Five questions with Ukrainian fashion designer Ksenia Karpenko

Five questions with Ukrainian fashion designer Ksenia Karpenko

Ukranian fashion designer Ksenia Karpenko and family LOVE

I was very touched to recently be approached by this amazing lady Ksenia Karpenko, a fashion designer from Ukraine who studied at the London College of Fashion. Ksenia was until recently running her own successful fashion brand LOVE in Ukraine, complete with a boutique in downtown Kyiv. 

Like many of her compatriots, in the midst of the terrible war with Russia, she finds herself displaced and away from her husband and family. She is currently in Tarragona in Spain with her toddler son, taking stock and trying to make sense of it all. And although she already speaks four languages, is now trying to learn not only Spanish but Catalan too.

We have talked about what it is like living in Spain as an ex-pat, some of the ups (like the weather) and the downs (such as learning the language). We’ve talked about how we all need to go easy on ourselves, especially in May, mental health month, having a little one and what her plans are going forward. And we have talked about her passion, her Ukrainian fashion brand LOVE.

A love story

As you will see from the interview, the story of Ksenia’s brand LOVE really is a love story in every way. She founded it from scratch and built it up to the point where not only did she have her own boutique alongside various pop-up stores and a talented team of stylists, content creators and marketing managers, but she has nearly 34,000 followers on Instagram and has been featured in Vogue and Marie Claire, among others.

Right now she’s had to leave it all behind, but she hasn’t given up and is preparing her brand for the future.

Sustainability

When it comes to sustainability in its collections, LOVE tries to use sustainable fabrics wherever possible including Tencel, organic cotton, bamboo silk and other ethically sourced fabrics. What’s more, 70% of the collection is handmade in Ukraine by ethically treated and well-paid workers. However, Ksenia’s main focus is making sure that pieces are well-made, well-fitting and made to last.

I truly believe that there are no irregular body shapes, there’s only badly fitted clothing.

Not only does Ksenia design clothing that won’t go out of fashion next season, she believes in making clothing that lasts and that fits. LOVE has a plus-size range as well, and the brand work to educate women on how to dress according to their body shapes and lifestyles. They also have capsule collections where their clients can make 80 outfits out of 20 pieces.

Sample of LOVE clothing from Ukraine
Clothing from Ukrainian fashion designer Ksenia Karpenko
Sample of LOVE clothing from Ukraine
Images courtesy of Ksenia Karpenko

Buying your clothes well in the first place, knowing how to wear them and keeping them for a long time because you love them. This is what we should all be doing if we truly want to be sustainable. It is a far cry from the fast-fashion buy too much and throw it away next week mentality. 

For more on the fast-fashion model, read Fast fashion vs slow fashion: the lingering impacts of a fast fashion sector and to learn about why sustainable fashion is important see: Why is sustainable and ethical fashion important: what everyone should know.

There’s so much clothing in this world, so there’s hardly any need for yet another dress

The interview

Your background:

You have such an interesting background! Can you tell us how you went from studying languages and translation and working in media to setting up your own fashion brand?

I followed my passion.

Eight years ago I was an investigative reporter, covering corruption and fraud. In the midst of it, I got an assignment to write a feature on 10 businessmen under 30 who built their companies in Ukraine and succeeded. One of the interviewees was my future husband.

While we were dating, I applied for a Fulbright grant in the USA and was shortlisted among 300 applicants. So I was to make a choice, either to move on with my media career or to stay with my partner. I was perfectly aware if I would not go, I would victimize myself sooner or later. And If I would go, I would have lost my love. So it came as no surprise to me, that I should think of another option.

I was quick to put together a short business plan for my own fashion brand – this is how LOVE started. LOVE is about being true to yourself and following your heart.

Studying fashion:

For those who are thinking of getting into the world of fashion design, how was it studying at the London College of Fashion, both fashion/apparel design and fashion marketing? Was this a turning point for you and what were the main things you learned that helped you with your business?

There’s so much clothing in this world, so there’s hardly any need for yet another dress. So if you really want to go this way, you should set yourself to design at your utmost capacity.

My goal is always to create clothing women would love to wear. I truly believe that there’re no irregular body shapes, there’s only badly fitted clothing.

LCF is great school, it teaches how to combine creativity and business. These days fashion designers need to be a stylist, a marketing manager as well as an expert in silhouettes.

Model wearing clothing from LOVE made in Ukraine
Hand with ring and scarf from Ukrainian fashion designer Ksenia Karpenko
Ksenia Karpenko
Ksenia Karpenko

Your fashion brand:

How did you go about setting up your own fashion brand from scratch including employing a full team to opening a boutique in Kyiv to getting featured in magazines like Marie Claire and Vogue? They are really impressive credentials!

If you really love what you doing – you will go for it. At first, I was thinking I wouldn’t be able to do this. I was afraid but I kept going. There are lots of fails, but if you really want to do it, you are accepting the challenge.

Moreover, I think it very important to look at your brand as a client. So as a brand owner, I was constantly talking to my clients, and having analyzed their feedback, I was constantly improving the service, the collections and the fashion campaigns. The brand was started from scratch and I was growing it step by step.

Sustainability:

What are the fundamental aspects that make your brand LOVE stand out and how important is sustainability to you?

if it’s quality pieces (which LOVE pieces are) you would not need to renew your wardrobe with every new fashion trend that comes out.

It’s very important to grow into sustainability. We found ourselves in a position where we had to lead our clients into sustainability, as we as a brand were among the first ones in Ukraine to speak about it.

We mostly make our designs out of ethically sourced fabrics, and our employees at the workshop are ethically treated and well paid, but this is something we would communicate to our clients at the last point.

I create collections according to various body shapes, color complexions and I make sure that collections won’t go out of style the very next season. Within the brand activities, we would give style tips and master classes for our clients on how to style themselves.

The idea behind it is if you know your body shape, color type and complexion, you would buy only clothing that suits you the best. And if it’s quality pieces (which LOVE pieces are) you would not need to renew your wardrobe with every new fashion trend that comes out.

Once the client is aware of what the style and quality pieces are able to do with the wardrobe, we would introduce the organic textiles to them. And this is how our clients started to coming to grips with sustainability. And that is absolutely beautiful, because they realize that sustainability is practical and it saves the planet.

The future:

This is a very difficult question I know right now, but what are your hopes for the future, for you and your family and for your brand LOVE?

Life is so fragile. I find my peace in realizing that the Universe brought me these circumstances, so it will give me the strength and patience to go through them as well.

Life is so fragile. I find my peace in realizing that the Universe brought me these circumstances, so it will give me the strength and patience to go through them as well.

And I pray for my husband’s safety and for everyone’s husband staying in Ukraine.

The only stability I have these days is instability. But I’m thankful that my toddler son and I are safe and I’m able to do this is interview.

My top priority for now is to sell my brand in Europe, as I have got my new collection almost ready. It would also feature an exclusive line with handmade exquisite embroidery.

If anyone reading the interview is open for cooperation, please feel free to contact me.

Right now, Ksenia is working to launch an English version of her website lovefp.com which is due soon. She can be reached on email kkarpenkomail@gmail.com or on her personal Instagram account @karpenkoksenia

I can’t wait to see LOVE launch in the rest of Europe, and I am wishing Ksenia all the best with her new venture. But most of all I pray for Ksenia’s husband and family and for the rapid end to this horrible war.

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Infographic for five questions with Ukrainian fashion designer Ksenia Karpenko
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