The Designers Behind Sleeper On How We Can All Help The People Of Ukraine

With a factory in Kyiv, Kate Zubarieva and Asya Varetsa are desperately trying to keep their team safe.

Kate Zubarieva and Asya Varetsa

by Hannah Banks-Walker |

It has been a week since Russia unlawfully invaded Ukraine but, already, it is estimated that there are one million war refugees. Hundreds of civilians have been killed, although this number is still unclear, while Russian forces have taken control of Kherson, the first major city to fall. The International Criminal Court (ICC) has launched an investigation into possible war crimes in Ukraine but that doesn't resolve the very immediate situation for the Ukrainian people, many of whom are existing hour to hour as they fight to survive and protect their homes.

Evacuees from eastern Ukraine
One million people have had to flee their homes ©Getty Images

Kate Zubarieva and Asya Varetsa are two Ukrainians based in New York who are watching their beloved home country suffer. Founders of the label Sleeper, renowned for transforming pretty linen nightwear into in-demand day dresses, Zubarieva and Varetsa have an office in Kyiv, where they also manufacture a lot of their clothes. They tell me they are doing everything they can to ensure the safety of their team.

Sleeper team in Kyiv
The Sleeper team in Kyiv ©Sleeper

We have been asked thousands of times what inspires us. The answer has always been the same – people. Today, there is even more power, more truth in this answer

'Our main focus and priority right now is our safety, while also providing assistance to Ukraine, which in the last six days has become a shield for the entire civilized world,' they explained over email. 'We have made donations towards humanitarian aid, and are doing our utmost to help our team. So far, Sleeper has donated 1,000,000 UAH [about £24,873] to help defend Ukraine. We have been asked thousands of times what inspires us. The answer has always been the same – people. Today, there is even more power, more truth in this answer.'

Seamstresses at work in Sleeper's Kyiv office
Seamstresses at work in Sleeper's Kyiv office ©Sleeper

With a team in Kyiv consisting of everyone from seamstresses to customer support advisors, Zubarieva and Varetsa feel incredibly responsible for them all. Each individual is facing a different struggle, as they explain:

'Some men from our team have gone to defend their cities. Our lawyer helped find a convoy of Russian vehicles, and thanks to this, the Ukrainian army was able to block it. Some of us have escaped west with our families. Some are sheltering from the bombings as we speak. One of our employees drove a car for 16 hours to evacuate her sick mother. Before that, she had driven a car only several times in her life.

'This has all happened in the last six days. We want to tell you this so that you know what worthy and incredible people live here in Ukraine, people who create Sleeper - and who will create it no matter what. We will continue our mission - to bring light, to bring beauty into this world.'

While the conflict began last week, Milan Fashion Week appeared to continue as usual, leading to criticisms that the fashion industry was tone deaf. Since then, many brands have taken a stand against Russia in solidarity with Ukraine; Nike, Net-a-Porter, Burberry, H&M Group and Puma are among a growing list of brands which have stopped deliveries or temporarily ceased sales in Russia.

Ganni and Nanushka, too, stated that they would not be trading with Russia, while many others including LVMH, Burberry and ASOS have announced donations to humanitarian causes and organisations providing aid to Ukraine. For Zubarieva and Varetsa, the main priority for fashion brands is to face the situation.

'Fashion is designed to reflect both the spirit of the times and the beauty of our world. The war will inevitably affect everyone, and everyone needs to be mature and find a form for expressing their position that will allow big brands keep their DNA, continue to work and create beauty, but not ignore reality.'

Worthy and incredible people live here in Ukraine, people who create Sleeper - and who will create it no matter what. We will continue our mission - to bring light, to bring beauty into this world

The designers tell me that they're making plans to deploy the first wave of employees and seamstresses involved in production to Turkey, so that they can continue working and 'continue to create beauty and jobs.' This, for them, is at least a small comfort at this time.

Kate Zubarieva and Asya Varetsa
Kate Zubarieva and Asya Varetsa ©Sleeper

'It gives us strength, lifts our spirit, and helps us focus on the future. A future that is filled with beauty and peace, which will surely prevail as soon as leaders take real action to defend European culture and values. Glory to Ukraine!'

3 Ways To Help Ukraine Now:

'Ukraine needs your support. We are seeking to provide reliable information about how Ukraine can be helped today, and we urge everyone to do it.'

Donate to Ukraine's army:

The National Bank of Ukraine has decided to open a special fundraising account to support the Armed Forces of Ukraine.

You can make a donation here.

Donate to the Return Alive Foundation:

The Return Alive Foundation has been working for years to support the Ukrainian armed forces. In their own words, they 'provide material and technical assistance to the Armed Forces, as well as indirectly influencing the Armed Forces and other state institutions, strengthening the capabilities of the army and developing society as a whole.'

