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Since launching their first line of printed t-shirts in 2013, Finch has had to constantly reinvent itself. Kateryna Biakova and Maksym Holub, the creative tandem at the forefront of the project, has had to deal with the rigid mentality inherited from the USSR, in which creative disciplines tended to be relegated to the background.

On the basis that “one must start the change from oneself,” and after redefining their values in the wake of the Euromaidan Revolution, the ethical brand offers garments that invite to reflection and self-knowledge. Their Spring/Summer 2020 collection, presented shortly before confinement was declared, still endures thanks to their commitment to AR – evidence that technology can contribute to the extension of the useful life of creations.

Your most representative symbol is a multicoloured bird. Specifically, a finch – you’ve named your brand after it and it’s also the brand logo. What came first, the choice of the emblem or the creation of the project?
Unlike most other projects, Finch started from the logo; it happened naturally. In 2012, Kateryna developed an interface for a friend’s app and designed this logo for it. Then, she printed it on one of Maksym’s t-shirts and we were constantly asked, what brand is it? Where can I get the same t-shirt? Therefore, when we decided to establish our clothing brand, we used it as a logo and talisman. It was registered as a trademark even before the first clothing line appeared, and stayed when we reconsidered our style, transforming it into its current, more sophisticated state. The app for which the mark was originally developed wasn’t released.
In 2013, you decided to quit your jobs, and build your business, what inspired this change?
During this period, we both approached our 30th birthdays and wondered: am I taking everything from life? How does my work realize my creative potential? When we grew up during the Perestroika in the late ‘80s (in the Soviet Union), which was sharpened by the development of the industrial society, and later in criminal post-Soviet ‘90s, we were taught that you need to choose a job that brings money. Creative professions were not mentioned at all or thought of, and it wasn’t accepted to change your type of activity and take risks. So, for decades, we struggled internally with these attitudes and studied technical specialities instead of art – we worked for years in marketing, IT companies and law firms, and carefully changed them from time to time. And, of course, the positions that we occupied in IT and law and prospects by 2013 could barely concern creativity. It was a stable and quite interesting job, but it did not give room for personal growth and the development of new skills.
Another problem was that the shortage of quality non-trivial clothes in the early 2010s in Ukraine did not give room for self-expression to creative people like us. It was difficult for a person with a delicate taste to find something original for themselves, not only in the assortment of rare Ukrainian manufacturers but also in international network brands. There were several semi-underground concept stores in Kyiv and, of course, the showrooms of the first mass-market, streetwear and designer brands.
But still, people didn’t have confidence in the domestic product; it seemed low-quality, secondary to foreign brands, and in many ways, this stereotype corresponded to reality. Before we decided to start manufacturing clothes, we realized what our creative vision and interest in fashion were, customizing vintage clothes or creating something ourselves at home with a sewing machine. It was at the junction of what we are interested in and what we could do for a living, that the idea of the clothing brand was born.
Now you could name it ikigai. In fact, we started in a comfortable mode – as we imagined – combining our job and clothing production, to see if this direction worked for us. In 2013, working in parallel in IT and law in our home-city Mykolayiv, we launched the basic Finch items: hoodies and t-shirts with prints. But the more we dove into it and realised our goals, the less space we had to work on it. It is quite difficult to work for a company full time and, at the same time, devote yourself to your projects. In the first year after launching, we realised that we were not interested in the direction of basic clothes, and we would like to develop as a designer brand. But what's more, we realized that it’s impossible to build a business without giving it your all and, on the other hand, you can make better decisions working for yourself if you don’t make money elsewhere. Your life should depend on your business to make it grow.
Ever since 2015 you've decideed to participate in Ukrainian Fashion Week, what's the brand development process been like?
