-based public relations and events agency Public Kitchen are leveraging fashion for good by partnering to support five up-and-coming Ukrainian designers: Anna October, IENKI IENKI, JUL, Katimo, and Oberig. After being showcased at Rainbowwave’s press day on March 30th, the agency is now using its resources and contacts to promote the designers, who are represented in Ukraine by Public Kitchen. By offering their platform, the two agencies are ensuring that Ukrainian fashion continues to thrive and achieve the international recognition it was gaining before the war.
Fashion initiatives in support of Ukraine have already proved their impact. Following pressure from Vogue Ukraine and other members of the Ukrainian fashion industry, some of the largest companies and brands, from LVMH to Prada, Asos, and H&M, placed an embargo on Russia from early March, halting shipments and closing their stores in the country. As divorced as fashion may seem from the realities of war, as a trillion-dollar industry with far-reaching influence it can play a key role in influencing political and economic outcomes.
But punitive measures towards Russia are not enough; the next generation of Ukrainian fashion talent needs support from the international community more than ever. Many Ukrainian designers have been forced to completely rearrange – if not halt – the production of their brands. Some have moved countries, leaving their stock behind in a war zone. All this while sharing their resources and time between their business and the Ukrainian war effort. As immigration restrictions currently prevent many Ukrainians from travelling freely, facilitating representation abroad is vital.
We spoke with the founder of Rainbowwave Bianca Fincham and Public Kitchen founders Anastasia Ivchenko and Eugenia Skibina about the initiative and what more the fashion industry – from the big brands to individuals – can do to support Ukrainian fashion creatives.
How did you find out about Public Kitchen and when did you first get in touch to discuss this partnership?
Rainbowwave specialises in wholesale sales as well as PR so I was aware of Public Kitchen in Kyiv as they represent IENKI IENKI, which is a brand shared by our sales team. The conflict in Ukraine broke out when the wholesale team were in Paris, so I knew the brand had strong sales for the season and needed PR more than ever to ensure they were front of mind and their stories were shared. I reached out to Dima, the founder of IENKI IENKI to see if showing the brands in London might be of help to Public Kitchen and he connected me with the founders.
Can you explain more about how the partnership functions?
We are very fortunate that we have a large showroom in Camden and we were in the midst of planning our seasonal showcase. I offered Public Kitchen the opportunity to pop up in our space so they could attend in person with their designers to speak to journalists, stylists, and influencers in the UK, in the hope that they would feature the brands, tell their stories and see how people could help. Unfortunately, due to the UK visa requirements, there was a waitlist of six weeks for them to come to the UK by the time we applied (the conflict had been happening for 24 days at this point), so they weren’t able to attend in person.
We showcased their collections and had their campaign imagery printed and shared all of their brands’ assets with our entire database. We also made various introductions. We wanted to create a short film but the brands were limited with assets for the season.
You showcased five Ukrainian fashion brands represented by Public Kitchen at your latest press day on March 30th. What has been the response to these brands from the industry professionals invited?
We had an incredible response from the industry, with people sharing the invitation and wanting to come to support these Ukrainian designers, see the collections, interview them and use their products on their pages.
“Fashion is global and is all about connection and partnership – it’s a universal language. ” – Rainbowwave
Do you have any other events or projects planned to support the initiative and the brands involved?
We are utilising our resources to share the designers’ assets and keep them front of mind. We’ve received some great VIP dressing requests after the event so we are continuing to facilitate these and hope that these designers get the opportunity to be worn by some global talent.
Why do you consider projects like this one necessary in fashion?
Fashion is global and is all about connection and partnership – it’s a universal language. We really wanted to use our platform to support our friends in Kyiv, Ukraine, and share their voices during these terrible times. It’s important to continue to nurture their amazing talent and keep on raising awareness.
How did this partnership begin and how has it helped the designers you represent?
At the beginning of the war in Ukraine, Bianca Fincham from Rainbowwave wrote to us and suggested a cool idea – that we showcase our brands with them. We included all of our clients who are relevant to the fashion market, most of whom we have been working with for years.
We think that offering a joint press day is very important and supportive of Rainbowwave. We have been working with international media and influencers for a long time, but we are sure that having a physical presence in international markets in collaboration with a leading agency is important for our brands. It’s a new, more mature voice.
“We have turned into an information headquarters, writing a huge number of letters to journalists about what was happening in Ukraine and the war.” – Public Kitchen
It must be incredibly challenging – both on a practical and an emotional level – to keep a small creative business going in the midst of war. How are Ukrainian fashion brands such as the ones you represent managing to function in the current circumstances? What are the main difficulties they are facing and how could the industry support them?
This is really a challenging situation that none of us have ever encountered before. Even on a personal level, there are no tips for coping right now, and for business, it is even harder. But we pulled ourselves together almost immediately, and it feels like we have been working even harder. We have turned into an information headquarters, writing a huge number of letters to journalists about what was happening in Ukraine and the war. And, of course, we talked about the Ukrainian creative sector, which, in our opinion, is extremely competitive with its Western counterparts.
“Such composure and concentration on the result and an irresistible desire to continue one’s work, despite the horrendous circumstances, characterises the Ukrainian creative class very well. These guys can do everything.” – Public Kitchen
Our clients got themselves together very quickly. The most difficult, of course, was the production process. Most of them have already relocated their production to the EU or to the west of Ukraine, where it is relatively safe, but where most of the cities are still under periodic bombing.
Such composure and concentration on the result and an irresistible desire to continue one’s work, despite the horrendous circumstances, characterises the Ukrainian creative class very well. These guys can do everything.
“We think that everything that has happened can give our fashion industry even more tools to manage Ukrainian brands on a global level.” – Public Kitchen
After many major fashion brands have placed an embargo on Russia, what more can the international fashion industry be doing to ensure the next generation of Ukrainian creativity in fashion?
We think that everything that has happened can give our fashion industry even more tools to manage Ukrainian brands on a global level. We think that now is a great time for the world to take a fresh look at Ukrainian designers. Many Ukrainian brands are already strongly integrated into the global fashion context, but we think that more attention from buyers, the press and professional institutions will be a big help.
Although they might not have the same might as a major luxury brand, what can individuals and smaller businesses (e.g. stylists, photographers, journalists, designers, PRs) within the fashion industry do to help brands such as the ones you represent?
“Now is the time to unite. And it’s not about the scale of your business.” – Public Kitchen
Now is the time to unite. And it’s not about the scale of your business. Two small but passionate businesses can do something cool and outstanding. We sincerely believe this. Therefore, there are many options: PR agencies can support a cool Ukrainian brand, a photographer can offer a free photoshoot, designers can collaborate with each other. All these things create new meanings and integrate Ukraine into the world context.