How Zhytomyr family shoe making business has grown to Kachorovska Atelier brand, which is known all over Ukraine
Kachorovska is a brand having more than 50 years history. A family business which has grown from a small workshop to the production employing more than one hundred people; their shops were set up in the largest Ukrainian cities, Kyiv and Odessa. Here you can order a custom-made bag or a pair of shoes or buy finished goods from their collections. You can also savour coffee from professional baristas here. All of these things create the unique atmosphere, which is associated with the Kachorovska Atelier.
Alina Ocheretiana (Kachorovska), the managing director of the Kachorovska Atelier brand, tells about the brand formation, the arrangement of production and answers the question if it is easy to run business in Ukraine.
The shoemaking in your family has more than half a century history. Of course, it’s impossible to put it in a nutshell. Yet, could you look back on your childhood and youth, what did the family business mean to you?
To begin with, at that time, I wasn’t aware of its potential. We lived in a private house in Maliovanka in Zhytomyr. At the time, small workshops popped up like mushrooms after a spring rain. Ours was one of the first. It so happens that almost everyone in the family has professional education related to shoemaking. My grandmother worked at a shoe factory a long time ago. My mother also worked there for a long time; she adopted the best experience from the Italians, Czechs, and Austrians, who then came, rented and worked there. At that time, it was just a little workshop, we merely made shoes. I have never treated this as something special. There was no such kind of attitude that this was a design, and that was a collection. For me, it was a product that you can make with your own hands, I knew how to make it, and I saw how it was made. That’s why I often tell a joke that there is something in my DNA related to shoes (laughs). I treated it very simply. I liked it and I hope I preserved it. I’m not saying we’re shoe designers, I don’t think so. We are shoe makers, we are pretty much manufactures. And I’m thrilled about it. We create the product that people need. And we do our best to keep this product cool, high-quality and at a fair price. I treat it simply.
I used to be a little girl, there used to be a smell of glue in the house, the shoemakers used to be in our yard. Our house used to be like a public thoroughfare: someone would come and sell leather to my mother; someone would stay for an hour because my grandmother decided to treat them to tea and something delicious. That’s the story; Zhytomyr-style, home-style and warmly welcoming. Both Mom and Grandma were very hospitable. And they welcomed everyone – customers, suppliers, partners, and employees. Everything grew out of such a family household.
And you, when did you realize that it is worth following the family footsteps?
When I started studying in Mohylianka (Kyiv-Mohyla Academy). Along with that, I began to take my first orders in Kyiv. In fact, all of this grew out of the atelier. And when I was about 18, I “upgraded myself”. There is a business school in Mohylianka; and it was possible to attend various lectures there. So when I was about 18 years old, I became aware of the fact that there is such a great potential, it can be developed into a business, and it is possible to do it one way or another. At that time, I also realized that there would never be an end point for development. And then I said to myself that I would do it.
Did your family talk you out?
Yes, they didn’t want me to do it. At the time, I was 18 years old; it was a small workshop and a rather hard work. I’m not saying it’s easy now, but now it’s already a business, and then it was a craft. I had to pull boxes with shoes, heavy leather. They told me: Alina, this is not an occupation for a woman. My mother actually did everything herself and for quite a long time. And that is why she did not want me to do this. Because it is hard work, hard in the physical realm: you have to cut something, you have to drag something. She didn’t want me to. And she did not see the potential in this business, the potential that I saw.
How did you rationalize your desire, did you say: I want and I will and that’s it?
Yes, I said that I wanted and would do it, barreled ahead, stood my ground and paid no attention to anyone. You know, there is an opinion that children should obey their parents. Well, I didn’t. I virtually barreled ahead. Later, of course, everyone told me: no, no, we didn’t talk you out, it never happened, and I tell them: yeah, you’ve already forgotten it.
When you became actively involved in this activity, how big were your facilities and production?
Very small. It all started out small. A few years ago, we launched a ready-made shoe line. There were about seven employees, such a small team. And that’s how it all began. A small workshop, a small team. That is to say, there was a formed team in the atelier, and the team was working. And the workshop is something else, a new team. We started with seven people.
At the moment, Kachorovska brand has three shops, two in Kyiv and one in Odesa, manufacture in Zhytomyr and more than 120 employees…
Yes, we have more than 120 employees in the company. This is after we opened in Odessa. The figure is actually fluctuating because some people leave, new people come. When you go beyond 100 point, the number is never fixed. There are about 70+ people working in Zhytomyr. The rest are a team that works on locations. I say that Kachorovska is three-in-one because we work in a hybrid retail format, which is not quite the norm for retail in Ukraine. We combine three in one: an atelier, a shop and a cafe.
What way did you have to make to be where you are now?
This is a way of self-improvement. Every day, there is a constant improvement. Kaizen philosophy – each day ends with a result. The effect is tremendous. If 72 residents of the multi-storey building in the Poliova district did like that every day, we would already have Switzerland in Zhytomyr.
