KSENIA SCHNAIDER AND THE DEMI-DENIM
Doing a couple of things as a couple and succeeding in fashion
Ksenia Schnaider stands for a fresh interpretation of silhouettes and a sustainable usage of materials. Is a trouser’s leg supposed to be rather tight or wide? The Ukrainian label shows that possibly it could be both at the same time and perhaps it could also look very cool. Which it does indeed.
The couple behind Ksenia Schnaider doesn’t follow the standard rules of denim. Ksenia and Anton Schnaider like to play – experiment also. Every season they rework seven tons of second hand clothing which is found in masses in the Ukraine, being sent directly from the EU. Having sustainability in mind, the garments that are created are quite literally unique pieces.
INTERVIEW sat down with the two masterminds behind the brand and talked about their relationship, design, succeeding in business, Ukraine and much more:
Interview They say business and pleasure shouldn’t mix. Tell us why this statement is false.
Anton Schnaider It’s false, because in my case I just can’t help myself but do what I really like. This is also the only way of being successful I think. If you create something you have to love it.
Ksenia Schnaider Do you mean creative business?
AS Creative, technical… I mean when you create something. You usually don’t do that too much during a 9 to 5 office job.
KS Business for me is never routine. For me, doing my own business is always includes drive, challenge and risk. There are people who like it, and those who don’t find it comfortable. Business can also be a pleasure for those kind of people. Like never knowing what will come up tomorrow and what is around the next corner. It is about taking difficult decisions, doing something new and experimenting.
Interview How did you meet each other?
KS It’s your favorite question, Anton.
AS We met on the beach.
KS I think we don’t have to go into chronological details, haha
AS We were just on vacation but with different groups of friends. We were in Crimea.
KS Our friends introduced us to each other.
AS Yes, our friends introduced us to each other, and that’s it.
KS And that’s it, not too romantic.
Interview How did you discover your love for fashion? And when did you know you wanted to pursue it professionally?
KS I think when it comes to the fashion or creative industry in general it is an interesting dynamic. It seems like any person who somehow gets involved with fashion even if it’s only for a short period in life, he or she can’t easily leave it or say good-bye to it. It is very cool, very big – one can apply their own skills with no limits. It feels free here, you are even welcomed when you break these limits and do it your own way. And exactly because of that reason, if a person at least once worked in this industry, be it as designer, stylist, copywriter or did marketing –– it doesn’t matter, it is very hard to leave fashion. It’s like a magnet. It happened to me when I was 14, I was just making clothing for myself because I couldn’t find anything I liked at stores. I did not think of it as business at that time, even when creating clothing for my friends then who paid me for my work. It was more like a hobby to me and I was dreaming to live my life with another profession. But I got involved with fashion and then I did not look for anything else anymore. I entered university to become a designer and with time I became one.
AS Since childhood I was interested in clothing, I cared about what I was wearing and where to find it. Then I was doing graphic design. And then we started to create clothing, actually I joined Ksenia. Now from the inside I see that creating graphic designs and creating clothing are very similar, the processes are very alike, I think in every creative process it’s like this. For me fashion is not only clothing, it’s a lifestyle. I can’t say that there was a certain moment where I discovered my love for fashion.
KS We always loved fashion.
Interview When did your love affair with denim start?
KS I’m often asked this question and it is hard to answer it, because denim is such an important part of my everyday life. I almost always wearing something out of denim since my school days. I love jeans, I feel comfortable wearing them – more comfortable than wearing dresses. When we started working with denim material it was very natural for me. Asking me as a designer, my love affair with denim started about 4 years ago, but as a girl I loved denim all my life.
Interview How did your childhood experience of the Soviet Union affect your aesthetic?
АS I think it affected it a lot, there in Soviet Union it was like the time had stopped but at the same time with ambition of going into somewhere else, like into space or something. On one hand, I’m very pro-future but on the other I’m trying to slow down and appreciate classics.