To make a donation to support this organisation, please click here.

Sign The Petition To Close The Airspace Above Ukraine:

People around the world are asking NATO member states and allies of Ukraine to close the airspace over Ukraine, deploy peacekeeping troops in Ukraine, provide military assistance to Kyiv and support the Ukrainian people.

You can add your name here****.

READ MORE: These Are The Donation Collection Points For Ukraine Near You

READ MORE: This Is What You Can Do To Help People In Ukraine Right Now


SHOP: 9 Ukrainian Fashion Designers To Support Now

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CREDIT: @ttswtrs

Founded by Anna Osmekhina - a former costume designer, fashion editor and stylist - TTSWTRS has been worn by Nicki Minaj, Kourtney Kardashian and Irina Shayk - and has a factory and printing workshop based in Kyiv.

TTSWTRS, Black Leggings 'Details', £268
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Yuliya Magdych
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CREDIT: @yuliya_magdych

From February 28, Yuliya Magdych, who was born in Lviv, has been directing all the proceeds from sales, 'to the fundraising account of the Ukrainian army'.

Yuliya Magdych, Embroidered Sleeves Cotton Caftan Maxi, £436
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CREDIT: @bobkova_official

BOBKOVA, founded by Kristina Bobkova, offers its own idea of casual clothes; one that strives to be relevant regardless of time and situation.

BOBKOVA, Blue Jacket, £404
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CREDIT: @dressx

DRESSX, the pioneering app that allows users to wear the latest fashion via AR - a more inclusive and sustainable way to consume trends on social media - was founded by Daria Shapovalova, a Forbes 30 Under 30, and Natalia Modenova. DRESSX has created a special collection, with all sales going towards supporting the people of Ukraine (via charitable organisations and the Ministry of Defence of Ukraine).

DRESSX, Fashion For Peace Sweatshirt, £76.50
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Anna October
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CREDIT: @annaoctober

Anna October was founded 12 years ago in Odessa - and prides itself on being a brand that uses deadstock materials and traditional techniques that are local to the area.

Anna October, Dora Layered-Effect Satin Midi Dress, £462
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CREDIT: @monikhdale

The fashion set's favourite pyjamas (fans include Kourtney Kardashian, Lena Dunham and Aurora James) come from Sleeper; the nightwear label that was founded by two former editors, Kate Zubarieva and Asya Varetsa.

Sleeper, Party Feather-Trimmed Crepe-De-Chine Pajama Set, £265
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Vita Kin
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CREDIT: @vitakin

The Ukrainian vyshyvanka, the country's traditional embroidery often seen on white blouses, was the inspiration behind Vita Kin, a brand who makes all of its artisanal garments in its workshop in Kyiv.

Vita Kin, Regina Embroidered-Linen Midi Dress, £1,741
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Ruslan Baginskiy
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CREDIT: @ruslanbaginskiy_hats

Founded in Lviv, and now based in Kyiv, Ruslan Baginskiy is the millinery brand that counts Bella Hadid, Pamela Anderson, Janelle Monáe and Alicia Keys in its fan club. Inspired by art, Ukrainian national costumes, archival family photos and vintage fashion shoots, his work is the definition of head-turning.

Ruslan Baginskiy, Safety-Pin Felt Hat, £285
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CREDIT: @ ienki_ienki

Founded by Dima Ievenko, Kyiv-based IENKI IENKI is the outerwear brand that is as playful as it is practical, with fans including Emily Ratajkowski, Hailey Bieber and Irina Shayk.

IENKI IENKI, Shearling Queen Black, £1,092
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Ksenia Schnaider
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CREDIT: @kseniaschnaider

Ksenia Schnaider is famous for its directional denim - have you seen its Wader Jeans? - and its inventive use of sustainable materials. Founded by married couple - Ksenia Schnaider and Anton Schnaider - all of its garments are produced in Ukraine.

Ksenia Schnaider, Slim Cowboy Jeans, £314
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CREDIT: @paskalclothes

You might not have heard of Paskal, but you won't want to miss its dresses, the definition of big energy (some consist of hundreds of laser-cut pieces that are carefully put together over three days at its workshop in Odessa).

Paskal, Asymmetric Dress With Ruffles, £424
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Elena Reva
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CREDIT: @elenareva

ELENAREVA's spaghetti-strapped silk dresses and bustiers have an artistic bent (the label is renowned for its collocations with young creatives and its support of the art scene in Ukraine).

ELENAREVA, Midi Dress, £477
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CREDIT: @dzhus.conceptual.wear

Founded by Irina Dzhus, DZHUS is famous for its avant-garde take on utilitarian clothing made entirely from cruelty-free materials.

DZHUS, Repetition Jumpsuit, £825.19
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