Natalia Solovian has three daughters: the eldest takes contemporary dance classes, the middle one loves oriental dance, and the youngest does rhythmic gymnastics.
And all three need costumes.
The mom makes costumes for all of them.
In the past, Natalia had a sewing shop in Donetsk, right in the Central Market, and today, a small atelier in Berdiansk. The atelier, called “Legend”, makes dance costumes, and not just for Natalia’s children long since.
‘A Latino dress is a ball dance dress that reveals naked back and has complex elements up front: cups, drapery, roll-ups, rhinestones’, the tailoress explains.
‘In the past, I could get scared by just looking at a dress like that: oho, how difficult! But now, I’m afraid of nothing. Perhaps I simply grew up for that.’
Natalia moved to Berdiansk with her family in June 2014. Back then, her younger daughter was only 6 months old.
‘We didn’t think too long about it’, the woman says. ‘We had to get our children out fast.’
And adds: after the “referendum”, it somehow became clear right away that that was it…
“It” is war.
‘Here, in Berdiansk, there was probably half of us, Donetsk people, staying. We were waiting the whole summer, believing that we’ll be liberated soon…
The realization that there will be no going back came in deep autumn. And then, there was a question of what we should do next’, Natalia recalls.
At that time, she brought to Berdiansk an old grandma’s sewing machine and started to earn some money working at home.
‘My mother was a tailoress, and so was my grandma, so that’s our familial enterprise. As well as the understanding that sewing is something that will always keep you afloat’, Natalia explains.
When she was 13, her mother gave her a pair of jeans to shorten, and paid money for that. Like to an adult.
Natalia does not remember how much, but does remember that for her as a schoolgirl, that was a huge amount.
‘She so encouraged me that I was helping her in the workshop for the entire summer break. Although I didn’t think back then that it will become my primary specialization’, Natalia says.
By the way, she’s a certified bookkeeper who once worked at a Boom hypermarket and at a Horlivka Dairy Plant, but after she opened a workshop in the market, sewing became her principal breadwinning occupation.
In 2014, Natalia and her husband went to Donetsk several times to pick up their belongings.
When they went there to pick up sewing equipment, there was almost nothing to pick up anymore. A missile exploded not far from the Central Market. It wasn’t a direct hit, but everything was cut in pieces by missile fragments and buried under the rubble.
They were able to salvage some 40 percent of equipment and materials, but her favorite sewing machine did not survive…
The times were hard.
In Berdiansk, they started to experience problems with housing. The owner of the apartment where they lived informed them that the apartment has been sold and that they have to find another apartment or house in two weeks.
‘We weren’t selecting anything – just moved in whatever we were able to find, then started to look for something better and moved again; after they raised the rent, we would move again…
Roughly speaking, we were moving twice a year, just making sure that that doesn’t happen in summer’, Natalia says.
You definitely do not want to find yourself without housing in summer: Berdiansk is a resort city, and in summertime, the housing there is being let at a daily rate.
Now, Natalia says, they are lucky, being able to stay in the same place for a year and a half already.
She also recalls how happy she was about any trifle they were able to bring from home “over there”.
‘I was so overwhelmed with joy about this Podolian sewing machine. I can’t even imagine what I could do without it!’ Natalia says.
Her first customer in Berdiansk was a little girl who was a ball dancer.
‘I made a very beautiful dress for her, and after that, several more people came to me’, Natalia recalls.
That was when she started to think about “Legend”, and when she learned about grants from the EU project “Bridges of Public Activity”, she immediately sat down and wrote a business plan.
She says that she did not hesitate for a minute. She knew that the first thing she should do was to buy a sewing machine.
‘A good one’, Natalia says.
She calls her “Podolian” machine a “breadwinner”, and adds: “Any museum would take it”.
‘When I wrote a grant application, I didn’t have anything like “it would work out or it wouldn’t“. I knew that I need equipment. At that time, I already had serious orders to be made from expensive fabric, the one you can work with neither on an old sewing machine nor manually no matter how hard you try. I was running around, asking acquaintances of mine to use their machine for an hour or so. But you can’t run around like that forever, right?
Natalia also recalls how the EU project’s managers helped her, pointing out the things she did not take into account.
‘The difficulties I had concerned the product’s positioning and advertising. To be sure, these difficulties are still present’, she sums up, criticizing herself that she displays few works on Facebook, that she needs to launch her own webpage and group. And that her works must be photographed. But when?
‘I can’t get around to it… And to be frank, I don’t really need that yet, as my resources are limited. I can do only as much as I can do myself. And I have a lot of work’, Natalia complains, or perhaps brags about.
While we were trying to agree upon an interview, I had an impression that she was working all the time: we were able to talk only late at night.
But Natalia is indefatigable: she says that she has huge plans for the future – expanding, teaching people.
‘That will be when advertising in social networks would work for my atelier. But right now, what’s the point in getting more orders? When am I supposed to fulfill them?
‘At present, it’s the self-employment level, and my dream is to reach the national level’, she says.
And explains that she founded “Legend” to make dresses for all Ukrainian dancers to have them dance in complex, beautiful consumes.
‘You know, that’s not just about sewing – there is a lot of complex décor in there, too…’ Natalia says.
I pretend that I understand, and she tells me about legends and customs of the world of dance.
Most dresses, especially for child dancers, are made just for one or two performances, and therefore, dancers often buy dresses from each other. But there is a clear rule: the more famous is a dancer, the more legendary is her dress.
Some may get in the queue “for a dress” well in advance.
‘Buyers for the dresses in which Alisa (Natalia’s middle daughter – editor) danced at Ukrainian championship tournaments were coming around at those very tournaments, buying them when we grew out of them’, Natalia says.
‘I heard people saying: “That’s the dress of Alisa herself“. That was when Alisa finished in the top three at the Ukrainian championship’, Natalia takes pride in her daughter’s achievements.
‘Did your daughter ever dance in dresses that weren’t yours?’ I asked her.
‘Never. That’s a matter of principle. Once we rented a dress, because I could not finish making one on time, but ended up in a low place, and Alisa said: that’s it, we shall never rent a dress again’, Natalia recalls.
She really likes when Alisa emphasizes that she dances only in dresses her mom makes. For her, it’s a matter of pride.
‘In the world of dance, it often happens that mother makes dresses for daughter. That concerns even celebrities who, even after achieving glory, keep dancing in dresses made by their mothers, for that’s a talisman’, Natalia points out.
Today, “Legend” is a room in an apartment. Natalia says that she was lucky: her friends told her that knitters let a room in their workshop.
‘Renting a showcase space is unreal for the time being’, she shakes her head.
Her youngest daughter Alexia has already taken part in her first rhythmic gymnastics competition as well. The costume for her performance was made by her mom, too.
‘In the past, I thought that I started my small business in Donetsk from scratch. In Berdiansk, I realized that it was a metaphor back then. Now, that’s really from scratch’, Natalia laughs.
And says: war made us stronger. But she doesn’t want to talk more about war.
By Lesia Ganzha