The catalyst for the reassessment of the life goals and values of the newly launched Finch brand was the Euromaidan revolution in Ukraine (2013-2014). When human life and dignity are on the map, priorities are very clear and everything that is unnecessary is eliminated. After the revolution, in 2014, we conducted marketing research and redefined brand values. To develop our business and make the product more non-standard, we focused on another niche, a higher price range. Kyiv was the biggest market for our ideas, so we started by producing new collections there and worked there systematically, and finally moved after our first fashion show in 2015. After the revolution, the situation in the Ukrainian market changed dramatically. The value and demand for the Ukrainian product increased sharply, people experimented with new brands with great enthusiasm, and the number of new manufacturers began to grow, taking its highest index by 2017. In 2020, we have a second wave of this phenomenon, when people rediscover domestic product during the pandemic lockdown.
From 2013 to 2014, it was, as we call it, the test period. 2013 was challenging and it helped us to form our true vision of the brand. In 2014, after quitting our jobs, we released two capsules produced in Kyiv that were sold-out and gave us the idea of showcasing our collections during local fashion week. We showcased our designer collections for 4 seasons during Mercedes-Benz Kyiv Fashion Days in 2015 and 2016. In 2015, we won an award from Vogue Ukraine as the best young brand and got our first feature in its print issue.

What about collaborations and new incorporations like using wearable technology?
We’ve always been keen for cross-disciplinary collaborations, as we believe it’s the best way to gain fans if you're a small business in a rapidly growing market. We used wearable technology in our first fashion collections. And we created chargeable backpacks with automatic inner lightning, invented by a friendly Ukrainian brand. From 2014 to the end of 2016, we were represented by a lot of Ukrainian concept stores. Not all of which were effective, so we tried new and switched from time to time. In 2016, we won a contest from the historical store Tsum Kyiv, and it became our stockist.
Since 2017, Finch collaborates with the Swiss artist Marianne Hollenstein, integrating her arts into capsules and collections and promoting the artist to Ukrainians. This is the first example of fashion and art collaboration in Ukraine when the artist is being known and invited to exhibit personally in Kyiv because of the clothing collection revealed with the arts. Last year, we used this signature art for an Instagram AR filter to try it out as a new PR instrument, and it got 100 000 views within a week. In 2018, we became residents of Ukrainian Fashion Week and offered its committee creating custom merchandise, that is how our longest collaboration started.
In 2019 we opened our first showroom and created minimalistic costumes for the Hendel’s baroque opera Acis and Galatea, that took place in Kyiv. Another big art collaboration started this year with Takahiko Ishii, the Japanese artist from Osaka who created calligraphy prints for Finch Spring/Summer 2020 collection. And Ukrainian artist Julia Beliaeva, who created for us sculptures using 3D printing.
Your Spring/Summer 2020 collection, presented in February, took the form of an endless fashion show with augmented reality. A proposal that even led to Instagram filters, causing enormous interest from both specialists and curious. How did the idea come about and how did this initiative proceed?
It was important for us to be represented at Fashion Week while nourishing one of the basic values: Finch starts the changes from itself. Against the backdrop of the decline in the relevance of classical catwalk shows in Europe, the presentation of the collection without models and without clothes in the format of an art-Augmented Reality exhibition was an alluringly daring idea. Actually, the idea of a virtual show haunted us for several years. As we imagined it first, it was an ordinary show, but all the action would take place inside the gadget: when all the guests are in VR glasses in an empty room. But the number of guests and the difficulty of creating virtual motion content, would take several months and would require equipment and costumes with motion capture for games and special effects in the movies. And although we still do not reject this idea, this time we chose a different format.
We decided to set a precedent for an endless fashion show, because large investments in the event, which lasts half an hour and is visited by only 350 people, do not seem rational. A collection of real garments and partnering accessories was scanned on male and female models in 3D and now lives its life in Instagram filters.
At the time everything flowed as it should in Ukraine and there were no gathering restrictions, so the presentation was held offline at Ukrainian Fashion Week and had more than 2,000 visitors. We had two types of activity. An AR filter made by Ffface that integrates in real-time a 3D model in our clothes into an Instagram camera, allows scaling, taking pictures and videos with it in your environment, which was activated with the QR code. And a selfie machine with the digital mirror effect, which allows you to interact with a filter with a print from a new collection, which was performed by Japanese calligrapher Takahiko Ishii. We didn’t just simulate; we sewed a real collection.
