Surviving an oppressive communist regime and partial destruction from World War II is no easy feat - especially for an establishment which epitomises affluence and exclusivity as TSUM does. More recently it has been enduring Ukraine’s economic and political turmoil which erupted between 2014 and 2015 and resulted in a strong dip in luxury sales. But against all the odds, the luxury department store still stands tall.
In recent years, equilibrium has been slowly restored across the country and the fashion market has seen a steady uptick. According to a 2019 report by Euromonitor, last year the economy continued to stabilise, and both consumer incomes and confidence are rising. With a newly elected president this week, hopes are also high for reform.
Other than the considerably smaller Sanahunt, which set up shop in the early ‘90s, TSUM is still one of the only department stores in Kyiv (and one of the first retailers to introduce international brands when the country regained its independence in 1991), thus it has had considerable opportunities to shape the fashion scene with its distinct offering.
“Building partnerships with Ukrainian designers is now one of our most important strategic directions moving forward.”
“In Ukraine the majority of retail is still represented by shopping centres following the traditional leasing model,” TSUM’s chief executive, Evgeniy Mamay explains. “We are a unique retailing space in that we have our own identity and we operate on a completely different model.”
That model includes a select roster of over 150 local and international luxury labels yet unsurprisingly, buying director Olga Chaika suggests that as such a young market, the well-known fashion houses like Jimmy Choo, Dolce and Gabbana, and Valentino continue to outperform. She adds that Ukranian customers are very “fashion-forward, but still very interested in established brands that are successful worldwide.”
And despite the enthusiasm for big brand names, Chaika believes that Ukranian consumer demands are quickly shifting in favour of novelty instead of familiarity: “The mentality of Ukranian consumers is changing; nowadays they think completely differently to how they used to a few seasons ago. From season to season, new trends arise and they want to follow them.”
Sustainable fashion, for one, is rapidly growing in popularity across the country. Chaika places a certain emphasis on brands that produce collections from recycled materials. Among the latest names they have acquired is Insta-famous Hungarian womenswear label Nanushka, renowned for its strong conscious ethos and quality vegan leather.
In addition, they will also focus on introducing more homegrown brands, especially those who are growing internationally. Most recently, they launched emerging denim designer Ksenia Schnaider and sleepwear-meets-streetwear label Sleeper, represented by ORDRE.com. “Building partnerships with Ukrainian designers is now one of our most important strategic directions moving forward,” says Chaika.
“It was important to maintain the character and personality of the building while allowing it to function successfully as a 21st century retail destination.”
Aside from the spearheading work Chaika is doing with brandmix, Mamay says that key to its future success is creating a one-of-a-kind in-store experience. The space underwent a total interior revamp between 2012 and 2016; it now features 45,000 square meters of interconnected, open-plan space which managed to preserve the building’s original Art-deco exterior. Restaurants and a recently opened rooftop bar, which will double as a skating rink in winter, now sit alongside its extensive fashion offering and a premium cinema will launch in September.
“It was important to maintain the character and personality of the building while allowing it to function successfully as a 21st century retail destination,” says Mamay, revealing that ever since its modernisation sales have flourished. “[It] has completely changed the business and improved the shopping experience for customers, and our sales have grown 40 percent year on year,” Mamay beams.
Despite its turbulent past, TSUM remains one of the region’s most relevant luxury retailers, perhaps thanks to forward-thinking strategies that respond in real-time to Ukraine’s ever-evolving fashion market. Mamay, for one, is positive it will continue to prevail: “We consider TSUM to be a super destination for Ukranian citizens, offering a memorable lifestyle experience and unique products and services unavailable elsewhere in the country.”