Representing the creative future

How can we create a better future for Ukrainian creative talent?

We speak to Ukrainian stylist and creative director Julie Pelipas about why businesses need to not only help but hire Ukrainian creatives

Julie Pelipas never planned to start a community organisation. But when Russia invaded her motherland on February 24, the Ukrainian stylist and creative director quickly set up Bettter.Community, a digital platform supporting and promoting Ukrainian creatives in need of donations and, most importantly, work.

Pelipas’ project comes at a critical time for Ukrainians in the creative industries. The war has dried up many projects and paid opportunities in Ukraine. There are new barriers to creating: many have been forced to leave studio spaces, essential equipment and resources behind as they move to different cities and countries in search of safety. The opportunity to work and create, which offers a welcome escape from the mental toll of the war, is harder than ever to find.

As the former fashion director of Vogue Ukraine, Pelipas is a focal point of both Ukraine’s small creative community and the international scene, putting her in a prime position to bring top-tier Ukrainian creatives – including fashion designers Ksenia Schnaider, Anton Belinsky and Anna October alongside artists, stylists, cinematographers and graphic designers – to international attention. Bettter.Community aims to platform these creatives not as victims but as talents whose work can speak for itself.

True to Pelipas’ goal to help talented Ukrainians achieve their potential, today the Bettter.Community project merged with Given Name, a new agency started by young Ukrainian Anastasiia Danyliuk. The first project on the agenda is a major collaboration with iD France: a supplement in the August issue titled ‘Imagine Ukraine’, which will feature Ukrainian creatives shot by Ukrainian photographers and expansive explorations of a future Ukraine rebuilt after the war, from architecture to culture and ecology.

1 Granary speaks with Pelipas about the importance of hiring Ukrainian creatives, and how starting Bettter.Community has informed her optimistic vision for the future of the creative industries and her hopes to see Ukrainian culture bloom out of the destruction of war.

Have you always been interested in projects that have a clear social cause – whether that be sustainability or supporting the arts in crisis?

I’ve felt that I will do social work all my life, but I thought that I would start when I was much older – when I have more time and more experience – because you need to be experienced and very well aware of the landscape to help people. But the war changed everything completely. Bettter.Community is about helping people on one hand, but on the other hand, I think that this is actually a very modern way of creating anything: when you gather people together, when you share facilities, when you share economic units, when you share contacts, legal information, anything like that. Designers are changing the way they work right now. They have changed the way they communicate with other designers – it used to be competitive and people were not really happy to help each other. I’m always happy to see new ways of business, new ways of communication, and new ways of media building, where you can be honest and direct with your messages.

“The moguls of the creative industries have to be open. They have to reconsider old patterns and how they used to work and be really open to discovering Ukrainian talent.” – Julie Pelipas

How important is it that the international creative community hires Ukrainian creatives?

This is the crucial point and this is something I feel like we will struggle with a lot in the near future. What I see from inside the fashion industry at least is that Russians are very rooted in the industry. And we’re at the moment right now where people are reconsidering the war situation and they don’t want to destroy their connections with Russia completely so they slip back to being neutral. People are not as willing to give support because they’re tired. War actually affected everyone economically and mentally on all levels. When we try to get help for designers and creatives, I feel a bit sad to be asking and begging, knocking on doors so many times, to get something. And it’s not something big, it’s just something that they can allocate. This is the brutal reality right now. But I’m always a very optimistic person. And I always believe if there is talent, if there is genius, it will find a way to get the place it deserves.

But the very important message is that the moguls of the creative industries have to be open. They have to reconsider old patterns and how they used to work and be really open to discovering Ukrainian talent. Not in the sense of them being victims, but in the sense that their work is really cool. And what I know for sure is that Ukrainians are very hard-working, and they’re very responsible. When I represent them, I’m always sure that they will bring the best results. And I’m always trying to put forward the message that it would be an amazing evolution of the fashion industry to stop only working with people they know; their friends, their family, their lovers, boyfriends, et cetera. When they open the door for younger people, even if they don’t have any big brands in their portfolios and they just consider them for their talent, that will be amazing.