So, how did this all work out, technically speaking?
Well, we didn’t want to show real garments in the exhibition space and violate the concept of show vitality, so we needed a visual trigger for the QR code. An object that is cool enough to attract attention and engage in further interaction. Therefore, we turned to the Ukrainian artist Julia Beliaeva to develop mini-sculptures in our clothes for each QR code. The mechanic of interaction was as follows.
Our guest saw a small, white 3D printed sculpture of a model in a certain look on a pedestal, approached it, pointed at the QR code next to it and then saw same model in colour inside the smartphone’s camera and could produce content with it. A few pedestals had QR, but no sculptures for an intrigue. But the most interesting is that, after the presentation, the filters that we launched continue to live their lives, and the lockdown strengthens this.
The users began to create their own fashion shows with our models at home, tagging us and spreading our designs all over the world. In order to enhance the AR effect, we used massive and hypertrophied elements in the Finch Spring/Summer 2020 collection. We designed garments and accessories in such a way that it would be interesting to include them in interaction with small and large objects in the smartphone’s camera. These rather controversial decisions have a viral effect and will live their life for a long time outside the project. The weirder the AR filter, the better.

“The question of seasonality, the number of collections and sales already stood before it, and the fact that fashion industry is the second most harmful in the world means that this is an organic crisis of capitalism.”
The global pandemic has motivated us to question the traditional fashion system. While some people predict that the shows will be entirely digital, others foresee a boom in sustainable and ethical fashion, while you bet on augmented reality. 
In the 1981 book Simulacra and Simulation, the French postmodernist philosopher Jean Baudrillard writes, “We live in a world where there is more and more information and less and less meaning." Today, we can rephrase it like this, “We live in the world where there are more and more brands, and less and less sense.” Yes, the biggest fashion houses reduce their collections and eliminate seasonality. They say, “It's because of the coronavirus made us think about what kind of world we live in”. But in fact, the fashion industry was stagnating before the coronavirus.
The question of seasonality, the number of collections and sales already stood before it, and the fact that the fashion industry is the second most harmful in the world means that this is an organic crisis of capitalism. Continuous growth without loss of density is impossible, just like in physics – and this applies to all areas of production, not only fashion.
How do you conceive the future of fashion?
Well it's great that these changes, like slowing down production, are finally happening, but it could have happened earlier and brands could have avoided the burnout of many talented designers. We believe that fashion should develop in the world after this pandemic by digitalisation and virtualisation, and we as designers and fashion media can contribute to making it real. Consumption for the sake of content may stay but should become purely virtual using VR/AR clothes.
Trends for new clothes should be replaced by trends in the stylisation of those we already have. And garments should remain for years; if not in our wardrobes, then at least in those places where they will be valued and where they, after we get everything from them, will have the same long and rich future life. That is, online concept stores and marketplaces with vintage and used clothes will gain popularity.
Everything that we create will inherit to the human of the future, and first of all to ourselves. The global macro-trend of sustainability can be used as a marketing tool, or brands can truly work with it, creating something special and valuable. Forming the taste of people, and not just obeying it. No need to play a public relations game with loud promises. An ethical approach to the work of the staff, the creation of meaningful projects and of fewer products to eliminate the so-called dead stock can be a small contribution from each of us in a better fashion system. It should be the new norm, not a tool.
In addition to being a creative tandem, you are family. What relationship unites you and how do you divide your creative and development tasks?
We are united by values, but the vision of the product or its presentation may differ. Finch is largely the result of our disputes, joint knowledge and skills. We keep doing a lot ourselves, including the creation of the online store. In this regard, our past professional background is a plus. Kateryna has been painting since childhood. Her mother was engaged in sewing clothes, so being a little girl she made her first designs and even sold them as painted dolls with clothing to her classmates. Maksym’s parents could not afford clothes he wanted as a child. That is why as soon as he had his first money, he began to buy and customize clothes for himself.
