The Embroidered Soul of Ukraine: Laresta

A small family business of two women: mother and daughter.

It all started in 2016 when my mom didn’t like the idea that I was working with a Russian-based fashion label. So she insisted on introducing Ukrainian ethnic-inspired clothing to Ladies (potential customers) in the Middle East, where I have been living and working since 2010. 

Local women loved it. They value embroidery and bright colors and, most importantly, are always on the hunt for something unique: cut, details, and spirit. So this is how it started. Fun fact: back in 2016, local customers were not very fond of linen, which is a pillar of traditional Ukrainian clothing, but looking at all the fashion labels now in 2022 – I don’t know a single one that doesn’t use linen for dresses and abayas (traditional overgarment). We started on Instagram by growing an organic audience, collaborating with middle eastern fashion influencers and bloggers, participating in pop-up exhibitions, and presenting our designs in boutiques in Dubai and Riyadh. 

Then I opened a shop on Etsy, which is famous for handcrafts and artisanal creations. What a surprise: Americans, Canadians, British, and Australians were fans of ethnic clothing too. It was something different, interesting, not ordinary.

We lived and worked and enjoyed the journey until Feb 24, 2022. My best friend texted me: “Larysa, Kyiv was shelled, Russians attacked us. Can you check what’s is going on in your region? So I called my mom, and couldn’t hear anything else after the words: “…the whole house is trembling…” Then, I don’t remember anything, but the sound of my pulse and breath, as if I was placed in a vacuum. 

For the next two weeks, I did nothing but read the news and tried to cheer up my relatives and my team, who were all in Ukraine. I was sleeping for 2-3 hours a day, crying all the time, and growing a feeling of pride for Ukraine and my belonging to the nation – a very mixed feeling. After two weeks, I informed all our customers about the situation and asked if they wanted to cancel their orders as we could not give a delivery date. All logistic chains were destroyed, my tailors and embroiderers were scared even to go to work, and we didn’t know what to expect in the next 2-3 hours. 

To my great surprise, most customers asked not to cancel their orders and told me they were ready to wait. People from all over the world showed me their sympathy and pity. More than that, some of our customers from the US, who ordered and received their clothing before the war, placed their new orders with notes: “from my home to yours….”, “I hope you and your family are fine, don’t worry about the order, ship it whenever you can….”, “Larysa, we are praying for you, and it’s not just words of politeness, we mean it…” and one customer from Canada just transferred an amount of money with words: “I want to support you in the way I can.” We gave that money to the lady who works with us (she is a person of determination) and was in need, and that act from the lady on another continent melted our hearts. We didn’t expect people across the ocean to feel what they felt, do what they did and continue doing until this very moment. 

This devastating war gave us a great lesson, it united Ukrainians from all over the world, and we remembered who we are and where we belong. Once, I saw this gorgeous woman Irena Karpa. A modern Ukrainian author and journalist living in Paris is an inspiring light in a dark tunnel, a bundle of energy fighting for Ukraine on French TV. She provided precise information from the front line and helping our warriors in the South. And one day, I texted her. I wanted to help, to feel that I was a part of this survival fight. She let me in to support those whom she supported. And that was the beginning of a new friendship.

Two months had passed when our president said: ”You must work to support our economy. Everyone should do what he can at his place….” That woke me up. I told our team to get back to work. We will do what we can, everyone at one’s place. We put ourselves together: if people around the world support us, we must fight and continue what we do.

And now, almost after six months of the war, we are shooting a new collection and preparing for the new season to deliver our cross-stitch, love, and appreciation to the world.