Zhilyova – Lingerie for Female Empowerment

For Valeriia Zhilyova, sexiness is about how you feel and not how you look, however wearing one of her designs will certainly help. The Ukranian designer has started her lingerie brand Zhilyova initially by sewing all her designs by hand and has since developed it into a fully fledged brand. We spoke to Valeriia about body positivity, female empowerment and the challenges of being taken seriously as a female entrepreneur.

What was it that fascinated you about lingerie that led you to setting up Zhilyova?
Lingerie, for me, has not only been a way of self-expression, but a garment category that I kept on purchasing as I was sewing all of my wardrobe myself. Once I came to realize  how much the one set of lingerie that I created myself changed me, inspired me in so many ways and let me realize what I have been missing in other lingerie brands, I decided to take a leap of faith and start my own lingerie brand to also inspire others, give them power to feel authentic and free to express their true emotions through lingerie. 
You started by making all the pieces yourself by hand, what was the transition like from that to having your designs produced commercially, what were the challenges you had?
This is an amazing question as one of the most challenging parts of building and growing Zhilyova as a lingerie brand was the difference of sewing every piece of lingerie myself as opposed to having manufacturing factories that are able to do that for you. When starting my business, I was creating every piece myself using a regular sewing machine, and later on I learned that around nine different sewing machines could be used to create one set of lingerie. In the very beginning, when I was visiting different factories to produce Zhilyova pieces, I faced a huge share of sexism, agism and not being taken seriously as a young woman in Ukraine. I went through a lot of unpleasant experiences in order for the brand to become commercial and grow my audience to spread the message I wanted to spread across the social circle in Ukraine. However, through partnering with production factories, I was able to work with a large variety of sizes and get to know what’s in demand across our customers. It is essentially a journey to the DNA of a brand and it’s way to a nonstop evolution. 
You said in another interview that you make lingerie from a feminist perspective, can you please explain a little what you mean by that?
I always wanted to inspire women to be authentic to themselves and stay focused on working towards achieving their goals and dreams. Women do not have to follow any rules or expectations and should be unapologetic about their choices. All those messages are mirrored in every collection created by Zhilyova. I am happy to be one of the first designers to have evolved the young culture in Ukraine to accept and admire a female body of any size without sexualizing women. It has also been a huge step in growing as a brand. Being a gamer myself, I have always been inspired by the dominance and confidence with that women in video games are portrayed as. The power that exudes from those characters has charged me to create pieces that translate that energy to our audience. I hope every woman that wears Zhilyova feels her best and most confident when putting our lingerie on in the morning. 
Your casting is very diverse with different body types and skin colours which seems like an important aspect of Zhilyova, why did you decide to go down that route, which is not yet as common in Eastern Europe compared to the US and UK for example?
It is extremely important for me to emphasize each person’s individual looks, unite people and make them feel welcome and proud to be themselves. In the beginning, being one of the first brands to do so, we were getting lots of negative messages due to Ukraine being quite conservative at the time. Now, we definitely face less of such feedback. I feel very inspired and energetically charged from working with people of all backgrounds. I believe that only through bringing together nationalities, races, and sizes we as human beings can achieve stability and harmony as a society. 
What does being sexy mean to you?
Sexy for me is the feeling when you are at the most harmony with yourself and you can feel and look how you decide to. For me, sexiness is a mindset. It is something that forms itself and doesn’t have to be addressed towards one’s partner or a certain person, but it is more of a personal state of feeling. Sexiness brings out confidence, freedom and charges one from the inside. That is exactly what I felt when I created my first lingerie set. It’s important for customers to find brands that understand their needs, desires and expression of feelings. That is exactly what my focus is at the moment. Feeling my customer and sharing this energy field with them is the foundation of Zhilyova as a lingerie brand. 
How do you think has women’s relationship with their bodies in Ukraine changed since you started Zhilyova? Have you seen a progression?
I am extremely proud of my country. A lot more body representation has been shown in recent years. Ukrainian women of all sizes are more open to share pictures of their bodies in lingerie and usually accompanied by captions explaining how big of steps those are for them to post images of themselves in lingerie for the world to see. It’s not about sexualizing one’s body, it’s about confidence, freedom and pride to post one’s body and feeling amazing in one’s skin. It is normal to do so in foreign countries, but in Ukraine it’s only a start. I am very proud that my brand has been a big platform for such a movement. Back in the day, when we started posting and shooting models with various size ranges, we wanted to show realistic body standards and how beautiful each and every body is. The only thing that matters is one’s mental health. Once you are in harmony and comfortable with yourself everything you do works in your favor and it’s easier to communicate with the world in general. And this ties in with sexuality. More people stopping sexualizing female bodies and shifting body standards formed a foundation to progression as a society. 
