Julia Zaliubovskaya: "Thanks to the quarantine, we now understand our client better"
It's been a month since my first interview under the heading “Heroes of the Brand” was released — a conversation with Head of Sales of Anna October brand Ella Abdullaeva. And today I would like to introduce my next heroine to you —Julia Zaliubovskaya, Head of Sales of the Ukrainian brand KSENIASCHNAIDER. It was Julia who became the central link in the interaction between Ogonёk and it. Thanks to her, we have been working with the brand for a long time, productively and with great pleasure. I asked Julia about how she got into fashion industry, what the work of Head of Sales consists of, how lockdown influenced the brand's activities and about the specifics of the Asian market. I recorded this interview in the brand's Kyiv store on Vozdvizhenka — it also wasn't left behind. Well, enjoy.
— How did you end up in fashion? Tell me, please, how your love for this field began, about your studies abroad and how your professional development took place.
— It all started with the university: I studied at the Institute of Journalism of the Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv, and I was always interested in fashion. I thought about working in fashion journalism and even did an internship at the Buro 24/7 Ukraine. And by the end of my bachelor's degree I realized that I had grown cold to this area and I wanted to work in some kind of brand. KSENIASCHNAIDER was my favorite brand, and when I saw that Ksenia Schnaider was looking for an employee, I immediately responded. This was in 2014. At that time, only Anton (Schnaider) and Ksenia were in the management of the brand, and Anton was still living in Moscow and was just sometimes visiting Kyiv. I came with no experience, took a test, and they hired me. And Ksenia taught me everything. We worked at her home, and I partially even sat for her child — everything was a kind of family at that time.
Since I was the only person in Ksenia's team, I learned absolutely everything: marketing, sales and so on.
It was thanks to this work experience that the doors of fashion industry opened for me, I understood how everything is arranged from the inside by the brand, and I am very grateful to Ksenia for that. However, I did not work there for long, because I entered a business school in Barcelona, for fashion marketing, and left there. For a while, I continued to work remotely, but, you know, that's not the same. But we kept in touch. After that I worked a lot with brands in Paris, with a shoe studio SIX London, with LITKOVSKAYA. Then I left for Istanbul for six months, worked there for the accessories brand Manu Atelier — and returned to Kyiv. Literally immediately upon my return, Ksenia called me to a meeting — that was how I returned to KSENIASCHNAIDER. It was 2017. I came to work in marketing, because it was my specialty and it was closer to me, but over time it turned out that there are enough marketers in Ukraine, but there were literally no people who understood how the wholesale system works. Therefore, I smoothly moved from marketing to sales, and for two years now I have only been engaged in sales.
— It's amazing how long this story lasts. What did you want to become after studying in Barcelona? What were you dreaming about then?
— I wanted to continue working in marketing, dreamed of leaving for Paris and working there. But I faced the fact that it is very difficult to do this with Ukrainian citizenship. There is bureaucracy, everything is arranged in such a way that businesses are obliged to hire French citizens, and if they want to hire a foreigner, they must prove that they cannot find a Frenchman with the same qualifications. And the result is a vicious circle: you cannot go without a work visa, and you cannot get a visa without a work permit. Faced with this, I resigned myself to staying in Kyiv. I love Kyiv and I feel very comfortable here.
I just like to arrange challenges for myself: for example, go to another city alone — and do what you want.
I went alone to study in Barcelona like that, then moved to Istanbul to work. I really like this feeling: you grow a lot as a person in such conditions. I hope there will still be an opportunity to arrange something like that in future.
— In KSENIASCHNAIDER you are engaged in wholesaling. How it works from the inside: what are sales, what are your responsibilities now?
— It all starts with creating a collection — this is a design work, but I also turn in and support. When there are already some items, we shoot, I form wholesale prices, draw up a linesheet — a catalog of clothes with these prices, I work directly with the production, which buys fabrics and sews clothes. Then I form the market price — and after that the promotion of the collection begins. The standard scheme before the lockdown was as follows: I send out invitations to the Fashion Market in Paris during Fashion Week along with a line sheet, a lookbook and all the materials on the new collection.
