How an entrepreneur from Kramatorsk transformed her business amid war in eastern Ukraine
For many women, their wedding day will be one of the most memorable of their lives, and naturally they want to look really special. Every detail matters: hairstyle, makeup, jewellery ... but the crowning glory is the wedding dress – it has to be beautiful, comfortable, suit the wearer, and match the style of the wedding.
Over almost ten years, Svitlana Korotun has learned the ins and outs of making the perfect wedding dress that will suit the tastes and preferences of any bride. Until recently, she was the owner of a large clothes-making enterprise in Kramatorsk, Donetsk Oblast that specialized in tailor-made evening and wedding dresses.
Korotun founded her sewing enterprise in 2001. At first, the business focused on designing and tailoring work overalls. In particular, the company catered to restaurants and cafes in Donetsk: creating branded uniforms for waiters and chefs, as well as textiles and upholstery for the interior decoration of restaurants.
"We only used certified fabrics with a high level of wear resistance,” recalls Korotun. “Along with that, we provided services at moderate prices, so our products were in great demand in the region. Soon enough, we started to pick up orders from a large number of businesses in the east of Ukraine.”
But then, in 2014, after the initial Russian invasion of the Donbas, the main clients of Korotun's workshop ended up in the Russian-occupied parts of Ukraine. She wasn’t ready to give up though.
“No matter how hard it was in 2014, there was never any thought of closing the workshop,” Korotun says. “We were looking for ways to keep the company and the staff going, by opening up new markets and developing the manufacturing of other products.”
It was at that time that Korotun and her team began to design and make wedding dresses and evening wear under a new brand – Dress Center. They signed contracts with wedding salons, and received orders to create clothes for weddings.
“It works like this: if a woman cannot find a dress for herself in a bridal salon because she has a non-standard figure, then she makes an order in our workshop,” says Korotun. “We create a design from measurements, photos, and technical drawings, and we make a dress tailored for a specific person.”
The business began to produce about 20 dresses per month, sometimes even more – it all depended on the complexity of the order. Production at such a small scale has some advantages over large enterprises, such as greater flexibility and agility in operations, meaning it is easy for the business to switch quickly to manufacturing different types of clothing.
But that flexibility and agility comes at a cost, Korotun admits: In small workshops, such as the Dress Center, the manufacturing of the products is not distributed on a production line – each dress is made entirely by a single seamstress. For that reason these clothes are always more expensive than mass-produced ones.
Help at hand
So, in order to increase efficiency, modernize the enterprise, and improve the quality of dresses, Korotun applied for a grant from EU4Business under its programme for supporting entrepreneurs in the east of Ukraine. The programme is implemented by UNDP, the United Nations Development Programme in Ukraine.
Winning support from EU4Business, Korotun bought special software for designing sewing templates, and additional sewing equipment. This made it possible for the business to set up production not only of wedding dresses, but also every-day women's clothing.
“Thanks to our participation in the EU4Business program, we were able to produce high quality products at certain volumes, in the required time and at competitive prices,” Korotun says. “We started cooperating with Ukrainian retailers. We’ve also developed a wide range of women's dresses and trousers for women of different builds. Our clothes have a good fit and are very comfortable.”
After the start of Russia’s full-scale war against Ukraine, Korotun had to close her workshop in Kramatorsk and evacuate from the town, which is near the front line. With their town now constantly bombarded by Russian artillery, in March she and her family moved to Dnipro, further west, in east-central Ukraine, and after a while moved their sewing equipment there as well.
Now Korotun is building her business again together with her daughter Arina. In July, Arina , as part of a group of young Ukrainian designers, took part in Italy’s Turin Fashion Week. There she presented a collection of military-style women's clothing. Now Arina and her mother are working on their own new brand, aimed at women who are confident in themselves – and in Ukraine’s victory.