In Conversation With Irina Dzhus

In the midst of the ongoing war against Ukraine by Russia, Irina Dzhus has managed to carve out a space for herself and her eponymous label, DZHUS, in the international fashion scene. With her avant-garde designs and innovative approach to sustainability, Dzhus has garnered attention from fashion insiders and enthusiasts alike.

We spoke with Dzhus about her journey as a Ukrainian designer, the challenges she’s faced and what we can expect from her latest collection. We can not wait to see Irina´s designs soon at Berlin Fashion Week.

KB: Irina, thank you for speaking with us. Can you tell us a bit about yourself and how you got into fashion?
I dreamt of becoming a fashion designer from my early childhood. I recall exploring my Granny’s vintage magazines and sketching my own ideas. I studied at Kyiv Children Academy of Arts when, at the age of 14, I got introduced to my then-favourite Ukrainian designer, Victoria Krasnova. Her avant-garde creations were inspired by Ukrainian traditional costumes, cultural heritage, and modernist architecture. Krasnova juxtaposed authentic silhouettes with unconventional finishes and turned technical elements into embellishments, cherishing structure as the beating heart of her creations. The splendour of those conceptual pieces left me speechless as I entered her studio.

Victoria found my ideas interesting and worth developing and allowed me to learn from her through observation and consultations. At 16 I entered Kyiv National University of Technologies and Design but got disappointed with the education, as it was way too outdated. Thus, simultaneously with my academic studies, I had an internship with Krasnova.

This experience is hard to overestimate in the context of my further evolution as a designer, as it has laid the foundation of my entire creative worldview. That practice has formed a basis for the future DZHUS aesthetics, as it taught me to always push the boundaries and look at the design from an unusual angle. Upon my graduation in 2010, I founded my eponymous brand.

KB: As a Ukrainian designer, how has the ongoing war of Russia against Ukraine affected your work and business?
I was lucky enough to have escaped from the war at its very beginning and find my refuge in the EU. Now I work between Warsaw, Paris, and Berlin, with frequent projects in Milan and Brussels. Speaking about the DZHUS brand, it will always remain Ukrainian at its core, being, along with that, very cosmopolitan – just like myself. Since I recovered from the first shock, I’ve been experiencing controversial feelings: on one hand, it seems wrong to focus on fashion when our people are dying from nonstop brutal attacks, on the other hand, design is a powerful tool for communication of the most important ideas to the worldwide community, and I think the mission of every Ukrainian artist now is to draw attention to the tragedy of our nation via their creative work.

For every Ukrainian, life will never be like before. As for me, in the past, I didn’t focus on my own identity as a Ukrainian and the brand’s origin – to me, those things were so obvious that seemed unnecessary to communicate. Everything changed on February 24. Once I felt capable of creating again, I realised how important it was to share our authenticity with the world and include it in our self-representation on both personal and professional levels.

Speaking of the DZHUS design in particular, its principles are not going to change – innovation, transformability and conceptual approach will always lay at the core of DZHUS’s creative philosophy.
Now that a year and a half have passed, explosions still take place on an everyday basis and the blackouts have already become the new ‘norm’. Without electricity, sewing equipment stops, making it impossible to schedule and plan the production process, let alone the emotional state of our team members. The war has insulted pretty much all aspects of our business, from sourcing and logistics to our reputation itself, as we became, in fact, a risky partner for our collaborators from abroad.
We are incredibly grateful to our clients from all over the world for their loyalty regardless of the force- majeure circumstances. I must admit that the quantity of orders has, nevertheless, decreased, because of multiple risk factors. The supply chains have been interrupted and the delivery of the products to the customers takes much longer now.

Along with my forced migration, I’ve relocated DZHUS’ HQ to the EU. The design and experimental processes are now taking place in Poland. At the same time, we’re doing our best to keep our Ukraine- based production active, as we find it crucial to provide jobs to those of our craftswomen who remained in the country. It’s been extremely difficult though.

KB: With all that’s been going on, how have you managed to break into the global fashion scene?
We’ve been receiving immense support from international organisations and programmes: Fashion Weeks, contests, grants for small businesses and other initiatives. Throughout a year and a half, DZHUS has taken part in Berlin Fashion Week, Brussels Fashion Week, and Vegan Fashion Week in Los Angeles, was involved in activities during Paris Fashion Week and Milan Design Week, participated in more than 10 pop-up events worldwide, most of which had charity purposes.
The media’s interest in our brand has risen. We have also developed new partnerships in sales, bringing new retail spots. I’ve put the charity matter on a regular basis and DZHUS has been donating 30% of the sales profit to Ukrainian animal rights organisations as well as the servicemen.

