23:36 PM Saturday, November 17, 2018
Ukraine's High-Fashion Vyshyvankas Confront Small Business Barriers
Red tape -- not the Christmas kind -- tie up overseas online sales
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KYIV – The intricate, brightly-colored embroidery of Ukraine’s traditional garb has caught the eye of high-fashion writers and figures over the past two years, propelling several Ukrainian designers toward international recognition.

Sleeping Gypsy, which started selling its first line of traditional vyshyvankas this year, wants to ensure that tradition coexists with evolution as these shirts and dresses gain popularity beyond Ukraine.

Like peasant shirts of old, Sleeping Gypsy’s garments use durable sealed seams. At the armpit, a square piece of fabric joins the sleeve and body to ensure the shirt fits well as the wearer’s body changes.

“The Ukrainian people would do this because they would wear one vyshyvanka their whole life,” she explained. “Our lifetime guarantee is not our own ambition, but the quality of the dress itself, that has been tested through the years.”

Long Life Fashion

This approach, squarely opposed to the “fast fashion” trend, is part of Sleeping Gypsy’s commitment to sustainability. They source materials locally, from Ukraine and Belarus, and save and reuse excess scraps.

After working with a Kyiv-based atelier that designs tailored clothing, Hermann, a former model, started Sleeping Gypsy to share her Ukrainian designs with the world. While the shirts and dresses of her first collection are expensive, between $350 and $650, they are selling well.

“We were surprised by how much we managed to sell in a short period of time, being new to the industry,” she said, noting that about 70% of her sales are to customers living outside Ukraine, through wholesale partners. Through years of fashion industry events and shows, Hermann has built partnerships and friendships in Europe and the US.

Online Payment Barriers

Hermann says Sleeping Gypsy wants to expand its international presence through its online store. But it faces a barrier common to many businesses here: the difficulty of receiving payments in Ukraine.

The National Bank of Ukraine has made some progress in remedying this by streamlining the country’s electronic payment system. In February of 2015, the Bank ruled that Ukrainians could receive electronic-transfers from non-residents in foreign currency.

But changes have not followed in order for small businesses like Sleeping Gypsy to sell their products from Ukraine internationally. E-payments industry leader PayPal still does not allow Ukrainians to receive payments through their system. This leads many Ukrainian entrepreneurs to incorporate their businesses abroad.

“Many other Ukrainian designers who sell to international customers online are [based] in Estonia or Cyprus, but we are a Ukrainian company,” she explained. “We make a traditional Ukrainian product with Ukrainian methods in Ukraine. I want to pay taxes in Ukraine. I don’t want to go offshore.”

She now offer customers the choice between two American payment systems. But the prices of Sleeping Gypsy shirts and dresses often flag payments as suspicious, blocking completion of purchases. These electronic barriers often hit customers in Russia and China. Nevertheless, Hermann said she will do her best to keep her company in Ukraine.

Stripped of Financial Straitjacket, Creativity Can Flow

Once Hermann is confident that international customers can purchase clothing on her website without complications, she plans to develop an application that would allow customers to design their own shirts and dresses.

“We really want to go digital,” she explained. “Through a constructor app the customers can select the cut, color, pattern, and color of the pattern to create one of 500 variations.”

Before launching such a project, Hermann wants to go to Kickstarter, the crowdfunding platform, to get customer feedback and raise awareness about Sleeping Gypsy. While many Ukrainian entrepreneurs have achieved success through the platform, Kickstarter does not allow Ukrainian residents to fund projects on their site.

Hermann said her company is ready to grow. Due to the availability of highly-skilled labor in Ukraine, Sleeping Gypsy can easily scale up.

“We do everything on site,” she said of her 15 employees, split between Kyiv and Vinnytsia. “As we grow, we will just employ more people. It is possible in Ukraine.”

Over the next several months, Hermann plans to show new designs at fashion industry events in Germany and the US. Her strategy is to build on her base of wholesale partners, who already are reordering Sleeping Gypsy’s shirts and dresses. To check out her designs, go to:

For comments and story tips, please email UBJ IT Correspondent Harvey Hinman at this address:

Slider photo: Katya Hermann, CEO of Sleeping Gypsy, wants government to cut red tape to allow her to sell her vyshyvankas online to overseas customers. (Credit: Harvey Hinman)

Inside photo top: Model shows off a long, Christmas-colored Sleeping Gypsy’s dress. (Credit: Sleeping Gypsy)

Inside photo bottom: Brightly colored, handmade vyshyvankas hang in Sleeping Gypsy’s workshop. (Credit: Sleeping Gypsy)

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