Probably this interest in clothing and style may be considered as an indicator of similar worldview, but we have much more in common: we read a lot, we love auteur cinema and art, and we lead minimalistic lifestyle trying to buy only necessary. All of our tasks in Finch are closely intertwined. Maksym conducts research and analyzes trends, comes up with male models, controls the sewing process, prepares documentation and works with retailers. Kateryna comes up with female models, draws all sketches and prepares technical tasks for production, deals with marketing and pricing, updates the online store and prepares all promotional materials.
We always discuss any ideas and steps, and if one of us does not like something, we discard such an idea and begin to work on a new one. We often argue about models and their sketches, and it is in disputes that our coolest ideas are born. We’ve got more work during quarantine, as we have to make a lot of anti-crisis decisions. Therefore, it becomes especially valuable for us to spend time together, walking with our two dogs in the park and reading aloud. A discussion of the books that we read is an opportunity to talk about the problems of our own reality through the prism of the problems of the heroes, and to escape from frequent conversations about work.

Overlapping, artistic impressions, a strong commitment to the synergy of technology and fashion... There are elements that are part of all your collections. What are the fundamental pillars of your brand philosophy?
Finch's сlothes serve for a long time, and we do our best to make the designs look relevant for years. Our collections from different seasons can be easily combined. We make the new items in a way our customer could wear a 2015-2020 mix. Finch does not claim to be a sustainable brand, but we are ethical, and not only in what we do but in how. We create relatively small collections. It is in our rules to produce less and, possibly, re-stock on demand, than to have a surplus. About 30% of items in our collections are made from stock fabrics, that could have been unrealized surpluses. We fundamentally do not use animal fur. As for the inner brand’s philosophy, we cherish the time and contribution of people we work with. Our seamstresses and constructors are fairly paid, they have interesting tasks and can develop their skills.
Asia seems to be a place you frequently turn to for inspiration. The silhouettes, the prints and the aesthetics as a whole refer to the east. What attracts you most about this culture? Do you have any connection with the Asian continent?
We are not directly related to Asia but gravitate to its aesthetics and culture. Largely due to the fact that it is fundamentally different from our own in terms of approach to everyday life and its rhythm, but, interestingly, our cultures somewhere at the level of ethnic costume and pre-industrial life successfully intersected. Therefore, the mix of Ukrainian and Japanese motifs looks very organic, yet fresh.
We are very much inspired by the Asian culture of wabi sabi. In fact, we would like to bring from Shintoism and Buddhism a respectful attitude to nature and understanding of our place in the world, as well as the slow living and observation. And from the aesthetic worldview of wabi sabi – the acceptance of chaos, destruction and ageing as part of life and the ability to see the beauty in these phenomena. The beauty of imperfection of forms or patterns, asymmetry and clothing layering. We would also like to learn how to clean the space, including wardrobe, and mind just as easily.
Due to the constant deficit, morbid hoarding developed in the USSR, it was customary to buy things for future use, without even using them in the entire life. Possession of scarce things and food replaced people's goals in life. They were obsessed with consumption, which is why the collapse of the USSR was able to extend the life of world capitalism and bring this soap bubble to the form that we now consider obsolete. Therefore, the Soviet apartments in which we grew up, were full of visual excess.
Colourful Persian rugs on the walls and floor, porcelain figurines from East Germany, elaborate furniture that do not match each other, clothes and linen. People didn’t use the numerous dishes but flaunted in sideboards, and the 'spare' things laid in suitcases on the mezzanines for years. We are all very tired of this, and we believe that not only post-Soviet countries, but also Europe as a whole, with its visual redundancy in interior and clothing. It was Japanese motifs in clothes and decor that were met as a breath of fresh air in the first half of the last century, and have been tightly integrated into our modern lifestyle since the end of World War II. And still, there are many mysteries in this culture that we are trying to solve for ourselves.
