Founder Profile: Asya and Kate, Owners of Sleeper - Kiev
Hi Asya and Kate! We'd love to know a bit about you and how you started Sleeper!
We were friends and both came from the fashion industry. We used to work as fashion editors for leading magazines in Russia and Ukraine. We achieved some points in our careers so our experiences pushed us to create something new, something that belonged to us.
Asya was born in Essentuki, Russia in the family of archaeologists and spent her childhood in Moscow. In 2013 she graduated The State University of Management in Moscow with MA in Marketing. She began her career in ELLE Russia while still in the university and had held a position of fashion editor there for over three years.
Kate was born in Kiev. Her father served in a military and her mother worked as a journalist. Kate spent her childhood in North Korea. In 2011 she graduated Kiev University with MA in international journalism. Katya began working for gloss publications while still in the university. She held positions of an editor-in-chief of Playing Fashion newspaper, then editor-in-chief of online version of Pink magazine. She also authored numerous articles on fashion and art-directed shootings for various fashion publications.
The idea to create homeware occurred during Kate’s deep Christmas nap after watching “Curly Sue.” She shared her dream with Asya Varetsa and 6 months later Sleeper launched its first collection. In two more months, then editor-in-chief of Vogue Italy, Franca Sozzani, named Sleeper the brand of the month. Ever since then, Christmas is our favorite time of the year.
Asya - When we began working on Sleeper, the Revolution was taking place on the streets of Kiev. We all participated in marches; Katya was a true Maidan activist. We had all lived through a true nightmare. Although the European idea of a Civil Society won in 2014, it came at a very high price. At that very time, came our recognition and acceptance of true values, and it came fast.
Kate - All our fears vanished completely. We stopped being afraid and became ready to start a new page in our lives. Then we came up with the idea of creating a company with its own voice; the one, which would bring joy in simple situations.
Asya and Kate launched the label with no experience in designing clothes, just $2,000 in savings and a single seamstress. Asya built the website herself, and got talented friends of theirs to shoot models wearing the outfits. They reached out to fashion journalists, and within weeks, Franca Sozzani, the editor-in-chief of Vogue Italia named Sleeper the brand of the month. Other glossy magazines quickly took notice and top-notch department stores now carry our garments in store. However, the first collection of 24 black-and-white cotton PJs was literally a disaster and they had it completely re-sewn to get into a top Ukrainian retailer.
In terms of production, how has that grown and changed over the years? You mention having all production done in house at your headquarters, which is incredible! How did you make that all happen under one roof?
Thank you, it really is! We have more than a factory now. Our own production is based in Kyiv and is located in the same space where the headquarters are, so we can supervise the quality of each seam, share the news and maintain very warm relations. It’s funny that the windows of our 280 meter-long space now face the building in which our first 18 meter-long office was located. Many members of our team remember it. When we look out through those windows, we know for sure that everything is possible.
We support artisan-manufacturing traditions. A dedicated seamstress spends 6-8 hours on one item. All pieces are made-to-order meaning there is no excessive production at all. It was a strategic decision not to outsource our production and to focus on quality. Our seamstresses devote themselves to exceptional quality of each garment, working with our belief that each piece should be as beautiful inside as it is outside.
What steps did you take to build your team? Do you have advice for business owners looking to bring on new team members?
Our team’s spirit plays a tremendous role and inspires us to move forward on the everyday basis. Currently we have a team of about 30 people. And the fact that our office and production facilities are literally based in the same space, allows us to share all company’s news and maintain very warm relations. We have a great team of all ages - some of our employees have 30 years of work experience; some are interns right out of college. It’s really important for us not only to hire experienced seamstresses, but to welcome college students by offering them internship programs and giving sewing master classes. Every two weeks we get together for a glass of wine to discuss our news and achievements. We keep our production staff well aware of all clients’ feedback and thank you messages.
We want our seamstresses to feel dignified and accomplished. That is the Sleeper concept; it's beauty of everyday life. All the rest – KPI, sales volumes, returns, - only indicate our striving to be the aces in the industry, and how we are equipped to manifest this.
What inspires your designs and what does your design process look like?
We do oversee the design process together, because our differences complement each other constructively. Kate thrives on art, history, colors and texture and Asya’s deeply inspired with modern design, architecture, forms and shapes. The best solutions appear to be somewhere in the middle of our likes and dislikes. Design is great but 90% of the work is routine stuff. Kate executes manufacturing, operations and HR. Asya’s responsible for products, marketing and research.
Inspiration? We had been discussing this lately, and saw eye to eye that the place, which inspired us the most is….an airport. That’s where you can get indeed inspired by authentic street style.
What are some of the setbacks or challenges you face with Sleeper?
We had never run any business before launching Sleeper. We’re from Ukraine and when we started our business the revolution was taking place on Kiev streets. We had lived through a real nightmare. But this situation had only made us stronger, we stopped being afraid and became ready to start a new page in our lives. Business is the same work as to be a doctor or an editor, you only have to learn fast.
At The Glossary, we believe in women working together and helping one another. Why do you think it is important for women to support each other?
Sex or experience is not the key criteria to us when hiring, it’s though more important who this person wants to become and his/her desire and ability to grow professionally. We discuss careers of our employees in detail - if somebody’s not experiencing pleasure in work, we can move this person to another department. We are concerned about the people who work for us. We want them to be heard and be happy.
What creative women do you find inspiring?
We are, in fact, true fans of Leandra Medine and Amelia Diamond, and literally engrossed ourselves in reading their articles. So, when we saw these ladies wearing Sleeper, no surprise it was a real oxytocin injection for us.
What have you learned from your experiences that you think can apply to any creative endeavor?
Stay true to yourself. Fashion has lost its dictator powers, and this is good news. We live in a time of multitude trends, meaning that more often than not absolutely contrasting things can be equally in style. It’s much more fun to live in the world where you can be yourself and enjoy life.
How do you deal with moments of self-doubt?
Kate - I call Asya. After that I write a to-do list and go to bed. We have a phrase - tomorrow is another day - and as practice shows this is an absolute truth.
What are you trying to learn right now or what is something that you are wanting to learn?
Kate - I learn to understand people who surround me and address challenges in a beautiful way. What I’d wish to learn is to manage my personal time better; this is my soft spot.