Personal connections are more than just selling.
I send materials both to cold contacts and to warm ones: with whom we work or with whom we communicate, but do not work yet. We agree on appointments, form a schedule for the market and come with the collection to Paris. At Fashion Market, we meet buyers from different stores, communicate, show them a new collection — they take pictures, choose items, make decisions and send orders. This is already your side of work as a client. Upon returning to Kyiv, I collect all the orders and form a general production plan for the production department to buy fabrics and sew clothes according to it. At the same time, I place order confirmations and continue to communicate with clients. Marina is in charge of payments and logistics, and I handle the rest of the communication with clients and production. In parallel with the creation of the collection, I also conduct continuous work to find new customers: I find out new contacts, contact someone on LinkedIn, look for new cool stores, for example, take contacts when I travel, and so on.
— We saw each other with Ksenia several times in Paris. Who initiated representing brand there? Was it on your behalf, because after working in Paris, you knew it was cool?
— This is not my merit, before me a girl from Moscow was engaged in sales. When I returned to work for the brand, guys had already traveled to Paris for several seasons, and I started traveling with them. Together we worked with many cool showrooms: Polly King, Paper Mache Tiger.
— How is your communication with Ksenia and Anton going on, how different is it? Is Ksenia responsible for the womenswear, Anton for the menswear, or is it everybody for everything? How do you influence women's and men's collections? You said that you are supporting its creation — how exactly?
— Yes, Ksenia is responsible for women's and Anton for men's when it comes to collections. Talking about the brand in general, Anton is about brand vision, and Ksenia is about operations, thus, he comes up with something, and she embodies these ideas. I work more with Ksenia, I was directly related to the men's collections, but I have never completely dealt with it — this is Anton's universe, he does this completely independently. While working with Ksenia, we look through our bestsellers, think about what new things can be done on their basis, study the Asian market, and generally draw a picture of the future collection. At the moment of creation, we measure something in the office, everyone expresses their opinion, including me. This is how it works.
— Tell us more about the production, please. Do you have your own, or is it outsourcing, or both?
— We have our own production, but there are some things that we outsource: accessories, some types of knitwear. Most of our clothes are still denim ones, this is our feature, and our production, in fact, is working on this.
—Indeed, the first association with KSENIASCHNAIDER is jeans. And for me, as for many others, it is definitely a denim brand. How is it going now: are jeans still number one in sales, or are you changing towards something else, like jackets, T-shirts or some new items?
— As long as we exist, we have been trying to change, to get away from the image of the denim brand. But everyone knows us for denim, and we realized that it's enough to fight with it — it's just our feature and we need to develop and emphasize it on the contrary. From the inside, we just put up with the fact that we are perceived as a denim brand. In general, everything is as you say: denim items are our bestsellers.
— How much in percentage terms does denim take in the total brand sales in relation to other clothes?
— Offhand 70-80%.
— This is about all our denim, including jackets and everything that can be bought in sets. And if we talk about jeans only, then I think definitely 50%.
— Thus, you are officially a denim brand. It was a very interesting question, for some reason I thought that everything changes over time.
— In Japan, for instance, some concept stores still order only one demi-denims model from us — they are only interested in these jeans because they are cool and everyone loves them.
— I know that you catched on and became world-famous when it were demi-denims that came out and Asia saw you. Tell me about working with the Asian market, about communication with them. How many stores work with you, is it easy or difficult for you to work with this market, do you have any favorite stores there?
— Yes, they really catched on in Asia — the Koreans from Rare Market were the first to buy them. They are influential and many Asian stores look up to them — I think, thanks to them, in particular, the rest of the players found out about us, became interested and wanted our jeans. In parallel, this was backed up by influencers. At some point, there were a lot of Asian stores we worked with: in Korea, Japan, China, Taiwan. In addition, I have been communicating with Tokyo Fashion Week for a long time — ever since I started working in marketing. They wanted us to come, but it was expensive for us, so we tried to get grants from them. They deliberated for a very long time, considered our samples — and as a result, two years ago they invited us, paid for a trip to Tokyo and organized a show at Tokyo Fashion Week. It was very cool and funny in contrast: before that we did a show at Ukrainian Fashion Week and it did not cause a boom, and in Tokyo there was a line of people who could not get to the show, and the room there was much larger than in Kyiv.
