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Luda Nikishina

Clothing designer and owner of the Luda Nikishina brand.

Graduated from HSE Faculty of Management in 2009.

Simultaneously graduated from a fashion design institute. In 2009, she founded the brand Luda Nikishina, which she presented at the international exhibition Pitti Super in Milan. Nikishina opened her own studio and show room where she makes clothing from fur, wool, and silk based on her own designs.

«I create beautiful clothing for beautiful women»

Success Builder

About the project
«Success Builder»

How do you find your place in life? How do you find something to do that both comes naturally to you and makes you happy? The answer is that you have to apply the knowledge you’ve gained from university and from life itself correctly. The Success Builder Project features graduates from the Higher School of Economics who have discovered themselves through an interesting business or an unexpected profession. The protagonists share their experiences, and talk about the big shots they’ve schmoozed and how they’ve made the most of the opportunities they were given.

Is it easy being a Russian clothing designer when factories cost, China sews, and discounts on cheap foreign brands can reach 70%? Everything is in authorship. HSE alumna Luda Nukishina tells Success Builder why business must be done in Moscow, how a Russian designer is better than H&M, and how to make things that people will definitely buy.

Your brand was born in St. Petersburg and then moved to Moscow – why did this happen?

This was partially because of personal circumstances, but also because St. Petersburg is a special city – it’s simpler to allow yourself long deliberations and a creative search there. Petersburg inspires you; it’s incredibly beautiful and this is exactly the type of place you need to recharge and rejuvenate. Business opportunities there are limited, however. There is not really a large sales market, infrastructure s underdeveloped, and purchasing power is low. But despite this, I understood after a year and a half that I had created a certain basis for my business, and now I want to go further and grow substantially where possible.

As for initial investments, was it cheaper to start in Petersburg?

I thought this at first, but I was unable to save. Even if costs were 20% lower, it was harder to compensate for them in St. Petersburg, while in Moscow you can easily cover high costs by raising turnover and prices. This is not anything new – Petersburg is for creativity, while Moscow is for business. But here I of course also never aimed only to make money. My business is first and foremost pleasure and the opportunity to grow as a professional.

The understanding that Russian-made means quality is the most valuable and positive trend that has arisen over the last five years.

What is the best way to start a sewing business?

This is a very individual process. I have my own path, which worked best for me. It’s probably good when you have a business plan and investments, and it’s even better if this is accompanied by an all-star name and experienced partners. But for me the main thing was simply desire, and it turned out that this was enough. It’s just that to start your own business in the fashion industry, you need to think long and hard about how you’re going to produce clothing, sell it, to whom and why. The funny thing is, though, that you do not even have to know this right away. Understanding might come with experience, even with bad experience. The main thing is simply loving what you do, being prepared for difficulties, and constantly learning. Honestly, I also had business plans, but not one of them was carried out, and I made all business investments personally. I create beautiful clothing for beautiful women, and I believe in the market – whoever produces a product that is in demand doesn’t need investments or subsidies.

How is the price of your clothing formulated? Your main line of business is fur coats, and they aren't cheap.

The price of a fur coat is always connected with the cost of raw materials, which is high. If you compare this with Chinese consumer goods, my prices are higher somewhat, but if you look at a different high-quality product, the price is very competitive, if not lower. A fur coat is an expensive item in and of itself because it’s meticulous work with complex and variegated material. An individual approach is required here – each skin has to be matched by pattern, shade, quality, size, etc. It’s like laying a mosaic or solving a clever puzzle. We dye the fur pink, light blue, or purple, and the skins’ nap is different, so in order to dye them successfully, they have to be carefully selected. As you see, the high cost of a fur coat is entirely natural.

Photo by Mikhail Dmitriev

Why did you choose such a complex material? It’s simpler to make skirts out of cheap fabric.

It’s not only about being cheaper to sew, but also that it’s more expensive to sell. We’d be able to make knitted tees by the hundreds – this is a top seller, but the effort needed to sell a hundred shirts isn’t comparable with what it takes to sell a single fur coat. The focus here moves from production to sales, logistics, and distribution – to what I never dealt with and don’t deal with. My heart’s in high-quality individual goods, which is why I chose a niche where you can apply most efforts at the production stage, not the sales stage. And where it’s worth doing that.

On the subject of sales – how do Russian designers position themselves alongside cheap mainstream entities such as Zara or H&M?

