In times of strife and struggle, Russia has always placed its biggest trust in human resources. “We’re rich in minerals and minds,” goes an old saying. While the population of the world’s largest (by territory) nation has steadily declined since independence in 1991, recent years have marked a potential reversal of fortunes with 0.05% growth recorded in 2017. The government aims to prevent the dreaded brain drain, but it’s the creative industries that often are the most flexible to adapt to new challenges.
Mercedes Benz Fashion Week Russia just took place in Moscow in October 13-17. Its Fashion Futurum program is an example of successful strategic support for emergent talent within a specific economic sector. Last year, the organizing committee co-launched FashionNet as part of the National Technology Initiative to boost domestic apparel market coverage up to 70% by 2035. While all eyes were on the fashion capital’s brightest stars Yasya Minochkina, Pirosmani, Artem Shumov, Alena Akhmadullina and Igor Gulyaev, we decided to spend time with the participants of the Fashion Futurum Accelerator, a program that helps promising designers set up a business from scratch. These future stars spend the past couple months in an intense mentorship program in Moscow working alongside established brand managers, buyers, investors and consultants to perfect their vision and set up sustainable production and retail channels. In between the shows, I asked them what participation in the Accelerator meant for them as they prepared to develop and present their full debut collections next season as part of the platform.
Designer Ksenia Gerts:
“Participating in Fashion Futurum, I had a chance to look at my brand from a different point of view and with the help of mentors choose the right vector of development. It was an important event, because I will be supported after the project and that gives me strength and confidence to try new ideas!”
… Based in St. Petersburg, this label is getting attention for its synthesis of Russian architectural and artistic heritage with latest smart couture trends. Last year the collection was inspired by and presented at the Ural Industrial Biennial of Contemporary Art in Ekaterinburg.
Designer Varvara Zenina:
“The Accelerator gave us new knowledge and opportunities. It broadened our minds. It offered a way to see ourselves as relevant in the existing world of fashion. It was just in time for our relaunch and we have already implemented some changes in our business. My brand will never be the same!”
… Billed as the first successful Russian brand popularizing Slavic design heritage for the hipster generation, the line includes several traditional types of shirts and dresses retailored for the Millennial mindset. It reflects growing interest in indigenous Russian folklore and crafts.
Designer Alena Rusakova for Laboratory of Innovative Design:
“After 25 years of designing uniforms, I became interested in smartwear for people with limited mobility. Bringing AbilityLife to Moscow gives me a chance to align it with global trends and tech knowhow in this exclusive segment. Moving forward, I am confident in inclusive fashion design in Russian.”
Rusakova has experience in designing hyper-functional garments for special projects with MTC, Coca Cola and other corporate giants.
Designer Alisa Filichkina:
“Fashion Futurum for me is like diving deep into the ocean, very rapid growth, inspiring communication, wise mentors, new friends, a priceless experience.”
Coming from fashion styling, Filichkina had decided to take a leap of faith into bringing her bright vision to life.
Designer Alisa Lagina:
“My story here is one of happy destruction. Bye, the world of creativity. Hello, world of numbers. I knew that enthusiasm was not enough to compensate for blank spaces where business knowledge should be. This was six months of crushing fears and misconceptions. In the end, the puzzle of the future finally got pieced together. But the most important outcome is the sense of community among peers: brands of different status sharing experiences and collectively coming up with solutions.”
… Lagina’s brand ExoMeso is a start-up specializing in making clothes from recycled materials: a promising market trajectory as more consumers are demanding eco-conscious choices!
Designer Zhenya Mikhailova for Lala Laguna:
“First of all, Fashion Futurum is team energy that cleared my naivete and fantasies about my brand. Of course, there will be many obstacles ahead, but I will not repeat any mistakes now that I know how to avoid them. I finally have a strategy and it feels like a whole new me!”
… You may not think of Russia as a beach resort destination, but you might consider this up-and-coming brand for your next swimwear shopping spree. It is quickly becoming the go-to option for Russian fashionistas!
Designer Marusia Nizovtsova:
“Fashion Futurum is an opportunity to make a giant leap from a craftsman-designer to a designer-businessperson who thinks innovatively on a larger scale. It gives me the ability to integrate the experience of the past into a better-quality product without losing artistic integrity. Together, we make Russian fashion industry better and better.”
… Nizovtsova produces clothes and accessories for those invested in the labor-of-love process of creating their personal mythology. The brand also collaborates with influencers on fashion films and a blogging community.
Designer Kira Kononovich for BoChicca:
“Participation in FF means for me the great possibility to get connections and practical knowledge. Before, I’ve tried reading all the books about developing your own way as a fashion brand. It felt a bit like running in the darkness. Now I have a much better vision of how this fantastically resourceful community works!”
… Kononovich specializes in handmade brooches stylized as historical badges of honor. At the base of each such “medal” is a unique vintage button which the designer sources from flee-markets all over the world.
Time will tell how these designers fair in a highly competitive Moscow marketplace. Mercedes Benz Fashion Week Russia program has about 100 shows a season. Alexander Shumsky, president of Russian Fashion Council and Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Russia, estimates that 800-1000 smaller domestic niche brands enter the market every year.
“The problem is that all of them have a broken vision of the industry. Fashion education system is designed for traditional supply chain, not for a new army of creative minds. We are working hard to change it in Russia and next year we are going to expand Fashion Futurum format to key regions, as well. Today is always about new talents.”
However, oversaturation and expectations burnout are realistic detrimental factors as well. Just ask designer Jean Rudoff of Lumiere Garson who was selected last year for the FashionNet pilot mentorship program. His premier showcase this year featured a sweatshirt that read ‘Tired of Fashion’ on its sleeve. Well, honesty is the best policy!