In your interviews, you mentioned that when setting up a business, you should forget about days off and vacation for the first two years. You need to put your shoulder to the wheel in order to get it off the ground…
And then you understand that you have overplayed your hand. And it is necessary to distinguish between work and everything else. This was especially noticeable when I had children. You cannot work 24/7. Of course, you can, but then you lose the taste for life. That’s why later I had to restructure everything.
Many experts agree that in Ukraine it’s very easy to set up a business, but it’s difficult to develop it and to hold it up. Do you agree with this opinion?
The world statistics of startups also confirms that. There is a certain percentage ratio. I will certainly go wrong with the numbers, but a very small percentage of the set up businesses remain operating in a year’s time. This is normal; this is a worldwide practice not only in Ukraine. This is the first. Obviously, it’s harder to manage your business. And this depends on the person who sets it up. You may not have the education, but have a strong entrepreneurial streak, a “gut feeling”, and you will hold up, too. Business education appears to be helpful; this is what the school curriculum lacks. However, not everyone has to be a businessman because it is a different level of responsibility. There is actually a lot of different stuff. Each person is motivated by something different. I am highly motivated by curiosity. That’s why I’m a hundred-per-cent entrepreneur. If something else didn’t motivate me, maybe I wouldn’t be an entrepreneur.
And how do you assess running business in Ukraine? Is it easy or simple?
Many entrepreneurs will disagree with me now, because I will say that it is easy. It’s easy because we have the opportunity to work as sole proprietors. I think it gave a huge impetus to legalize small businesses. Just like we started with a small workshop at home. We were able to make it official.
Of course, there are nuances when you start to expand. And these are not even nuances. To put it in other words, there is room for improvement and making it easier for entrepreneurs to work even harder, to expand and to pay taxes. Our company likewise. For example, I know that our company pays a fair sum of money to the city budget every month. And this money has to be spent on the needs of the city. Including the changes that are taking place, I have also been involved in them in some way. I work, I try to do it successfully, make a profit myself and make a profit for the city.
Why is it easy? Because there is an opportunity to work as a sole proprietor. In Europe, this is not possible everywhere, sometimes it is more difficult. There is a possibility to make bank transfers to a day pay with only a 3 hryvnia bank charge. And in Europe the charge will be 20 euros, for example. Even if you pay 20 euros for the service, you will also pay a bank charge of 20 euros. There are such things that we, the Ukrainians, do not even know about because we haven’t tried to do it abroad. Accounting abroad is easier and here it is more complicated. And this is the field for optimization and simplification.
Once I was interviewed for the Maidan anniversary. I was invited to a broadcast on “Hromadske Telebachennia” (Public Television). And I was asked about local self-government authorities. I proudly told about the Zhytomyr City Council. People working there are doing a great job. A lot of projects, they are always ready to help if there are any questions. It’s different matter that I haven’t enquired yet, I haven’t had any requests, but everyone there is very open. I’ve visited sessions, you can even call them workshops, which Pavlo Sheremeta conducted for the City Council. I was sincerely surprised by many things like cool teams that were put together, cool projects they developed, how they presented it, how open everyone is, they try to open something. There are changes in the city itself and generally the city authorities are “straight fire”. And I remember that the presenter asked me quite skeptically: “Really?”.
And I’m really proud of Zhytomyr. It’s not about politics; it’s about ordinary people who work there. I know they are open. At least I have that experience. I take it very positively.
At the moment, Kachorovska production is located in Zhytomyr. The population of the city is 280 thousand people; the city is not far from Kyiv. Young people often leave the city and look for new prospects in the capital; and the employers sometimes state there are certain problems in the labour market. Why did you decide to keep the production in Zhytomyr?
Do I look like a crazy woman? What for? Zhytomyr is an ideal city for production.
I’ll start saying that Zhytomyr is a small Italy. We often go to Italy on business. And to me, Zhytomyr looks very much like an Italian town. It is small, all distances are short. It is green, it is calm. It has a million advantages. It is necessary to attract a little investment. And to attract investments, the city needs a sort of their own marketing professional. See, I could be the city’s marketing professional. I would sell Zhytomyr completely. When I like something, I can sell anything. The main thing is that I should like it. I love Zhytomyr. This is my hometown. There are a lot of nuances, but I’ll tell you one case. Our colleague from the company moved to live in Zhytomyr for a year. Despite the fact that she had everything in Kyiv – an apartment, a job. She rented out her apartment, and with her husband rented a house in Zhytomyr. And all their family, including her husband and her child, were enjoying the year they lived in Zhytomyr. They had an opportunity to rent a house at such a cost that they would have never ever found such a house in Kyiv. In the forest, among pines, with excellent design, with a different quality of life.