You have collaborated with Ukraine’s Pride Month Event, can you please tell us a little about that?
This collaboration was very inspiring to our audience. Very excited to have partnered with Ukraine’s Pride Month for such collaboration. We got so much beautiful supportive feedback from the local youth. It’s amazing to see that conservative countries such as Ukraine have been normalizing and speaking about Pride. Donations were made from the sold items from this collaboration. I was happy to see couples buying t-shirts for each other or gifting them to others. It shows how much the culture has developed and grown for the past years. I believe the social development of such support also closely ties in with young club culture in Ukraine as well. Some call Kyiv “the new Berlin”. 
All your collections have very interesting themes, where do you get your inspiration for your collections, what is usually your starting point?
Every one of my collections is essentially a direct reflection of my inner personality, which is essentially a starting point for each drop. My interests revolve around technological innovation, gaming industry and the galaxy. I have always been very much into video games ever since I was a kid, especially into the female characters in the games. Power, seduction and dominance that radiates through female characters portrayed in the gaming industry has always charged me with passion to create looks that glow that energy onto the customers that wear our pieces. Gaming in addition to technological innovation always serves as the foundation of my idea creation pattern when it comes to upcoming collections. Technological innovation can also be translated as striving to improve the fashion industry to the direction of sustainability. Materials and fabric in addition to digitized fashion and ethical production serve as first steps to innovation in such ways. 
Do you have any favourite pieces from your past collections?
I absolutely love Zhilyova Akira silk bandage. In the next collection we are about to have it produced using mesh material as well. Kasumi set is also one of my favorites across our past collections. Tribal bodysuit, which for me is a mirror of the gaming world in a lingerie piece. And of course our bestseller Unnamed 2.0 is a perfect corsage that fits any wardrobe with any look and will compliment your skin perfectly. 
You have also started doing pieces for men, why did you decide to add that to your collections?
I always wanted to create a men’s collection. At the moment we have mesh tops, silk underwear, but we are about to expand our men’s items in the upcoming drops. Zhilyova had always had a lot of demand for men’s items, which served as a big push towards expanding our collections to men as well. When we first dropped the unisex t-shirts before even the men’s collection was announced, most of them were sold out by our male customers. 
I also noticed  there is now also Zhilyova home, that’s exciting, can you tell us a bit about that?
I’m addicted to good scents. I have perfumes in my personal collection that I change up depending on the time of the day and my mood. At Zhilyova we were able to create amazing home scents. Besides candles, our clients are able to relax and take baths using our bath bombs. I am so happy to have the freedom to express myself completely across Zhilyova as a brand. It is my journey to expand the brand to be a fashion house. I would absolutely love to create more sports lines, men’s collections and silk drops. That is why it is so amazing for our clients to be able to decorate their homes with a piece of Zhilyova as well. Interior has always been a big interest for me. Even when creating lingerie, I always imagine a model wearing our lingerie in a certain interior setting, that being wood, stone, natural elements in homes, and now I also imagine the scents produced by us as well. 
Your latest collection is called Nebula, can you please tell us about it?
The Nebula drop represents galactical infinite energy nursing new stars in this universe. The scientific term behind nebula explains my interpretation of humankind, which, essentially, is an endless energy cultivating all of its superpowers that make it invincible. The space topic serves as a foundation to this campaign and correlates vitality of a human being with an abundance of the universal power source. The short film for this collection is a clear indication that every person has superpowers that await to be activated. The collection includes brand new prints, bodysuits and a men’s collection that got introduced through this drop. Additionally, Nebula includes sustainably produced swimsuits that are manufactured from Econyl. 
What’s next for Zhilyova?
I want to take the lingerie industry to another level of innovation, development and production. I would love to introduce the world to Ukrainian designers as well as Ukrainian high quality and ethical manufacturing and production. I want to push boundaries of the industry by creating more creative and innovative campaigns and projects that would affect and inspire our audience.