We are not at all competitors – our product is in a different price category. The clothing market is such that price and sales are not directly dependent on one another. This is a differentiated product, and the cost includes a heap of other factors: delivery, brand, even a designer’s personality and ability to build an audience around themselves. Reasons for success are often not clear at first glance. The nonmaterial aspect that hovers over each item also creates its value for the customer. My objective was initially to create a brand aimed at the middle class, which is why we’re in an accessible category. We are not aiming for luxury; I like to think that any girl can afford my products if she likes them. For me, it’s important that the price be adequate and reasonable, but on the other hand I don’t pursue a competitive pricing strategy.

Photo: Mikhail Dmitriev

Why do you make the clothing in Russia instead of China?

In order to have the clothing sewn in China, we'd have to talk about huge batches. We thought about producing a portion of the items in Turkey, but did away with this idea due to the rising exchange rate. There is actually no problem with producing in Moscow or near Moscow – the prices are entirely reasonable. Of course you can’t make it to mass market with such costs; they’re notably higher than they’d be in Asia, but you can fit in the costs for the middle segment. Another plus with this setup is the short production cycle and smaller consignments. There’s freedom from stock and you can react to demand more quickly. Also, I really like controlling production myself and it is important for me to participate in this process, which is why my clothing has a certain energy to it.

Has the exchange rate situation affected production at all? After all, fabrics are typically purchased in Italy…

Prices for all fabrics, fittings, and fur have increased by exactly the same amount the ruble has fallen. We of course buy all our materials in Europe, so our prices have also increased. And the cost of customs clearance is also in foreign currency as well. These are problems that everyone is facing, no only our industry.

You can set up your own business even with smaller amounts of money, and you do not have to spend money on advertising.

Is it not simpler to use the raw materials that exist in Russia? Fur and wool, for example.

Neither of those things is produced here. Our country is huge, but it doesn’t have any fabrics aside from fabrics made in Ivanovo for pyjamas and sheets. Even the worst coat industry does not exist, even though the weather requires warm clothing. There’s also no leather industry in Russia. In creating our goods, we use special raw materials such as lama, sheep, and goat fur. For conceptual reasons, we do not work with sable or mink, which are typical Russian furs. And by the way, even these products end up on the Russian market through European distributors. It’s impossible to buy high-quality raw materials from Russian suppliers.

Is there competition among Russian designers?

A lot of interesting, young Russian designers have arisen lately. This is a healthy and positive process; the younger generation isn’t afraid of entrepreneurship and is free of the prejudice ‘why make your own when you can buy it somewhere else.’ The number of manufacturers, as well as quality, is growing. And the main thing is that trust in Russian brands is growing, as are the brands’ admirers. The understanding that Russian-made means quality is the most valuable and positive trend that has arisen on the domestic fashion market over the last five years. When I was starting out, everyone said that this was foolishness. But now, thanks to the rise of internet media – social media above all – you can set up your own business even with smaller amounts of money. You don’t have to pay for advertising, and you can get information directly to the consumer.

Фото: Михаил Дмитриев

How difficult is the issue of renting space in the centre of Moscow for small business?

We make money on this. In order for clients to come, you really need to be located in the centre – no one will go on the Moscow Ring Road. Also, it’s an illusion that renting a location on the edge of the city is cheaper – this is often not the case. At the very beginning, we rented an office on the outskirts of the city, but there was actually not a huge difference between the costs of a square meter of space there and in the centre, and there were more people who wanted to visit the showroom at a beautiful, historic location within Moscow.

Are you planning to grow into a fashion house or large company?

The idea of a 'fashion house' can be applied to anything – this is a purely poetic name. As concerns the size of the company, I don’t think you can really plan for that. In order for there to be large growth, a number of factors have to line up. Of course, you have to work long and hard, often without lunch or weekends. Everyone likes to dream about large companies and huge amounts of money, but I don’t like to make myself a hostage to results – I just like my job. And if we spend our whole lives working as a smaller studio, I’ll be just as happy.

I have a clear understanding of everything the market dictates, and in this sense I’m a confident marketer.

You studied management and marketing at HSE. In what way have you been able to apply your knowledge to management, production, and sales?

My education has really affected my business approach in particular – I’m not a designer who says ‘I do it this way because I want it done this way.’ I have a clear understanding of everything the market dictates, and in this sense I’m a confident marketer. I above all always think about what people need and about the fact that demand is what arises first, not the good. Of course there is always room for experimentation and self-realization, but more often than not, we experiment in the area I see demand in – this is what happened with my brand. I saw a need for quality, affordable coats, and now in current, affordable furs, which simply do not exist on the market. I think that this approach comes from HSE, where over a five-year period they give you a clear understanding that demand dictates supply. Affordable, high-quality, and current – this is the balance in which I found myself.

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