It was a real explosion.
We have consolidated our position in Asia — thanks to our in-house sales through our common endeavour. About a year and a half ago, we started working with a distributor in China, because China is a very specific market and it is difficult to do business with them directly. We talked with various distributors and started working with DFO International — we continue to work with them to this day. They completely cover the Chinese market, that we do not yet understand: they negotiate with stores and are engaged in marketing — our clothes are on the cover of Vogue China, on stars with millions of followers and so on.
— How many stores work with you in Asia?
— At one point it was about forty, in China only. We work directly with Korea and Japan. We have a warm and friendly relationship with Desperado, a concept store in Tokyo that was one of the first to purchase our demi-denims. We know them personally, we see each other in Paris, we are friends — and they still buy jeans from us, that's very pleasant. When there was a KSENIASCHNAIDER show in Tokyo, the guys hosted Ukrainian brands and threw a party — everything was covered with Ukrainian flags, very nice. It's a completely different world, and it's cool that they like our product. Sometimes I think that if I hadn't worked in fashion, I would never have met such amazing weird Japanese people in my life.
— I agree that fashion means fantastic contacts. How differs the order of Ogonёk from another European or Asian store?
— It is difficult to classify by territories, because each store is unique — with its own concept and approach.
— Is there a universal key? When you get to know the shops, can you figure out what kind of things they will order? Depending on the selection of brands they represent, or some other criteria.
— Yes. Most commonly, either the store owner or the main buyer orders things conditionally for his or her friends, for people who are like him or her. And by the person, by style and manner of dressing, it is immediately clear what the choice will be like. I think you have the same situation: friends of Viktoria, founder of Ogonёk, buy things of the same style that she wears.
— Where did the quarantine catch you? How has your business changed since then?
— We were just in Paris when everything happened — and this influenced the market greatly. Large American clients, basically, did not come there, and Italian showrooms stopped working earlier, because in Italy, unlike Ukraine, there was already a bad epidemiological situation. Many clients were afraid to place orders even online, because it was not clear how events would develop further.
— Who is selling KSENIASCHNAIDER from the American fashion giants now?
— Because of the quarantine, cooperation with all of them is on hold now. Before we used to work with Shopbop, Neiman Marcus, Bloomingdale's. Neiman Marcus just went bankrupt. Most things are still going badly for giants, because stores have dead stock — it's time to order new collections, and they need to sell a lot of old ones. Therefore, they only order new from their biggest brands like Prada, and smaller brands are on hold.
— My personal insight about why giants were knocked down during the lockdown, but small shops like us were not — is that is all about people. Online cannot replace offline because it gives people warmth of communication, interaction and support. Our clients have spent money with us because they love us, and we love them. During the lockdown, we developed communication, came up with a lot of activities — and therefore handled the situation. That's why my next question is: has your relationship with your relatively small stores changed, have new customers appeared, has the general course of the company changed during the lockdown?
— We are in a very similar situation. Likewise, it is more difficult to cooperate with large clients, because there is no warm personal communication between us. Most of our work from B2B has evolved into B2C and brought us closer to the client here in Ukraine. We opened a showroom in Kyiv a few days before everything closed for lockdown, and at the same time began to sell online very actively, like everyone else. We had a website before, but it only worked for organic sales. We did not develop our own retail in any way, mainly focusing on stores and their support. Even on Instagram we communicated collections that were new for professional buyers, but not for Ukrainian customers. With the onset of quarantine, our business as a whole was rebuilt and became more focused on the end consumer, particularly in Ukraine. We also started to conduct various activities online, for example, we launched a viral flashmob #quarantineindenim. We are very grateful to the clients and friends who supported us. Our B2C story took off very much — if the lockdown didn't happen, we would have continued to work according to our own wholesale scheme, which did not give us a clear understanding of the end consumer. And thanks to quarantine, we now understand our client better and are more focused on him.
— How has the percentage of B2B and B2C changed today?
