Sleeper is the Ukrainian, artisan pyjama-maker that has us reassessing pyjamas as daywear
Some of our best ideas come to us in our dreams, and for former fashion editor Kate Zubarieva, that idea was to start a pyjama label with her friend Asya Varetsa (Zubarieva gets ideas for a successful business. We get skin-crawling sexual nightmares. Not fair). Sleeper, which designs sleepwear for both indoor and outdoor use — isn't that all sleepwear, though? — was no Sleeping Beauty; within weeks of its founding, it attracted the notice of the late Vogue Italia editor in-chief Franca Sozzani. Since then, Sleeper has steadily racked up stamps of approval from blue-chip retailers, as well as celebrities including Dakota Fanning, Kirsten Dunst and Emily Ratajkowski; all of whom, incidentally, star in our Virgin Suicides-esque sexual nightmares (jks).
Below, our chat with Sleeper's co-founders about turning dreams into reality, dressing like a fashion editor, and slow fashion.
Could you share a little about your backgrounds in fashion journalism?
KZ: I graduated from Kiev University with an MA in International Journalism. At the age of 16, I got employed by The Information Agency, but shortly after that I began working for Gloss Publications. I was editor-in-chief of Playing Fashion, then editor-in-chief of Pink magazine's online edition. I later went into media management.
AV: I graduated from Moscow's State University of Management with an MA in Marketing. I worked as a stylist for Playing Fashion. It's funny that we worked at the same newspaper at different times but didn't know each other. In 2010, while I was still at university, I became a junior fashion editor for Elle Russia, where I styled and directed photo shoots.
What did you dress like when you were fashion editors?
KZ: I used to dress like a typical fashion editor, which I was conflicted about. It's challenging to feel obligated to dress a certain way. It wasn't always in sync with what I felt.
AV: I remember wearing black from head to toe. I was just a 20 year-old working in a fashion, I was super excited but also scared about other people's opinions, which explains a lot about my style choices during that time. Today my wardrobe is full of colour, and some funny, mostly fluffy accessories. It feels good to be past my Devil Wears Prada phase and to be an adult with confidence in my own choices.
What lessons from your time as fashion editors is still relevant for your brand, Sleeper?
KZ: One: to build good relations with the media, be professional and trustworthy, and stick to deadlines! Two: be rigorous about the imagery you create. We put our fashion-director thinking caps on, and think of pictures first and foremost as visual artful images rather than just commercial ones.
AV: Don't just tell people what they want to hear. Be responsible when communicating facts.
What propelled you two to quit your jobs to start your own fashion business? Has it always been a dream? Or did you see a void in the industry that needed to be filed?
AV: At the time, both of us were unemployed. Katya left Pink magazine to pursue a second education in theological studies, and I left my job in Moscow behind, to be with my fiancé in Kiev.
KS: When we began working on Sleeper, a revolution was taking place on the streets of Kiev. We participated in marches; I was a true Maidan activist. It was like living through a nightmare. When the situation improved, we stopped being afraid and became ready to turn a new chapter in our lives. Then we had the idea of creating a company that would bring joy.
How did Sleeper come about?
KS: One Christmas Eve, we were watching Curly Sue with our friends. Asya and I were absorbing these American, Bill Clinton-era influences from our childhood, and in one of the scenes Kelly Lynch's character wore a striped robe. We immediately turned to each other. It was such a cool look. That night I had a dream where I was standing in the middle of a pyjama factory. In the morning, I proposed starting a sleepwear label to Asya.
Describe the Sleeper philosophy.
AV: We like to think of ourselves as the first 'walking sleepwear' brand, i.e. pyjamas that could be worn outside. Think a pyjama shirt in lieu of a regular button-down for the office, or a silk robe in lieu of summer coat. Or white silk pajamas for weddings!
How did you get the the brand to where it is now?
KS: We launched the label with no experience in designing clothes, $2,000 in savings and a single seamstress. Asya built the website herself, and we got our (very talented) friends to shoot for us. They also helped us reach out to fashion journalists, and within a few weeks, Franca Sozzani named Sleeper 'brand of the month'.
AV: Over the next few months, we refined our supply chain and worked on quality control. We moved into our own studio and hired a team of seamstresses, all with decades' worth of experience. Half a year later our garments were available on Moda Operandi, and that pushed us to start producing on a much larger scale.
What were the first Sleeper pieces, and how has your aesthetic changed since your first collection?
AV: Our first collection was 24 pieces of black-and-white cotton pajamas. It was a production disaster, though, and we had to completely re-sew it for a top Ukrainian retailer.
What are your favourite pieces from this season's collection and why?
KS: We're making our first slippers, which is very exciting. I also love the light blue slip dress from our Christmas collection!
AV: My favourite item has to be the Milk Punch pyjama set.
How would you advise our readers to style and wear your pieces?
AV: We believe in mixing and matching our stuff with clothes from your own wardrobe. Our pyjama tops can go with jeans and biker jackets. Our sets can go under trench coats. Our bottoms can go with kitten heels. Our slip dresses look cosy and stylish paired with a chunky cardigan. Our robes can be worn as a wrap dresses. The possibilities are endless!
KS: You can go everywhere in our clothes - cafés, parks, galleries, parties (of course) and even business meetings! It's all about personality.
What makes Sleeper different from other pyjama-inspired fashion brands?
AV: We believe that Sleeper reflects a very modern perception of comfort, sexiness and fun.
What does artisanal manufacturing mean to you?
KS: We're committed to local production and slow fashion, so all our garments are produced in-studio. This allows us to check every seam and deliver exceptional quality. Our pieces have a lot of hand-crafted elements, and some pieces take 8-12 hours to complete. Machine involvement is minimal, allowing us to reduce carbon emissions.
AV: It's important for both of us to ensure fair working conditions. We keep our workplaces safe, and offer formal employment with competitive salaries, paid vacations and sick leave to all our employees. We not only hire experienced seamstresses, but also welcome university students through our internship programs. We also give them sewing masterclasses.