Zhytomyr has thousands and millions of advantages. This is a great hub for IT specialists; it’s a great hub for manufacturing. You just need to improve the infrastructure so that the IT specialists wouldn’t think of leaving. So what is attractive to investors, what is attractive to IT people? Because there is a brain in Zhytomyr. There is an intellectual component. Even though it’s small, but it’s there. Our universities are great, our schools are great. I used to be a pupil at school 23, I know what I’m talking about. Although I did not continue education in Zhytomyr, I know the level of my class. The only issue is to bring the funds there, to improve the infrastructure. And to become not just a city not far from Kyiv, but a super-powerful and cool neighbour and a partner of Kyiv. And then another, new potential will emerge in Zhytomyr.
And what about the labour market? They say that many qualified specialists go abroad. How can you make an employee not to leave the country and work in your business?
It’s been a long time since we entered a competitive environment where people work hard not only to earn and to survive. Now it’s that people just need a job to survive and they grab any job. We are now competing with wages in Poland. With their working conditions. And our working conditions may be better and wages may be higher than there, infrastructure may also be better than there. Infrastructure is a question for the City Council as well. And they try to do it. And we can even see it; we saw, for example, a cool Christmas decoration in the center of Zhytomyr on holidays. Surely, it’s just one street, but we believe there will be more streets. And we, as a business, also hope to be able to get involved in some infrastructure projects this year.
What should small and medium-sized businesses do to make employees stay instead of leaving the country? Apart from the salary?
Working conditions. The office you come to work in, the values you uphold as a company, as a business. For example, now wages are important for the millennial generation, but values are equally important. That’s why they work. Do they work just to buy themselves a meal? Now, for many, this is not a motivation. Because now the opportunity to earn the minimum to buy a meal is available anywhere. People want more. Values. For me this is so.
How did you build such a value system in your company? What do you talk about to your employees? And what do you try to find out when you hire them?
At our factory in Zhytomyr, this aspect is crude. In Kyiv, where we meet our ultimate buyer and consumer, the whole team knows the values. You can walk up to anyone and ask what the values of Kachorovska are. They are specified here, we live using them every day. These are love for people, caring and focus on customer, expertise, the wow effect when we surprise our customers giving them more than they expect. Well, it’s also modesty and sense of family. In general, this is like that. That is, these are the values that the company lives on.
When communicating with clients: is it easy to understand whether they appeared to be in the place they wanted to?
When they write us their feedback. Or walk up to me on location and say: you have such a cool atmosphere. I hear this often. People write it in comments and in private messages. Based on this, we analyze whether our values can be interpreted or not. A part of the audience can do that; we cannot say that for 100%, but for some part for sure, because we see it in their feedback.
What tips would you give to someone who wants to set up their own business?
First of all, everything depends on the level of self-consciousness of the person who thinks of setting up. This level of self-consciousness can be extremely different. Someone starts their own business for the sake of enrichment, someone to change the world for the better. I believe in the second category of people. If someone just sits and thinks: I would like to have more money, I think such a business can be successful for some time, but all the same it will die.
Let it be one tip. Answer one question: Why are you starting this business? If you are in the first category, then I do not believe in the sustained business and its super-success. I’m not saying you shouldn’t start, you can do that. Although I believe in something else. When you want to change the world for the better.
They say you are the person who wants to make Ukrainian Prada for UAH 2500. Can you tell us a little about your plans?
This remains relevant. Of course, we have plans that we want to grow immensely. Our company has its say and from the very beginning, Kachorovska was not only about shoes and bags. We have always been about a certain lifestyle. People often write to us that they are proud of us. As a company, as a brand. I heard it at strategic sessions in Zhytomyr when Pavlo Sheremeta said this to our brand. I hear this from customers who come across me at the Zhytomyr Shopping Center and ask: What are you doing in Zhytomyr? I say: I’m from Zhytomyr.
Now that we have our say, we want to make a real impact on the welfare in Ukraine because of the success of our company, because we will have the opportunity to do some infrastructure micro-projects that will improve the welfare of the population. And this, in turn, will make people in Ukraine happier.
I think we are ready for that. When people tell us they are proud of us, it means we are doing something right. We need to continue and as fast as possible.
The last question from those who come across you in the Shopping Centre. Do you plan to open a shop in Zhytomyr?
We wanted to and we planned to open in Zhytomyr, not in Odesa. We were waiting for the confirmation from the mall, but in the end it didn’t work out. We keep looking. Now we have opened a shop in Odessa and within six months we cannot afford to open anything else. Still we continue the search and if there is a suitable facility, we have our own requirements, for example, we cannot get by with a small room, because we have this three-in-one format, but if we find something, it will be soon.
It would be great to open a shop in Zhytomyr.
Modern men’s suits, stylish outer clothing and accessories – all about the OST WON brand from Zhytomyr. In a few years from a small workshop, where worked only two people, has risen an independent and self-sufficient brand of men’s and women’s clothing.