Glass speaks to Valeria Zhilyova – the designer empowering women in Eastern Europe

UKRAINIAN-born Valeria Zhilyova founded her eponymous label in 2014 with the aim of empowering women in Eastern Europe. Designing lingerie that is created from a feministic perspective and pushing forward the message of liberation, the brand has been a pioneer, in a predominately conservative part of the world, encouraging women to take charge of their body and beauty.

Using her clothes and campaigns to transcend societal boundaries, Valeria Zhiyova has utilised her platform to showcase the importance of inclusivity and diversity, becoming one of the first designer’s to do so in this part of the world.

Valeria Zhilyova Valeria Zhilyova

What sparked your interest in lingerie?
Around seven years ago, I challenged myself to learn how to sew lingerie – I was already pretty literate at sewing other clothing items. That night, I sewed a set of lingerie and that was when I came to the realisation that that is something meant for me.

Today, lingerie for me is a way of self-discovery and self-expression. Lingerie is all about sexuality, accepting one-self, exploring and learning new things. I feel an endless amount of energy from lingerie and it keeps myself and the brand moving forward. I love what lingerie means to each person: it mirrors their personality, and that it’s the first clothing item everyone puts on in the morning. Lingerie is a part of every person.

Valeria Zhilyova Lingerie Valeria Zhilyova

How did you decide to set up Zhilyova? What have been the highs and lows?
The brand started during Maidan time in Ukraine – a war broke down and led to a huge crisis causing an unfortunate financial low for everyone. Yet, I founded the brand because I firmly believed that this is the kind of niche that I could be developing in this country.

As lingerie was a big inspiration, yet a completely new path for me, I was starting to learn about this from scratch. I started creating every piece myself. From that, I learned to work with every body type and about every microscopic detail.

After sewing everything myself to having those sets being produced at a factory, it was very important to me to keep that individualism to each lingerie item. I considered it almost like an architectural project I managed everyday. 

All I had was a great enthusiasm, no strategy and one sewing machine. It took a very long time to get where we are at right now. It was extremely difficult in the beginning as the factory would sometimes misunderstand my train of thought so I would get back wrongly made items. I would have to personally sit and redo the sewing as I had to ship it the next day. Blood and tears are a pretty good explanation of how the brand started. 

Zhilyova Lingerie

Zhilyova Lingerie

How important is body diversity in your brand?
When I was starting my brand, soft bralettes were extremely popular, but, unfortunately, that didn’t allow me to create sizes past C or D cups. Expanding the size range was the most important thing for me. It’s crucial to include every body type when creating sets, thinking how every part of the set would accentuate every beautiful body and make people feel their best. 

When I was first starting the brand, I was one of the first people to create a diverse brand in Ukraine having people of all sizes and races. Our team would receive a lot of hate comments –  people swearing that they would never buy from us again. However, that didn’t stop us. 

Your new collection, Ex Machina introduces new sustainable items made from recycled Italian jerseys. Is becoming fully sustainable something you are striving for?
I am very invested in taking the brand on an extremely conscious road to approaching our goals and developing our vision. We have another collection coming out that is made out of recycled Italian jerseys and a sustainable swimwear collection that is made of e-conyl coming.

Plus, our packaging is fully recycled too. It is crucial to take every step you can as a company to become conscious and transparent in production and manufacturing. 

Zhiloyva Lingerie

Zhilyova Lingerie

Coming from the Ukraine, a country that is still quite conservative, what are the limitations in terms of liberation and female empowerment?
This is a very important question. When Zhilyova first started posting pictures of diverse women and bodies, we got so many hate comments and messages from people. The audience in Ukraine was not ready to see representation of every normal healthy body. People were used to seeing the perfect slim bodies that were only known at the time and what every other lingerie brand was representing. 

Zhilyova is all about having no boundaries in beauty, showcasing real beauty and empowering others through that. We want to show that it is absolutely normal to look like your authentic self, not to blame yourself for anything, and not to be harsh on yourself. 

I am so happy that everything has changed so much. Even though the Ukraine, is not as developed as in other countries in those terms, I believe it to be my mission to expand the dialogue of this topic and to continue empowering women.

Zhilyova Lingerie Love Is ...

Zhilyova Lingerie – LOVE IS…

You dropped a LOVE IS… campaign and collection centred around supporting and spreading love during Pride Month. What was the response to this, especially coming from a country where those in this community still face challenges?
The culture in Ukraine is becoming more and more accepting. We have a lot of tourists coming to Kiev and I believe that the younger generation soaks up that energy and freedom of the people coming from Europe. They understand that it’s okay not to look the way your parents always wanted you to look and it’s okay to love who you love. 

Our Pride Month drop was in partnership with Ukraine’s Pride Month Event – we donated money from the sales. What amazed me is that our brand didn’t get any hate comments or backlash like we used to. This means that there are people in Ukraine that are also spreading the message to take pride in yourself and your choices. I am very proud of Ukraine for this. 

GG Zhilyova Lingerie

Zhilyova Lingerie

GG Zhilyova Lingerie

Zhilyova Lingerie

You are the first lingerie brand to integrate AR into your system. What made you want to take this step and what have been the difficulties in doing this?
I have always wanted to combine technology and lingerie but it has been extremely hard. I am very inspired by the Japanese culture, anime and have always taken my inspiration from that. Now, we have our clients and buyers in Japan using our AR option there – it’s a dream come true. 

Our Valentine’s Day Good Game (GG) Collection photoshoot was devoted to 3D and technology with every set in the collection named after strong female characters in video games. I think it is important for young women to see that they can be as powerful and risk-taking as the characters in those games. 

Zhilyova Lingerie

Zhilyova Lingerie

Being interested in using technology in fashion – what do you think the future of fashion looks like and how are you planning to use it more?
The next step is to create the easiest way of trying the pieces on – that is from home. We are working on ways of uploading a picture, then the website detects your precise measurements, and what design would work best for that client.

It’s taking a long time, but I believe that the future of the fashion is about technological convenience for the customers. Virtual fittings, virtual shopping and conscious production is my main focus at this moment.

Finally, how do you want women to feel when they wear Zhilyova?
I want women to feel that there are no limits to them. Everything depends on them, they can get whatever they want in this life and not to fear anything. I want women to be ready to achieve their goals and be who they want to be. 

by Imogen Clark

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