We would like not to think about time as a life limiter, so the clothes that we create are not directly tied to trends but are based more on the inner sensation and self-reflection. The print full of chaos and natural imperfections compensates for the technical accuracy and precision of the seams processing in our collections. This is our natural balance, our wabi sabi.
Black and white seem to be very present in your aesthetic universe. In contrast to the brand logo, a bird painted in red, orange, green and blue. If you had to define your project through a single colour... Which one would you choose?
Oh, it would be black of course. Black is perfect to see other colours brighter and clearer, so we use it as background to our colourful logo. In physics, black is not a colour, but its absence; all the colours of the spectrum are born from white. In this sense, black can be called an absolute zero, and white is the beginning of everything, the light and the ability to see. Colour is an additional meaning. When we clean the model from it, we see its structure; black cleans the image maximally of all that is superfluous. At the same time, you need to be careful with it, because after trying it, it is very difficult to resist the temptation to wear it always.

Some of your clothes incorporate the phrase 'Ukrainian Fashion Geek'. A statement that refers to Ukrainian Fashion Week, but that incorporates modifications. What do you want to express through this message?
The phrase ironically appeals to the passion for local fashion. Kateryna made it up and offered it to UFW. Now the capsule series that uses ‘Ukrainian Fashion Geek’, is registered as a separate trademark in collaboration with the Ukrainian Fashion Week. These products are part of the dialogue and, at the same time, an instrument to promote fashion and domestic products in Ukraine. The items have a democratic price, as the commercial part is excluded. 
When you started your brand, you wanted to change the Ukrainian fashion scene, where you recognized that "the banal and the post-soviet chic" prevailed. What has changed since then? Has the fashion of your country acquired a new meaning?
Yes of course. We are proud of our colleagues and the work that they have done over the past 5 years. Among us, there are real-world trend setters: Ruslan Baginsky with his hats, Ksenia Schnaider, an expert on denim upcycling and the inventor of denim fur, Lilia Litkovskaya with her balanced collections and stylizations, Ienki Ienki puffer coats designed by Sasha Kanevski, and others.
We can say that, during this time, the backbone of brands with their own history and authentic style has formed. With our fellow designers, we were and still generally are in a situation where, in order to create and nourish the need for a Ukrainian product of high quality and authentic design on the inner market, we need to stay together. So we willingly share our contacts: fabric suppliers, workshops, accessories, printers... We even sew for each other when there is an opportunity. But of course, we still compete in design. Although it often happens that in the domestic market someone borrows design from each other, which is strange in a world full of a huge number of ideas. But it’s rather a good sign, we suppose.
You are making the most of 2020. In addition to designing masks, you have launched a line of high-tech sandals under the name Outfield. What characterises this footwear? Does it have any special functionality?
Outfield is a constructor. Most of the elements in each pair can be adjusted, replaced with another colour version, or even updated using the elements of newer models. New removable elements will become available in the future. So having one base, you can come up with several top’s options, instead of having several footwear pairs. Outfield is designed by Oleksandr Holub, Masym’s younger brother. Each pair is fully assembled by hand from Italian and Japanese materials, and we even create custom sizes upon request. Unlike other Ukrainian footwear, it has a one year warranty and can be repaired within this period for free.
And to finish... What can you tell us about your next projects?
Now, together with Ffface (the tech team behind the AR filters), we are moving from using AR to demonstrate clothes to using AR to create them. Next we have the new capsule collection and art performance with Marianne Hollenstein, that will take place this Autumn in Ukraine with the support of the Embassy of Switzerland in Ukraine. And, in 2021, we plan to exhibit and perform with Marianne in New York. Planning ahead becomes difficult nowadays, so we try to keep in mind several alternative options for the future. Since we are a small company, it’s easy for us to stay flexible. The need for change stimulates the brain. We have this inner motto: “Take risks, always be patient. If you fail, the scariest thing is gonna happen is that you will have to start from scratch again. But the good thing is that you know already how it works.”

David Alarcón

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