I ended up working between Warsaw, Berlin, and Paris. Having survived, I appreciate the given opportunities to continue creating. Now I’m highly motivated to translate our mutual values to the global audience via my work. Never before have we, Ukrainians, been so consciously gathered and united around our common statement as we are now.

KB: Sustainability is a key aspect of your designs. What motivated you to prioritize eco-consciousness in your work?
When I’d just started, I was focused on the visual aspect in the first place. As the brand was developing, my design vision was getting more and more thoughtful and future-oriented from season to season. I’ve realised there was much more behind a garment transformation than a peculiar fashion trick – it could reorganise the very system of apparel design. At that point, I’ve put a lot of effort into coming up with something innovative that could help make the industry more conscious, provided that this contribution reaches its audience and gets cleverly integrated into the global process. Now that more than 10 years have passed since I began moving in that direction, I’m still in the process of achieving that goal – this way is neither fast nor easy.

In my opinion, transformer pieces are an alternative solution for the sustainable fashion of tomorrow. Even a single multipurpose item offers a variety of completely different styling options – and imagine the infinite potential of a wardrobe capsule formed from changeable pieces. With DZHUS products, minimisation of physical shopping for the sake of a conscious approach does not mean limitation of fashion experiments, but on the contrary – generates unseen opportunities for creativity when it comes to self-expression via clothing. Besides that, what a life hack for fashion-loving travellers.
Although fashion as such is unsustainable, I do my best to come up with innovations aimed to change the approach to the consumption of a fashion product.

Thus, in my design work, I focus on inventing pattern-making principles that allow unprecedentedly versatile use of a single garment or accessory, often with a possibility of a transition from one category to another. In our collections, you’ll find trousers that become a dress or a coat, hats that turn into bags or vests, scarves and even jewellery transformable into clothing, and many other examples of function-focused concepts.

I’m convinced that in the current era of overconsumption and overproduction, everyone involved must start thinking of how they personally can help reduce the harmful impact on the environment. And that’s where multipurpose clothing can be of unparalleled assistance. With that thought in mind, I’m trying to fulfil my concept with as few negative effects as possible. For example, we work on a made-to-order basis, to make sure not to leave textile leftovers and unsold stock. For the same reason, many DZHUS garments are zero-waste.

I believe that the future of fashion is much more about technology than trends, and such alternative solutions as multipurpose clothing can pave the way to a completely different approach to fashion.

My main value, however, has always been the humane treatment of animals, and, naturally, since DZHUS’ launch, all our products have been cruelty-free. For me, the ethical approach is not a concept but a basic moral norm that determines any of my decision and actions. I feel it is my mission to popularise the animal-friendly ideology DZHUS communicates through its products. By presenting our garments to the audience, we stress the necessity of being humane and future-oriented in modern reality. By producing ethical and sustainable fashion products which are then worn by intelligent and open-minded personalities, I aspire to prove that it is possible to look edgy and avant-garde, yet remain in peace and harmony with nature.

KB: Your designs are known for their architectural, avant-garde aesthetic. How do you balance pushing boundaries with creating wearable clothing?
Actually, there was a distinguishing point in this regard for us. I think it was back in 2013 or 2014 when we received an order from The Hunger Games costume team. Although it was an honour for us as a then-new brand to get involved in a collaboration on such a level, that also made me realise that DZHUS designs were commonly associated with sci-fi costumes rather than clothing, whereas I’d always wanted to create conceptual apparel.

As of that moment, I began putting much more attention to the choice of materials and finishes, from the perspective of practical utilisation. The design itself has undergone a certain filtration, too, as I aimed at highlighting the very phenomenon of a garment, with its undiscovered functional potential, and not the eye-catching extravagance of shapes and silhouettes. In the recent DZHUS collections, the shape is mostly the result of my experiments towards multi- purposes and not an initial visual concept. During the last several years, it’s been so rewarding to see DZHUS customers wearing our products in real life. Let’s not forget though that every client of ours is, indeed, a unique personality, with an independent worldview and a creative approach to self-expression.

For a conceptual brand, it is crucial to walk its own path, sustain its own principles, and not give up when it’s not working. Not surprisingly, the majority will estimate lower prices, faster supplies, and more hype when it comes to design. At that point, it’s important to understand that the very essence of an avant-garde brand is about creating for a very selective clientele – and those one-of-a-kind individuals will appreciate outstanding concepts and, in many cases, be loyal and patient enough to wait a bit longer and pay a fair price for a wearable art piece.

