Hanna Molodykh from Ukraine's eastern Luhansk region city of Lysychansk founded the plus-size women's clothing brand "Faina Lady." She launched her business in Rubizhne, the Luhansk region, and in the spring of 2022, she left for the Poltava region with her husband. Now she has to start anew.
"This is not a start from scratch," says Molodykh. "No one will take my experience away from me. It's just that many processes need to be adjusted and rebuilt."
Rubryka spoke with an entrepreneur from the east and will share her story.
"I need freedom of action. I live by it"
Hanna is a programmer by trade. But, as long as she can remember, she sewed. She recalled that she started changing her mother's clothes when she was 12.
"Of course, it didn't always work out, but it was exciting to me," the entrepreneur says. Molodykh learned to sew independently and took no courses or master classes. The hobby gradually became a source of income thanks to her interest and stubbornness: the seamstress sewed clothes for friends and acquaintances.
When Hanna had children, she started making unique clothes for them. Later, they began to engage in ballroom dancing, and Molodykh invented and sewed their costumes and costumes to order for other children. In 2014, she dared to rent premises in one of the city's shopping centers. She had a small fabric and hardware store there. Later, it grew into a clothing store — customers were ordering, and the entrepreneur decided to reorient a little.
The craftswoman realized almost immediately that she would not be able to work for someone. Developing her own business is more to her liking. She describes this as some inner call that she feels.
Molodykh graduated from the institute and got a degree in programming. But, during post-graduate practice, she realized it was not her cup of tea. Then she worked as a saleswoman in a store and, after, decided to become self-employed.
"I need freedom of action, I live by it," Molodykh says.
The woman shares she did not choose the year to start her entrepreneurial journey very well because in 2014 russian invasion of Donbas began.
"I thought that this would be the end of it. But still, Rubizhne remained under the control of Ukraine, and the business expanded and developed," the artisan recalls.
In 2016, she underwent a 10-day training in Sievierodonetsk, as a result of which she received a grant and a business development strategy. Then, Molodykh began to think about her brand and large-scale production. That was the starting point for the "Faina Lady" brand.
"I am a designer-developer and specialize in creating new clothing models. Little by little, I began to reorient myself to selling fabrics, accessories, and ready-made items," Molodykh explains. "And in 2018, we completely switched to our own production. I opened a workshop in Rubizhne. I was engaged in both sales and design and studied the full production cycle."
"All women want to look beautiful and modern," or Why plus size?
At first, Molodykh's team sewed clothes of all standard sizes. But over time, the craftswoman noticed that the demand for plus-size models was quite significant. And there are almost no modern and high-quality clothes for women from this segment on the market.
"Customers often asked us about larger models. Today, the market focuses on the size grid of XS-XL sizes. But all women want to look beautiful and modern. Everyone deserves to have a choice. That's how we gradually refocused on this niche," says Molodykh.
In 2018, two years after training and strategy development, Hanna's company went into mass production. She worked mainly with wholesale customers, sewing clothes for large companies and other brands. But still, she always wanted to have her personal label.
"How did I look for customers? It's elementary, says the entrepreneur. "You sit down at the computer, open the Internet, find contacts — and call, arrange meetings to present your products."
This is how gradually the plus size women's clothing brand "Faina Lady" began to gain momentum. Hanna opened a separate shop and hired people.
"By 2022, we employed six people and sewed 6-7 thousand units of products per year. Now, this number is many times smaller," the craftswoman shares.
"Everything left behind"
On February 24, Hanna heard loud explosions. The woman was even going to work in the morning, but at 9 o'clock, it became clear that she was not going anywhere. The war began. Again. Eight years ago, her startup was in danger, and now a stable and growing business was collapsing.
"I haven't been to my workshop in Rubizhne since February 23. I never got there. Everything remained there," says Hanna.
It's hard to hold back tears when you realize that your life's work simply dissolves in the explosions of shells and the sound of sirens. Hanna says that she and her husband could not accept that they would have to leave until the very end. Until April 1, the couple was in Donbas, waiting for the hostilities to stop. But the war took away their business, home, and peaceful life this time.
"We left for Kremenchuk, the Poltava region. We just opened the map, chose the "middle" — where it is safer — and left. Of course, we expected that we would soon be back. For about a month, we lived in such a "vacuum" — when we did not know whether to start doing something or not. And then the realization came that, perhaps, that was all. There is nowhere to return."
Hanna had no acquaintances or friends in Kremenchuk. She did not know the city, and everything was new. A woman decided to go to work as a seamstress. At first, during the adaptation, she liked it. But later, the entrepreneurial spirit took its toll, and she realized she had to open her own business. Again. The atisan started looking for connections and opportunities in a new city.
"I am no longer as helpless as I was in 2018"
At the same time, Hanna noticed an announcement about grants for her own business from the "Diia" app, Ukraine's digital governance app. She already had experience in business planning, and she also understood what she wanted. That's why she applied immediately.
"I received this grant and started all over again. Although, it is not from scratch, of course. The experience you have will stay with you. No one will take it away.
Moreover, it is easier to start again — I am no longer as helpless as I was in 2018. It made sense to move forward."
According to the terms of the received grant, Hanna had to hire two workers and start her own business within six months.
"I decided to build my business model differently and focus on retail. In addition, if we had a full production cycle earlier, now, I only left an experimental workshop — the development of models and outsourced the tailoring of clothes."
"Of course, from a financial point of view, I am more interested in large wholesale, but that is not my brand. I work, but no one knows me. I've always wanted to market with my own brand, and this is just retail. Business cannot be directed to one source; there must be several sources of income. I had everything aimed at wholesale — it stopped, and so did my business."
For Hanna, this is a new challenge. After all, reorienting business to retail means, at a minimum, adding marketing to the business process. If previously wholesale buyers were engaged in the sale of clothes to the final buyer, now it is the task of the "Faina Lady" company.
"We use online stores, our website, and Instagram. To be honest, this is a huge amount of time and effort. Also, advertising investment will reap income in no less than six months. But for me, all this is like a new horizon. This should have been done three years ago, but I am doing it now."
"It won't be like before. We have to start all over again"
With the recovery of her own business, she had the energy and desire to move on. Molodykh says that her plans include scaling, adjusting business processes, and finding new wholesale customers. She says she will not make the previous mistake of putting all the eggs in one basket.
"I still plan to win several grants for the purchase of equipment. I will go to exhibitions to present our products. I want a nice office, well-organized marketing, sales, and service. It will all come later," the artisan shares her plans.
Of course, sales are now lower, and so are the number of people on staff. Hanna says that this is difficult.
"Many women, our potential clients, have left. Many people are waiting because of the war. But the fact that it will end and I am not ready is stimulating. I have to be ready," Molodykh continues. "The main problem is that you can't plan anything. If earlier I planned for a year, now you can't even predict the situation for a month."
When asked whether Hanna plans to return to Rubizhne, she answers that half a year ago, she might have thought about it. And now she understands that it will be impossible to work there:
"It won't be like before. You have to start over because until you accept that, nothing will move. You need to be able to adjust. Everything that happens is only for the better. You can't stop — you have to live on."
Photo: Kyrylo Kovalevskyi
The article was prepared with the assistance of the Institute for War and Peace Reporting
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