A view of Giovanna Alessandro’s Chernivtsi, Ukraine, workshop and showroom.
CHERNIVTSI, Ukraine (Eleanor Beardsley/NPR) Nona Griffin, an American bride-to-be from Dublin, fell head over heels for the first wedding gown she tried on.
EUROPE A WAR, A WEDDING DRESS, AND A BUSINESS OPPORTUNITY: THAT WAS THE STORY “Yes, this is the dress, I said. It has incredibly detailed needlework, and the attention to detail is exquisite “Over the phone, she said NPR.
Griffin’s mother had accompanied her because she wanted to confirm that the dress wasn’t manufactured in China. They discovered it was from Ukraine at that point. The final week of December had passed.
Griffin relates that she said, “I don’t know what we’re going to do if Russia invades Ukraine.” “That won’t happen, according to the proprietor of the dress store. She just said you’re insane, and we just sort of laughed it off.”
Griffin claims that when the invasion actually occurred, she was overcome by guilt. When Ukrainians were engaged in conflict, she felt shallow for worried about whether she would arrive in time for her outfit.
Lilya Chorpiyta and Oksana Harik, two seamstresses, at work in Giovanna Alessandro’s studio and showroom.
NPR/Eleanor Beardsley However, Griffin’s thoughts are completely understood by outfit designer Yana Bashmakova.
It’s typical, she asserts. “The bride’s wedding day is her one and only day. Furthermore, it’s crucial to get the outfit on time.”
Bashmakova, 33, and her husband Alexandr Marandyuk manage a dressmaking business in Chernivtsi, a western Ukrainian town close to the Romanian border that was formerly the Soviet Union’s wedding dress manufacturing hub.
The war is destroying Ukraine’s economy, and many companies are filing for bankruptcy. However, those who anticipated the fight and adjusted have discovered fresh possibilities.
That is the situation with Bashmakova and Marandyuk’s wedding dress business, whose name is an Italianized mix of the couple’s first names and is called Giovanna Alessandro.
Sewing machine operators lean over tables stacked with white satin and lace in the factory showroom and workshop. Machines that sew hum. Giovanna Alessandro currently exports to all corners of the globe, but it wasn’t always like this.
Their target market back in 2009, when they first opened for business, was nations from the former Soviet Union. When Ukrainians deposed their pro-Kremlin president in 2014, the year of the Maidan movement in Kiev, everything changed.
Yana Bashmakova, carrying son Adam, and her husband Alexandr Marandyuk are the co-founders of the Ukrainian bridal gown business Giovanna Alessandro.
NPR/Eleanor Beardsley In retaliation, Russian President Vladimir Putin annexed Crimea and instigated and supported a separatist uprising in the Donbas region of Ukraine.
That is also, according to Marendyuk, when Russia’s propaganda apparatus really ramped up.
According to this couple, the current conflict really began in 2014.
The aggressiveness of the dress shop owners we worked with in Moscow, he claims, “was unacceptable for me.” “You’re calling me a fascist and saying we have Nazis in Ukraine, but you’re ordering my outfits,” I said to them.
In 2015, Bashmakova recalled visiting a bridal exhibition in Moscow.
I constantly had issues when they saw my passport, she claims. “All would be well up until I took out my Ukrainian passport. To acquire my room number or key, I would then have to wait two to three hours in a hotel lobby. And if they noticed Ukrainian license plates, I had to wait for hours to receive gas.”
According to Marandyuk, they made the decision to stop working with dress store proprietors who supported the annexation of Crimea.
Many of their Russian customers were unable to afford their dresses in 2014 due to the collapse of the ruble. Today they only conduct business with two of the 90 Russian stores they had collaborated with.
According to Marandyuk, this is the reason that 80 percent of the Chernivitsi wedding sector filed for bankruptcy.
Inside Giovanna Alessandro’s workshop and store, seamstress Yana Motulyak examines a frock.
NPR/Eleanor Beardsley If the business had not changed its focus to the West, Giovanna Alessandro would have taken the same route, he claims.
Yana’s skill for designing dresses, our decision to sell clothes to America and Europe, and our journey to many international exhibits are what allowed us to survive, according to Marandyuk.
However, the turn wasn’t simple. Their less expensive textiles and beaded embellishments fell flat in the West. Another issue was name recognition. According to Marandyuk, many individuals mistook Ukraine for the United Kingdom or were unaware of its existence.
Despite this, attendees at the bridal expo were impressed by their distinctive designs.
The couple invested money. They sourced fabrics of higher caliber. Now, each bead is manually stitched. Today, each of their dresses, according to Marendyuk, is a couture creation, although they are less expensive than dresses by Western designers.
Griffin, an American bride, purchased her gown from Dublin’s Angelo Bridal, which is run by Diana Lupascu. According to Lupascu, Ukrainian designers are well-liked.
She claims that there is “a huge, huge interest” in Ukrainian designers. “It has a unique design, very luxurious fabrics, and many handmade components. We compare the sales of their outfits to those of other designers in our store.”
In Chernivtsi, Ukraine, the Giovanna Alessandro dressmaking company produces about 350 gowns every month. They are offered in more than 200 stores throughout 48 nations.
NPR/Eleanor Beardsley According to Lupascu, the Ukrainian dressmakers also provide excellent customer service. without difficulty making changes.
The wider selection of sizes, in Marendyuk’s opinion, gives them an additional edge over Western designers. In their display, numerous enormous mannequins are dressed in wedding attire.
He claims that European designers don’t offer as many sizes. “We suggest 10; they propose 5.”
The pair claims that when Russia invaded fully this winter, they were astonished and had to take a week off. 70% of their fugitive staff have come back.
According to Bashmakova, “We figured out how to deliver through Romania and we haven’t let any of our brides down.”
Today, in a post-COVID wedding boom, they are producing over 350 dresses each month, which are sold in more than 200 stores across 48 countries.
They are now focused on goals other than their own success, according to Bashmakova.
“We are not shifting our manufacture or production to Poland or Romania,” the woman asserts. “In Ukraine, we will remain. We’ll expand the economy.”
And now, she laughs, everybody knows about Ukraine!