What are the other difficulties Ukrainian creatives are facing right now?

Overall, the biggest struggle they go through is mental. Because it’s almost impossible to operate normally and to be a normal human with these nonstop images and narratives from Ukraine, which are absolutely inhuman. Mentally we are all absolutely broken. It’s not easy for me, and I’m a very strong person. Every time I meet people who have not witnessed these things, I feel like I’m damaged. It’s a very painful feeling. I’m almost 40, I have two kids, I have a career and I’m a very strong person. I can’t imagine how it would be for a girl or boy of 20 or 25 when they don’t have this experience or support from agencies and the industry. This lost feeling is the biggest struggle, it’s bigger than financial. It’s bigger than people not having a place to live. Of course the creatives I represent experience these basic problems, but also I feel like they don’t believe in themselves. They don’t believe that they can create something beautiful out of this pain. But I see miracles happen when they manage to get a project. When they work, they say “Julie, it’s the only time when we forget, when we create when we work. And we feel so much better, having something – like any job, any project. We feel so much better when we work”. It’s the most efficient healing process for them.

“I consider this whole nightmare as a historical chance for Ukrainian culture to finally be discovered.” – Julie Pelipas

You have been very transparent on your Instagram about what the money that was donated to Bettter.Community has been used for and that none of it has gone towards running the initiative – it has all been given solely to the creatives. Why do you think this is important?

Here, we’re like a mirror for the old system, where we reflect on how badly it operates these days. We all know how it works with the Red Cross, where the smallest amount of money actually goes to victims, and then the other huge amounts of money serve the system of the Red Cross. I know people who went to the Red Cross on the Ukrainian border to ask for help and they gave them aspirin – that is ridiculous. With the majority of big charity institutions which, sadly, received the biggest amount of money at the beginning of the war because all the big companies and stars donated to them, if you look into numbers what actually went to Ukraine is just insane. So we don’t have salaries – people in my team volunteer. And we don’t need to have an office these days, it’s fine to do it over Zoom. We don’t need to travel the world to represent ourselves, it’s fine to do it online. That’s how we reduced all the expenses on the side of operations, and then we just give all the money to the people we represent. That’s how it should be, I believe. But this transparency is something that modern companies need to be taught. And when they see these examples, when they see this emerging, this could be that little thing that can ignite a big trend, and they will do the same. They will need to do the same in the future, that’s my hope.

How can people who want to support Ukrainian creatives, by getting them involved in a project, for example, go about it?

Speaking about the creatives from our community, there’s a list of contacts on our website. If there are any legal issues, we can support that. That’s the reason why I created Bettter.Community: to show the world that it’s easy to approach and hire from Ukraine. And we have had many success cases; companies will come to the website, see the profile and get in touch directly with no need for agencies.

It goes without saying that Ukrainians currently find themselves in a horrifying situation. Do you hope that projects like this offer an opportunity to try and extract something good from the circumstances, by raising the profile of Ukraine’s creative scene both now and in the future?

Yes, absolutely. I’m very optimistic about that. I mean, there is a lot of work to be done, but then I consider this whole nightmare as a historical chance for Ukrainian culture to finally be discovered. and not just discovered, but integrated into the international landscape. This was blocked before by Russians, unfortunately, because all the head offices were in Moscow. Ukrainian culture was always appropriated, cancelled, raped – I’m sorry to say that – and tortured because, for example, there’s a generation of writers that were killed just because they spoke the Ukrainian language. So I consider this situation as a huge chance. But also, I’m sure this will give birth to such a strong generation of artists. I always believe in the younger generation and I see the impulse and the motivation is strong right now. They are very hungry for new visual codes and new language and I believe that they will now be able to create new cultural codes.