Fashion fell in love with the post-Soviet style, thanks to brands such as Gosha Rubchinskiy. Communist symbolism, oversize as if borrowed from your father, disharmony as if bought second-hand – all this would be cool in London. In Kiev, where the streetwear brand Syndicate originates from, it may look like a parody of the very poor by the very rich.
Syndicate, a Ukrainian streetwear brand that was founded in August 2010 by Anton Abo (right) and Taras Shevchuk (left), claims to showcase a real post-Soviet style, meaning what people really want to wear. They started making T-shirts in cooperation with illustrators and designers, but then decided to do more complicated things. “We had a small showroom, rather workshop (manufactory) in the centre of Kiev, and at the same time, we launched our website and the collection grows continuously", they explain.
The brand offers mens- and womenswear (including bottoms and tops) and is currently sold throughout selected stores in Europe such as Grants1856 in the UK, Boo and Les Enfants Terribles in France. Also in Japan, Russia and Ukraine itself the brand finds its market.
Still, it is very challenging to do international business in a country struck by war which creates uncertainty amongst potential customers. Here, the founders speak about their brand, their ideas and how political processes (don’t) affect their business. Life has to go on.
Why did you start your own brand in 2010?
At that date, it was hard to find some interesting shops with clothes we would like to buy in the Ukraine, everything had to be ordered from the foreign countries. Therefore, we decided to create our own brand.
Your home-country is currently suffering from war and a weird political situation. How do those circumstances affect your work, the design process, and the business itself?
After the revolution and the Russian occupation of the Crimea and eastern Ukraine came a kind of uncertainty - we didn't know what will happen to the country and to our business. All these events had a very emotional effect on us, but we kept working. However, there were also some positive aspects of this whole situation - people began to consolidate, and because of the economic crisis began to develop rapidly Ukrainian production. This is especially true of light industry. Most Ukrainians have become increasingly buying Ukrainian brands. Over these years, in our country there are many local brands, competition appeared and it becomes more interesting to work.
But because of all these events, it was difficult to work with the foreign market, because many customers have started to treat us with distrust. So we almost lost the Russian market, but this is offset by the growing demand among Ukrainian consumers.
What customer do you have in mind for your garments?
Our main customers are the young creative people aged 18-35 years. It’s a creative cluster with their hobbies, with an active lifestyle: designers, artists, musicians, skaters.
Tell us about your design process. How is it like? What inspires you?
It all starts with the mood board to determine the mood of the collection. Then the designer draws sketches and begins to work out the patterns. In parallel, we are working on graphics and prints.
The question of inspiration has always been difficult for us. We are inspired by people, good music, architecture and design...
How important is own retailing for the brand’s strategy?
It is very important for us. We have been developing our own retail for 6 years already, much time was devoted to online sales. Also, we are working on the opening of flagship stores in major cities of the CIS. Our own retail system helps us to better understand customers and their needs.
What are your long-term ambitions with Syndicate? What can we expect?
We really want to create a full-packed, strong men’s and women’s brand that is sold in the whole world. We get orders from around the world and deliver our clothes in more than 30 countries, but we have still a lot of work ahead to fully gain a foothold in the world market. We want to find our niche in the industry and prove that it is possible to produce high-quality products in the Ukraine.
Currently, there is a post-Soviet trend around. To what extend do you profit from this trend in terms of new customers, growing sales…?
It is difficult to assess the impact of this trend nowadays. Yes, we have more new foreign customers, but at the same time we must remember that in our country there is a war, and so many European customers treat us with distrust, even though the war and the political process don’t affect our business.
Despite the current popularity, it seems that still only a few lucky brands and designers from the former Soviet Union go global. Do you feel that Europe and North America are still imposing a cultural hegemony?
Yes, we agree with it. It is also important to take into account the difference of Eastern and Western European and American mentalities. Those Eastern European brands which now come on the international market made it mainly due to the new trend. A post-Soviet trend already oversaturated the market, so of Eastern Europe soon again will be less talk.