KB: DZHUS is set to present its latest collection at Berlin Fashion Week next week. Can you give us a sneak peek into what we can expect to see on the runway?
DZHUS SS24 show will be an interactive performance, integrating not only the wearers but also the beholders into the enigmatic science of an outfit transformation. Being a synthesis of a metaphysical art installation and a dialectical fashion showcase, DZHUS SS24 mystery encourages you to take an intellectual quiz on the multipurpose outfit rearrangement. The guests are welcome to discover numerous modifications of the demonstrated silhouettes.

The one-of-a-kind location of the showing, The Feuerle Collection, is missioned to immerse the audience in the intimate atmosphere of a sacred treasury, filled with cult attributes and timeless valuables. The soundtrack is composed by EYIBRA, an American experimental musician with Ukrainian roots, a distinctive figure in the queer artistic community, and my great soulmate.
We are, traditionally, joining forces with our long-term footwear partner, House Martin. This brand is based in Berlin since its relocation from Ukraine at the beginning of the war.

Just like DZHUS, House Martin uses only cruelty-free materials and technologies for their products.

KB: How do you approach collaboration, and what do you look for in a collaborator?

There are 2 main factors when it comes to choosing collaborators: aesthetics and ethics. DZHUS is stoic about its vector and seeks partners with the same mindset.

KB: You’ve created pieces in collaboration with architects. How do you incorporate the concept of form and structure into your garments?
I generate my patternmaking ideas thanks to my peculiar ability of a thorough insight into the complex structure of the ambient and understanding of its architectonic potential. Comprehending metaphysics of the form, volumes and silhouettes, surfaces and voids, contours and textures, I explore the possibilities of interaction of the surrounding space’s constitutive parts. I enjoy beholding nature’s impact on man-made objects, making them imperfect and hence – unique. My design principles take their origin from the ways in which all existing things influence each other and change.

What moves me in the development of my creative potential is, actually, fear that if I don’t bring these concepts from the mental dimension to the physical world, they will remain unmaterialised forever, hanging helplessly ‘in between realities’.

KB: Beyond fashion, what other art forms or disciplines inspire you?
To be honest, I’m not really into fashion. I’m much more engaged in design as such. What I’m interested in is clothing itself: the very phenomenon of the garment, the way it interacts with the human body, and, most of all, its hidden potential for endless transformations if slightly reworked. To create an extraordinary piece, it’s extremely useful to explore the most ordinary ones.

Once you’ve learnt what a standard is, you can use your imagination and skills to interpret it in diverse ways. I’m so much into playing up archetypical patterns: inverting them, merging details with each other and using some classic elements in a very unexpected way. In this regard, I have always admired Martin Margiela’s revolutionary vision towards clothes: their meaning as both an object and subject of fashion. I have also been awe-inspired by Issey Miyake’s celebration of the properties and potential of fabrics.

Elaborating on my inspiration sources, I enjoy beholding nature’s impact on man-made objects, making them imperfect and hence – unique. My design principles take their origin from the ways in which all existing things influence each other and change. Along with evolution, morphology and functions of organisms, I draw my inspiration from imperfections of crackled walls, torn fabric, incorrectly worn or unusually fitted clothes, and strange light distorting objects visually.

On a personal level, I’m into exploring culture, history and certain fields of science. It is quite evident from my design, as I opt for particular silhouettes and forms subconsciously, implementing the impressions I’ve got from my studies. There are some particular themes I love digging into – among those are early Christianity, Jewish culture, palaeontology, and brutalist architecture.

Speaking of art, I’m a big fan of early 20th-century avant-garde, and I often have an impression that art was much more contemporary and statement 100 years ago than it is now. Also, unfortunately, it is losing its technical quality: a mediocre painter from even as late as the 1960s would be considered an outstanding talent today. However, I don’t give up my hopes to discover a new Egon Schiele.

KB: DZHUS is stocked in several boutiques around the world. How do you go about selecting the right stockists for your brand?
It is important to share the vision, the philosophy and therefore, of course, the audience. There are boutiques I personally admire, but which are way too minimalistic or, on the contrary, too eccentric when it comes to their visual identity. They would not succeed at communicating our product to their customers, which would, eventually, result in disappointment from both sides of the collaboration. A concept store in our visual niche but with a different average price point is not a good fit either. It’s crucial to find the right intersection and balance of all factors.

However, I won’t be honest enough if I said we are always choosing our stockists. As a small brand whose product is not hype, we are, naturally, still experiencing budget limitations, although being on the market for more than a decade. Not surprisingly, we don’t neglect beneficial commercial collaborations, provided that those don’t violate our fundamental ethical values.

KB: Can you walk us through your design process?
The process of designing multifunctional pieces is quite a ritual, starting with sketches, continuing with immense experimentation, materialised in tryouts and samples of techniques – until the patterns are finalised and all the fabrics and finishes confirmed. Then, based on the development results, a prototype of each piece is made. Very often, I have only a few ideas of transformations in mind when the design process begins, but with its progress, I discover many other unexpected options, enriching the garment’s wearability.

