To connect with the rising generation of consumers, millennials and Gen Zers, brands are becoming more mindful of the ways that they make and market their products. Now, in the West, items like sneakers, sweatshirts, and jeans are appropriate attire for almost any occasion, including going to the office, confirming that the Post-Soviet streetwear trend has reached beyond its borders. Hype culture has an international cult following, bringing Eastern Europe’s distinct aesthetic to the global fashion stage. Today, from luxury to the mass market, casual styles are the epitome of cool.
In 2011, Ksenia Schnaider co-founded her namesake label with her husband, Anton. As apparel and graphic designers, respectively, the duo to marry their creative ideas together for the label, a year after they met. Prior to 2010, Anton was living in Moscow, working with clients, such as Art. Lebedev and Yandex, while Ksenia was working on another streetwear label, mainly creating designs for her family and friends. After receiving a great deal of positive feedback on her designs, the couple decided to join forces and formally launch a fashion business. Ksenia Schnaider was born.
With Ksenia Schnaider, Anton and Ksenia are able to communicate their community’s unique voice and way of life through fashion. Since starting their label over seven years ago, the duo stresses how quickly the Eastern European fashion market has matured. When they founded their company “ in 2011, the Eastern European fashion industry was very chaotic. Now, it’s become more [corporate] with [a built-out] infrastructure and a number of great professionals in this field.” Through uniformity, comes innovation. As industry frameworks become more structured and robust, Ukraine’s creative industries are flourishing. The duo says “It feels like people finally are beginning to feel free and confident that this is our time and that we have to do something right here and right now. And, as a result, we are more than ever willing to create and experiment in fashion.”
Vetements and Gosha Rubchinskiy were at the forefront of this movement, and these highly-esteemed brands created a domino effect in their home market, encouraging local designers to share their unique perspectives on Post-Soviet style. Ksenia Schnaider’s founders echo this statement and explain how Eastern European designers emerged onto the Western fashion industry’s radar. They say:
We believe the main factor that enabled Eastern Europe [in recent years] to emerge as a new fashion hub is the fact that Eastern European young designers –– smart and very creative with a distinguishable sense of style –– have grown up and were brave enough to broadcast the world over their authenticity and creativeness. It’s the designers like Demna Gvasalia and Gosha Rubchinskiy who brought the world’s attention to Eastern Europe and motivated other local designers to continue to conquer the world.
Eastern European fashion is known for its politically, self-referential sensibility. Growing up as the first post-communist era in the former USSR, many of the region’s designers are drawing design inspiration from their cultures’ histories to recontextualize and fabricate a distinct identity. The founders say:
“We believe that our brand’s uniqueness [lies in our] creating innovative yet functional, kind of effortlessly cool, wearable and easy to understand clothing pieces, [which we believe are] imbued with hidden gems. Growing up in post-Soviet countries, we [were immersed] in an incredible cultural heritage that still inspires us today, to re-imagine our past through original clothing for both Eastern European and [create for other] global fashion markets.”
The couple draws a significant portion of their design inspiration from their childhood experiences. Ksenia explains that “jeans gained a cult status and were seen as extremely cool to wear. In my childhood, we had only one pair of jeans in our house. My mother and father both wore them.” The brand chooses to focus on denim to pay tribute to the region’s cultural history, during the Soviet times and early post-Soviet years, and to re-imagine this aesthetic for the rising generation of fashion consumers. She continues: “It’s this feeling of respect and admiration for denim that our grandparents and parents had for the jeans back in the 1980s, that we are trying to transform and communicate through Ksenia Schnaider denim and other [merchandise].”
The founders believe that their everyday surroundings also highly influence the brand’s aesthetic. They say:
From [Kiev’s] kitsch into utility, [we] find inspiration in ridiculous architecture, nasty advertisements and so on. I’m sure that if we were living in Rome or Tokyo, our collections would be completely different. But we are here in Kyiv, where sometimes we may be mad at this city for its visual overdose, though always we find inspiration here and, then, unconsciously, use it in our collections.
While Anton and Ksenia are proud of the label’s Ukrainian roots, Ksenia Schnaider’s products are made with international markets in mind. Accordingly, in the West, the brand has gained a cult following among fashion insiders such as Eva Chen, Bella Hadid, Coco Rocha, and Dua Lupa. The brand also leverages social media to gain brand awareness and better engage with their community. The founders reflect on how social media is an integral component of the brand’s success. They say:
Ksenia Schnaider is fully self-funded, and, therefore, it’s important for us to receive organic reach. [We have been fortunate to receive a lot of positive recognition] from celebrities, influencers and their incredible stylists. We’ve never paid to celebrity or influencer to wear Ksenia Schnaider. Instead, we focus on creating signature, outstanding clothing to attract their attention and recognition naturally.
When it comes to gaining more traditional press coverage, Ksenia Schnaider’s commitment to sustainability has proven to give the brand a competitive edge over its local streetwear peers. Anton and Ksenia Schnaider explain:
[Throughout the Western media], in The New York Times, The Cut, Forbes we have been recognized as the only fashion brand from Eastern Europe who’s been advocating for sustainable fashion for the last three years now. Since we are living in the part of the world that rarely associated environmentally-friendly practices and [considering that] the fashion industry has one of the most negative impacts on the environment, we just felt a natural [inclination] to commit ourselves to sustainability and to make it a significant part of our brand’s DNA.
70% of consumers say that they are willing to pay more sustainably-made products, and 90% of shoppers believe that brands have a responsibility to take care of the planet and its people, according to research recently conducted by JWT Intelligence. In alignment with these values and the brand’s ethos, Ksenia Schnaider has implemented several sustainability-driven initiatives.
Firstly, the company has transformed its Kiev-based studio into “a laboratory for washing, re-working, designing and creating new denim clothing in one place, [which allows us to minimize] our waste, water, and energy footprints.”
Secondly, the majority of the brand’s denim and sportswear textiles are sourced from second-hand markets. The founders further elaborate: “More than 30% of Ksenia Schnaider clothing has been created from reworked materials and each season we increase this percentage. Also together with ISKO, we’re currently working on a capsule collection for which all denim pieces are created from certified recycled and organic cotton.”
For the brand’s pre-fall 2019 collection, all of the brand’s patched denim, sportswear, and knitwear will be made out of upcycled, reworked materials, according to a source close to the company. While challenging, Ksenia Schnaider says that the deconstruction and reconstruction of textiles, to re-imagine existing clothing items is “lengthy and painstaking.” However, she continues: “[I]t just feels right to give old clothing another mode of existence with brand’s signature creativeness, but [this process is] very challenging indeed.”
With these eco-conscious initiatives, Ksenia Schnaider communicates its commitment to transparency, an attribute that increasingly influences consumer purchasing decisions. However, a company’s transparency has to fluid, extending past its environmental efforts. Today, brands must also get political.
Through Ksenia Schnaider’s “Corruption’ collection, Ksenia Schnaider demonstrates how, by marrying style with social good, modern fashion brands are creating authentic connections with their audiences. The founders further explain the inspiration behind their best-selling collection. They say: “[W]e are aware that corruption itself is everywhere, including in the fashion industry. Many people from all over the world felt also can relate to our understanding of the word as the fact [is] that corruption exists everywhere.”
By tapping into universal values, Ksenia Schnaider demonstrates how customer ideologies are shaping an increasingly, internationally-connected fashion industry. Accordingly, Anton and Ksenia Schnaider believe “that in the future everything in the global fashion industry will be mixed [together] and, there will be no boundaries [between borders]. Just pure creativeness and, of course, hopefully, sustainability.”