KS Do you mean to set standards?
AS Yes, roughly speaking if we produced one chair, the best chair in the world, then why not use it. I mean, we do not need another 100 chairs.
Interview How would you describe the ethos of Ksenia Schnaider?
KS I think our brand is unique because two persons are working on it, two persons with mostly same views, but still there are some differences which are hard to be compromised with. We don’t try to compromise over them – we are trying to find a balance for the differences within the brand.
Here is an easy example: when we are traveling and you immediately want to go the the store to see all the gadgets and latest tech stuff, and I’d prefer to go to museum and to look for pieces of ancient pots. The same applies to our brand’s clothing. We have some very classic silhouettes, methods and very basic approach to clothing, and at the same time lots of futuristic features, memes that are all combined together in one aesthetic and it’s really hard to define it in one word. I don’t know maybe you can define it.
AS I think if our brand was a person, he or she would be the one who respects the culture and history (in one) with a huge excitement and interest in the future.
KS It is hard for me to talk about our brand as something settled, I like to describe it in 3 words, because our brand is like a living organism that is developing and changing from season to season as we are also changing. We are still an independent brand and no one dictates us how to act, we are just following our instincts.
Interview Could you explain your respective roles?
KS It would be better if you tell about your role, because I can talk about mine
AS I can tell about yours. Formally we have everything divided in half, I mean …
KS We can replace each other in every process.
AS When we say in every process, we literally mean that we know everything, we are aware of everything, starting with where to buy materials, cuts, finance, customs, HR— everything. But of course we are growing and gradually delegating, we are hiring specialists who are better at something than we are, but in the end Ksusha is the main boss, she literally knows everything. I know everything as well, but more in generally speaking, and I’m more concerned with brand’s philosophy and design, which Ksenia is also concerned with because she just can’t let go.
KS I’m concerned with design but I just care to bring it to real life and to serve it to people. I think every little detail is important for me, I’m very concerned with each process, and for you the final result is important.
AS In general Ksusha is the owner, and I’m the artist.
KS I would not say so.
KS Because it means that I’m not an artist, but I am.
AS You are an artist, but owner as well.
KS I care about everything, I’m concerned with the final result. I don’t like to draw sketches that won’t become real clothing, it’s like a waste of time for me.
AS How did you come up with your successful “demi-denim” silhouette?
KS I’m very pleased that this silhouette is called successful. It really makes me happy, because when we made the first pair of jeans there were millions of negative comments, people were commenting and writing to direct, reposting, and saying no one will ever wear it, no one needs it, what an awful silhouette, etc.
Usually criticism hurts me, but I remember that surprisingly at that time when everything was happening it pleased me and it was also fun, I liked that people were interested, I felt that there is something in it and it may be a success. When I was inventing this silhouette I did not think someone will understand it. It was a moment of some pure creativity when I was not thinking about how we are going to sell it and if anyone will ever wear it.
I just had this silhouette in my head, and I wanted to bring it to life, I almost couldn’t sleep because of it. It’s hard to say how I came up with this idea, but maybe when thinking that I wanted to invent some new cut. The idea appeared from itself, and I just had to make it happen. And then when I received so many negative comments, I had an excitement for proving people –– I wanted to make those people, who were saying that no one will ever wear these jeans, to go and buy these jeans. I wanted to turn their consciousness upside down, and I wanted them to understand that this is cool. I was super excited at that time and I started to personally reach out to journalists, buyers, stylists and to my surprise they all were interested.
Interview How do you think about and practice sustainability?
АS I think about it as a respect for everything around you, not only things.
KS It should not be trend, it should not be cool to do now and then the trend just disappears. It should be the part of life always, for all people.
AS We practiced sustainability before everyone started to talk about it.
AS Of course, we understand it on a deeper level now. It’s good that there is a sustainable movement and it’s discussed these days, but it should be a part of culture of behavior for every person and towards everything and other people, nature, etc.