Speaking of DZHUS’s latest collection, “TRANSIT”, it was manufactured partly in Poland and partly in Ukraine, as I do my best to keep our Kyiv production occupied with assignments. The fabrics mostly originate from Italy and France. We had a catwalk show at Berlin Fashion Week and a presentation at Milan Design Week. Such international collaboration is not a new thing for us, as we have always worked beyond borders. Along with that, DZHUS will always remain a Ukrainian brand at the core.

KB: How have you seen the Ukrainian fashion industry evolve over the years?
Ukraine has always been a powerful concentration of talents in all creative fields, regardless of the uneasy economic situation and, in a way, even thanks to it. The creative community in my hometown Kyiv has a very high standard to work to, as the competition is really serious. Working with international clientele has been very popular amongst local creatives, as it’s been a great financial solution, so before the war, we didn’t feel isolated at all.

The fashion direction in Kyiv was developing fast, and the designers who were so desperately experimental 10 years ago got more mature and integrated into the international fashion industry, yet their distinctive spirit remained.

Needless to say, the war insulted every industry severely, especially the ‘unnecessary’ fields, such as fashion. In the beginning, it seemed to have collapsed, but, step by step, it is being restored and the speed of the progress is amazing.

KB: What advice do you have for emerging designers looking to break into the industry, especially those in regions with limited resources or support?
Answering this question, I will return to my internship with the Ukrainian designer Krasnova. As a truly avant-garde creator, she taught me to never make anything that already existed, and to watch a lot of fashion visuals (shows, magazines, etc.) not to copy those, but to make sure not to copy those. I’ve always been following this advice since.

I think the second crucial problem in nowadays fashion (after its anti-ecological character) is the lack of original ideas. Metamodernist interpretations of the earlier epochs’ masterpieces might look fabulous, but what about coming up with something undoubtedly new? I know way too few designers who manage to do that.

Along with that, the fashion business is very tough to run. Beginners should ask themselves if they are ready to dedicate literally all their time to the brand’s development and nonstop education, and not expect any benefits during the next several years. If the answer is ‘yes’, my advice is not to waste time trying to make ‘normal’ fashion, as there exists more than enough of that. I’d recommend they to put all their effort into developing authentic and unique designs which could help reconsider the very notion of fashion.


Named “TRANSIT”, the DZHUS AW23 collection of complex-cut multifunction pieces is designed to serve diverse purposes, weather conditions and dress codes. Transformability of the looks pays tribute to the drastic changes all Ukrainians have faced in the circumstances they could not affect. Having survived, they gained strength and became more future-oriented. DZHUS’s performance at Berlin Fashion Week was an unparalleled, mesmerising experience, as the designer showed a metamorphosis of universal wardrobe items in front of the audience. DZHUS AW23 presentation and showroom took place at Milan Design Week.

“The war has divided every Ukrainian’s life into ‘before’ and ‘after’. As I think of my countrymen and countrywomen, who have lost everything and had to embrace new hypostases of themselves in order to survive, I want to portray those superheroes and their inevitable change in a symbolic way.” – Irina Dzhus shares. The AW23 line consists of architectonic silhouettes which are surprisingly flexible when it comes to wearability: trousers turn into dresses and jackets, coats become jumpsuits, and sleeves are modified into hoods and vests. Many of the garments transform into bags, hats, and even jewellery.

In the AW23 line, Irina Dzhus used a variety of textured cottons and knits, see-through rayons and edgy pleats, whereas distressed finishes enhance the dramatic effect. Many of DZHUS AW23 designs are conceived around pockets and bags, as an allegory for the evacuation process millions of Ukrainians went through, having taken only the belongings they could carry. “Many have preferred symbolic things to practical stuff, which is so touching…” – Irina recalls.

Some of the outfits offer a transformation from an exaggeratedly utilitarian unisex silhouette into a fragile feminine look and vice versa. That is an allusion to the inevitable change of a personality under the influence of force majeure circumstances, often demanding heart-breaking decisions. The key piece of the collection is a bulletproof-vest-inspired overall turning into a colossal coat with a sheer hood, referring to an angel protector of the unbreakable nation.

Photo: Anna Goncharova @little_puida
Video: Svetlana Symakova @sansasay
Styling & makeup: Irina Dzhus @irina.dzhus
Music & sound design: EYIBRA @eyibra
Models: Agnessitta @agnessitta, Daryna Trukhachova @darynatrukhachova
Styling assistants: Maryna Kovalchuk @marina_kovalchuk___  Maria Tratsiakova @masha_tret
Ethical footwear: House Martin @housemartin_footwear