There is one interesting project in Ukraine, which provides informational support to new Ukrainian goods, arranges festivals, publishes guidebooks, and creates catalogues of Ukrainian goods. This project is dramatically spreading innovations of Ukrainian products and manufacturers. We talked to Yuliia Savostina, the founder of the project, a journalist, and blogger, to find out some tips on promoting the Ukrainian brand in the world.
Yuliia, please tell how you came up with the idea of launching the Made in Ukraine project? What pushed you?
The idea of a blog “How to live a year on Ukrainian goods” appeared back in 2011. I even tried to write about it in my LiveJournal blog, but I just lacked time and video-making skills. I am more a TV journalist. For me, a person behind the cam and a person in front of the camera are two different people. Not like now, a universal journalist.
At the beginning of 2013, just after Christmas, I remember it very well, I called three editors-in-chief and told about my idea. I came to the editor-in-chief of Delo.ua. We knew each other but had never been friends. I told about my idea, she was thinking for five minutes, we discussed the conditions of work, and she said, “Well, it’s a great idea, we’re launching it!” The editor determined some regular organizational conditions: a post has to be published once a week independently on whether I am able to write or not. If I am not able to write, then I dictate my text to the newspaper’s journalists. Another thing we discussed is drugs and health issue. We are to get those pills required, we don’t risk our lives. And the last thing: my equipment stayed with me, i.e. my phone which I used for filming, camera, and computer. However, later I found a Ukrainian-produced phone and computer.
Were there any obstacles while collecting information for the blog?
The experiment started on February 13, 2013. Some young journalist has recently asked me, “How did you search for information on the Internet?” I answered, “Kid, there was nothing about that on the Internet.” There was only an aggregator prom.ua with visiting cards of enterprises. I called to an enterprise, spoke to a marketing director, and tried to agree on them sending me their products. For example, I received a thousand toothbrushes because less wasn’t allowed to be bought. Or I bought shoes in five sizes because I wasn’t allowed to buy one pair, only in bulk.
I conducted the experiment on my own money. I mean I really bought all those goods, I went to supermarkets, markets, small shops. Then I contacted the enterprises which didn’t sell at retail. And then I bought at wholesale.
Did you elaborate a plan, strategy of your blog?
We had a year plan, for all 52 weeks. We had a clear expenses items plan which we failed to follow at the third week because we had more than enough topics. And then in a year, when the Revolution of Dignity started, this work seemed as a preparation for these historical events. And when the Russian goods boycott campaign began, the editorial staff began looking through my notes. In a night, we posted a huge text on what Ukrainian goods we can substitute for Russian ones.
How was your project perceived by people?
Basically, the idea was to make a post, write a book, and go on to be a journalist. However, corresponding events occurred, and we realized that the experiment to be ended in a year as promised. But I had to write about it all the time. Then, when the Crimea was annexed, and the war in Donbas brought out, many people realized they wanted to start buying Ukrainian goods. I bought goods, tried them, and wrote about my experience. I was always asked, “Yuliia, you write so well about it. Where can I buy it?” This is how the idea to arrange a fair appeared. A real fair of Ukrainian goods where you come and see many items.
In 2008, I swore off working in the event-business. I said I would never come back. But I had to come back, arrange the fair which still exists. We hold the fair five times in Kyiv, 3-4 times beyond Kyiv, in other cities.
We made a market, and then I wrote a book, “How to Live a Year on Ukrainian Goods” with a big catalogue. Then, I started learning the business marketing: how to promote yourself, how to behave from the marketing and service point of view. I started to consult those who followed me.
Markets, shops, and show-rooms appeared. The business processes boosted, and now I have what I have.
Have you managed to achieve the goal?
For the first five years, we had a goal – to make buying Ukrainian goods a habit. And when in the last year, we realized that the goal had been achieved, we started to look for another mission. Then, we realized that we want to make the world discover Ukraine. I want 1% of Chinese to come to Ukraine. I want the world to discover Ukraine, and this is how we will do it: through exhibitions, books, meetings, encouraging, teaching entrepreneurs, but from another angle, through bringing up a new type of entrepreneurs. It is a major and awesome job.
When you started the project, what Ukrainian goods you failed to find? Were there any obstacles when you were looking for something but it was hard to find it?
The worst thing was with skincare products: toothpaste, a good shampoo. And the problem was with food. There was junk food, but no tasty, local, craft foods. It started to appear just about three years ago.
Your website has a catalogue of Ukrainian production. In your opinion, what production is missing?
We can’t say now “missing” or “not missing”. Now, Ukrainian production is a trend. Any product made by Ukrainians has all chances to fill its niche despite the competition: for example if there are 300 shoe enterprises, and one more producer of good shoes appear and know its consumers, then it will easily fill its niche.