— It has changed grately. Previously, B2B was somewhere around 85%, but now it is much less, somewhere around 40-50%, so it is divided equally.
— How much has the income changed with this distribution? When earning from wholesale, you could be planning some kind of stability. And how do you try to come to it today, how do you plan?
— In terms of money, the situation has not changed dramatically, it's more about changes in the system. With wholesale everything was clear and understandable: we received an order, formed a production plan, received an advance payment, purchased fabric for this advance payment, sewed, shipped the goods, received money. Everything is very clear and stable. And now how it will turn out: some months are very successful, for the money it turns out even better than with the wholesale, because we sell at full price, and in some other months there is less activity — and we sink. There is no clear understanding of what will happen tomorrow.
— Do you personally still continue to work exclusively with wholesale? Does it mean that now people who run the store are doing everything separately, including the production for it? So your work has diminished?
— We cannot say that it has diminished. I look for clients as I used to, communicate and write emails, send out new collections — it remains at the same level. I also hold meetings — now not in Paris, but on Zoom. Yes, the number of clients has decreased, but now I devote more time to each of them — we are working on a new system, constantly inventing something. We are not that snobbish brand that just sent out a collection and forgot about the client until the next one, no, I still keep in touch. This is a story about an attitude, personal connections are more than just selling.
— What is your retail dreamplace worldwide? And what do you need to do to end up there?
— That is definitely 'The Broken Arm' in Paris. What do we need? I think we need something wildly interesting, like the second demi-denims.
— A month ago, Pablo wrote to me on behalf of KSENIASCHNAIDER — now he is a sales manager of menswear. Tell me about him, please. Do you have so much work that you took another person into sales, or just decided to deal only with women?
— Initially, I was only engaged in women's, and at some point Anton started making men's collections. As I said, I have never fully dealt with them, I only supported Anton. And Pasha is not a person from the street — he used to work as a production manager, doing merchandise for special projects. And now he switched from production to male sales — it was logical for us and came out very organically.
— Let's finish with several questions about you personally. What is the basis of your wardrobe and does it resonate with the values of KSENIASCHNAIDER? I mean, for many, the basis of a wardrobe is jeans, and you just work in a denim brand.
— I am more for basic simple things and their interesting combination. Mix of different clothes, combination of high fashion and mass market.
— What wardrobe item do you adore?
— This summer I rediscovered our Dua Lipa jeans for myself and wanted to wear them every day. I felt super sexy in them.
— How many pairs of jeans from your brand do you have?
— A lot (laughs). About ten.
— What would you do if not working for KSENIASCHNAIDER?
— Now everyone is very versatile, and I do not see myself exclusively as a sales manager. I could be a sommelier, I really love wine (laughs). I attend tastings, love listening about wine. Recently I got hooked on natural wines.
— Biodynamics? What is your favorite wine region?
— Yes. I love Austria very much.
— The question I ask all my guests: what is Ogonёk for you?
— It is you (laughs). Ogonёk is associated with you for 100%. And I would like to tell you about my first impression of the shop — I visited it for the first time this summer. We went in without naming ourselves, and the girl who met us immediately considered our style and started offering us KSENIASCHNAIDER clothes — it was wow and made me very happy.
Before the interview, Yulia and I walked around Vozdvizhenka and Zhitny market on Podil right on the Halloween eve. Everything was covered with pumpkins — we were very lucky with the entourage. There we also met a very charismatic lady who was selling pumpkins and she told us in a very expressive manner that “Americans never dreamed of the sweetness of our Ukrainian pumpkins. Our land is special".
Below are three tips that Yulia is happy to share with those who are starting their way into fashion, as well as wine, right that Austrian.
1. Cultivate your awareness: travel, watch good movies, read books, go to exhibitions, follow cool brands, and read professional fashion media.
2. As in any other field, it's great to get a specialized education. This will provide a good base and open up new perspectives.
3. Try it! If you want to work in fashion industry, persistently write to brands that you like — and you will definitely once be hired, as an intern at least. Additional hands for the brand will never be superfluous, and this is a chance for you to gain invaluable experience.