As to how we practice sustainability, we think a hundred times before choosing our contractor, we check how he sources the material, how it is transported, etc.
KS Sometimes it limits our creativity, because we can’t use all the materials we want. We also work a lot with old clothing, which we use as material and make new clothing out of it. We started with denim: we were making jeans, jackets, blazers, skirts –– a huge variety. Then we added vintage sportswear: from old sport costumes we were making dresses with corsets, sport costumes with a fresh flow. And recently we added knitwear and began to rework leftovers of textile manufacturers. We are always thinking about what else we can rework.
I also would like to mention that our rework practice goes on up to a real manufacturing scale, we have unique production and team, that work on it, and each season we rework … how many tons?
KS 7 tons of old clothing, that no one longer needs, that is basically rubbish, and
won’t serve anyone, but we give it a second life.
Interview Where do you usually find the items you upcycle?
KS I remember when we had this idea for the first time. After the Revolution of Dignity happened in Ukraine, Ukrainian dresses –– vyshyvanki –– became very popular and there a phenomenal brand appeared called Vita Kin, that in just one month conquered the whole world with her vyshyvanki. When we met with her, she said that if she was making something different, she wouldn’t be interesting for anyone else.
AS She meant that she took something that was always there in front of her.
KS Yes, something that was right in front of her, that’s how she said it. And on our way back home, Anton, you also said that we have to take what is there right in front of us and it would be good to find something that there is plenty of. We didn’t start looking for it at once, but it just somehow happened that we started to work with second-hand clothing. All unnecessary clothing from the EU is brought to Ukraine, basically we are like a huge dump of old clothing. It makes me kind of proud that we work with this old clothing, give it a second life and then bring it back to the EU in new form, like in some kind of circle. When buyers are placing their orders for denim made of used clothing and asking if we are able to produce in the needed amount, it somehow scares them we won’t be able to do so. But we always assure them that we can produce enough denim because we have unlimited access to old clothing here in Ukraine.
Interview What has been the hardest thing about launching an independent brand? And what advice would you give someone who wants to do the same?
AS Independent brand sounds a bit funny for us, because only now after dealing with it for some years we understand that there are independent brands and brands that are part of some trust or group.
In our situation when launching our brand we were just doing something, we didn’t found it as an independent brand. The hardest part is to do business, to sell, to learn how the market works, how to enter international markets and sell in foreign countries and cultures. All that takes time, money, energy. It’s not hard to launch the brand, it’s hard to operate as an independent brand and play by international rules without knowing them.
My advice would be to do what you like doing, to study everything, to read, to completely get involved because you can’t be a designer only at the weekend or in the evening –– it’s something to do your whole life.
Interview What achievements are you proudest of?
KS I’m proud that for the last 8 years we’ve been working on KSENIASCHNAIDER, and it seems like a lot of time has passed but I have a feeling that it just starts and that the coolest things and achievements are still ahead of us. I like this feeling, though we have done and achieved a lot. This feeling of perspective is exactly what I’m proud of.
AS I am very proud of our international achievements.
KS For example?
AS we are selling KSENIASCHNAIDER all over the world, celebrities are wearing our clothing, it works and brings money, we have made it by ourselves and literally out of nothing with no investments. I mean I’m proud that with our work we can talk to the world.
Interview What are you working on at the moment?
AS We are launching menswear. We had menswear, when we just started, but we realized …
KS It was not a separate line, we were just making mixed collections.
AS Yes, we did not separate items.
KS I feel like this time it will be the same approach, I mean making it in one aesthetic, only it will be a separate line.
AS Back then we stopped doing menswear because we realized we needed twice more energy, it was also about different press and markets, etc. It was like one more business. Now we feel we are ready to start it over.
A and K THANK YOU! BYE! 🙂
KSENIA SCHNAIDER is available via kseniaschnaider.com and selected online retailers.