But I started to tell entrepreneurs about that in 2015. Those who followed my advice are trendy now, they are in the top, people buy them. Only those will “survive” who understand that in a year, they will compete not with each other but with Zara, Bershka, H&M. Those who listened to it, now are commercially very successful. Those who still think that a dress’s competitor is another dress hanging beside, don’t understand the strategy, they don’t invest in marketing, don’t invest in competition. They experience serious difficulties.
Now, there are enough products in different fields. There is a trend which dictates what people will buy. Because Ukrainian producers entered the world economic environment and are developing together with world brands and trends. People will buy everything which is connected with flats, interior design, ceramics. Today, any brand, any processes in this direction will be successful, at least for several further years.
How many new manufacturers do you find during the year?
I can better say how many manufacturers have closed. 30% of producers we collaborated with in 2015-2016 haven’t survived. What about new ones, we find them constantly.
Have you seen something unique which impressed you much?
Honestly, I was deeply impressed by Cuchervachi. This is a dress brand from Odesa. They are awesome and impress me.
During last year, I found 30 ceramics brands and wrote an article about it. 20 of them were new to me.
I am madly in love with Shchos’ Tsikave (something interesting – ED.). It is a shop of accessories, ceramics, and décor in Lviv.
How was your team shaped?
It is hard to shape a team of like-minded people in a social project. We have existed for six and a half years, and last year, the whole team fully changed. Because it is hard to work together for so long, moreover, almost the whole team of Pillar PR, the PR agency I had headed before Made in Ukraine, joined the project’s team. Today, these are new people with whom we are launching three new projects and reform all the existing ones.
Do you mean anybody has a chance to join the team?
Yes, sure. The only thing is that I am very demanding like any creator. I see something in my head, and a real product has to fully coincide with the picture in my head.
Is creativity the only demand for a future worker?
No, I am responsible for creativity, we can’t even catch up with it to implement, frankly speaking. The crucial thing is to be able to do everything I make up. But of course, we appreciate creativity and leadership.
Ukrainian guidebooks are of a universal format. How have you managed to do it?
The first book Made in Ukraine was published in 2014. In three years, we published another book about 100 best cities and towns of Ukraine. This is where the history of guidebooks started to form. Everybody liked those books, and we decided to create pocketbooks. But we failed. After that, we tried to create a guidebook. It took us two months to think of what it should be like. We have three huge bookshelves with all guidebooks of the world in our office. We, like bookworms, looked through all the guidebooks. We found what we liked and what we didn’t. This way, in two months, we elaborated a certain structure. We realized what we lacked by analyzing foreign experience. We realized what unique features we have which make us different. When we finished the project, we liked everything. Then we realized that we would continue it.
We are different from others because we offer a new, modern format of a guidebook. We do not just tell about a city: we have a clear tourist route. If you want to see a historical city, you choose a historical route. If you are with children, you go by a children’s route so your kid won’t be bored.
We use photos of insta-photographers. It doesn’t matter what equipment they used. We have also added insta-places, murals, beauty industry, local brands – everything which classical guidebooks are lack of.
How did you come up with the idea of eco bags and postcards with aquarelle pictures?
I bought such postcards in other countries. Any place, any region of Europe has its own aquarelles, I liked them. It’s just the moment came when we hired a Kyiv artist Nastia Kalkatin to paint all these cards. Then, we used them on eco-bags and notebooks. She painted 12 pictures. We made 12 episodes from the whole of Ukraine. It is very popular in Europe, you can find them virtually everywhere.
You also have cards with recipes. Is it because you are a great cook as you write in your blog?
Last year, an SMM-specialist and marketer who came to my dinner several times said, “Instagram has to be turned out into a food blog. It will be a success.” I haven’t done it yet. Cards with recipes are very popular, they are very quickly sold out. It is very popular in any European country. We just chose those recipes we liked. And what is important – it is our design, our pictures, it is fully our production.
Do authorities support your project?
We are supported by people who work in the state bodies and like what I am doing. And during these six and a half years, they haven’t managed to hunt me to state service, and I get such offers 3-4 times a year. I am very proud of collaborating with state bodies. We remain independent that’s why we can afford more because we work on our own money. But nevertheless, we collaborate with the state supporting it with a great promotion of Ukraine: both within and beyond the country.
What can any Ukrainian do to help the project?
To help our project you should: take a bus, car, bike, train and go to the nearest town you have never been to. Also, please go to the Carpathians, and in spring, take your children to Vilkove (“Ukrainian Venice”). To praise, criticize, walk, spend some money. It will be a contribution not just to our project but to the project called Ukraine in general.
Interview by Olena Skalatska
Photo provided by Yuliia Savostina