Often when reading about conflict-stricken places, it can be easy to forget that even in the most incomprehensible situations of violence, human life survives – albeit in pockets or disguised as little forms of resistance.
The Ukrainian fashion industry tells one such story.
It features a motivated southern Californian and designers who stayed committed to their craft despite being engulfed in grave political uncertainty, and $42 million – all of which intersected with each other against the backdrop of the Russia-Ukraine conflict.
Jen Sidary bought a one-way ticket to Kyiv in 2020 which changed everything.
“It’s incredible to think if it weren’t for this, I would have never discovered this extremely talented Ukrainian fashion industry or met all these incredible people I now consider family,” she said.
Calls from a bomb shelter
As early as thirty days after the Russia-Ukraine conflict began, Sidary launched an online retail platform called Angel for Fashion, which is available everywhere in the world except Russia and Belarus.
Having worked across brands such as Vivienne Westwood in a career spanning three decades, Sidary was someone Ukrainian fashion designers turned to for professional advice and collaboration.
In fact, the idea for Angel for Fashion was born when Ukrainian footwear designer Alina Kachorovska called Sidary from a bomb shelter in Ukraine and asked how she could continue running her business as the conflict with Russia rages on.
With the help of Kyiv-based designer Valery Kovalska, Sidary reached out to fashion designers across Ukraine. Within two weeks, more than 30 of them were onboard, bringing the Ukrainian Fashion Alliance to life.
Even as devastation loomed, the Ukrainian designers continued supporting their country’s economy by diligently sketching, sewing, and designing – doing what they knew and delivering on orders as best as possible.
“In my thirty years of working in the fashion industry, I have never witnessed the resilience of a country and its people as they began to focus on keeping their businesses alive, days into the war, [working] from bomb shelters to designing new collections amidst constant air raid sirens,” said Sidary.
The platform now brings together 32 brands from prominent fashion designers in Ukraine. It has received visitors from over 175 countries and fulfilled orders from the US, Canada, Europe, the UAE, Israel, South Korea, and Japan.
Follow the money
A striking character introduced earlier in the story – the $42 million – has not made an appearance until now.
When Jen Sidary, founder and CEO of Angel for Fashion, began her work in Ukraine, she was working on several ambitious projects with the USAID Competitive Economy Program.
The official website for the program in Ukraine says that USAID CEP is a “$42 million activity,” and it aims to develop an open Ukrainian economy by fostering a better business-enabling environment, providing support for competitive industries and firms, and boosting Ukraine’s exports and trade.
Sidary consulted with the program’s Ukrainian grantees and showcased Ukrainian brands at fashion weeks in New York and Paris.
“The Ukrainian fashion industry is so blessed to have the support of USAID, and I’m honored to be a part of such a magnificent initiative. I never dreamed in my thirty-year career my work in the fashion industry would help impact people’s lives in a real way,” Sidary said.
“I must be the luckiest woman alive, and I’ve never been prouder to be an American watching how my country supports Ukraine in so many ways,” she added.
In fact, many Angel for Fashion customers – or “Angels” as the platform refers to them – have felt that they are helping Ukraine in its war with Russia by supporting the business.
One customer from Los Angeles wrote on the website, “Angels for Fashion provided me [with] a personal satisfaction for being able to help designers in Ukraine in real time! The satisfaction of providing financial support as well as emotional support directly to the designers is brilliant.”
Several reviews on the website from users around the globe end with “Slava Ukraine,” which translates to “Glory to Ukraine.”
Politics and economics may coincide often, but never without humans doing what humans do best – thriving when survival seems bleak.