In a large fashion store in central Kyiv, a mother and her young daughter flick through T-shirts depicting a cartoon dog in a flak jacket and sunglasses. “We have several like this,” says Tatiana, adding that they may pick up something new. “We love clothes like this so we shop here often.” The T-shirts by Kyiv-based label J.Cook depict Patron, a Jack Russell dog skilled at finding landmines, who was awarded a medal by President Volodymyr Zelensky in May.
“I like little Patron,” Tatiana’s daughter Valeriya says, as her mother nods. A trend for patriotic clothing in Ukraine sees T-shirt designs and slogans swiftly pick up on the latest weaponry and war developments. J.Cook’s founder, Serhii Fiut, says the Patron T-shirt is “currently the most popular” for the brand, named after British explorer James Cook, which sews garments in western Ukraine. “In 90 percent of cases, people choose military-themed T-shirts,” the 34-year-old businessman says, sitting in a Georgian cafe in Kyiv.
“It’s like a means of expression. People want to show that ‘this is close to me'”. Sales of T-shirts are growing, Fiut said. “I have a niche where people are ready to buy.” Many who buy online are women getting T-shirts for partners and relatives fighting in the war, he adds.
At the large store Vsi Svoi (All Ours) on Kyiv’s main shopping street-which showcases Ukraine designers-there is a wide choice of war-themed clothing. A mannequin near the entrance wears a T-shirt showing a US Javelin anti-tank missile on a background of stylised flowers, designed by another Kyiv-based label, SIL’ wear.
Mariya Iakniunas, 31, the brand’s co-owner says the design, known as “Talisman”, is one of the brand’s most popular. It is inspired by the Ukrainian peasant tradition of hanging up towels embroidered with bright flowers to ward off bad luck, she said.
“Today, the Javelin in the hands of our warriors is the talisman of every Ukrainian,” she says, hence the idea to surround it with flowers. She insists that the popularity of such designs “is not a trend, it’s our voice… This is our unity. To be Ukrainians and to win this war.” While SIL’ wear saw its sales drop in the first month of the war, they are now “recovering powerfully,” she says. Both J. Cook and SIL’wear donate part of their proceeds to the armed forces.
‘People get it’
Several T-shirt designs mock Russia’s wilder propaganda claims-such as reports of genetically modified geese and pigeons being used as biological weapons. One by J.Cook shows aggressive-looking pigeons wearing tank helmets and a cartridge belt, while a gaggle of geese tout rifles and peer through binoculars in another design from the label.
“They (Russians) themselves give us ideas for drawings,” says Fiut. “Where are these pigeons and biological laboratories? What are they talking about? We are trying to show this irony, to mock it. People get it.” Customers are eager to wear their support for the war on their chests. “There’s a lot of beautiful T-shirts,” says 14-year-old Mykola, shopping at Vsi Svoi, saying he and his friends wear them. They send “a certain message and that’s why it’s important to wear them”, he says.
At a pop-up event at a trendy Kyiv showroom called Kapsula, or capsule, T-shirts, sweaters, hoodies and jewellery by Ukrainian designers feature the national flag colours, blue and yellow. “Everything is so patriotic now,” says administrator Anna Perebynos, 22.
“We hold such events so people know more about our Ukrainian designers who are working now, who are putting out new collections despite what is happening now in our country.” On display is a soft hoodie by MY x MY featuring an embroidered map of Ukraine with the slogan: “Places for happy people”.
A T-shirt by Balcony Garment shows a Russian rocket with nuclear symbols juxtaposed on doves and flowers with the slogan: “Here and now.” Perebynos shows clothes to be shipped online including folk-embroidered blouses and linen items in blue and yellow.
“We get a lot of international orders: it’s people who may have been born here in Ukraine and it’s their home but for some reason, they’ve gone abroad.” Patriotism in Kyiv even extends to makeup, with some women wearing yellow and blue flicks of eyeliner, she says, laughing. “Now it’s a very large global trend. It shows that people are really supporting us.” – AFP