You spent your 20s working toward building your dream career, but now that you're in your 30s, what do you do when you've, well, changed your mind? Or maybe you never quite figured it out, and you're now ready to commit to something you're passionate about, whether it's a job, a city, or just a new way of life. To celebrate the career changes that can come at any age, we're debuting a new series, Second Life. Each week, we'll hear from women who got over their doubts and fears and made the biggest changes of their lives.
Courtesy of Sleeper
You've most likely seen them by now. The crazy cool pajama look that's taken the street style world by storm? You know, the elasticated pants that have an ostrich feather hemline? Just check out their Instagram to jog your memory and we guarantee you'll be saying "oh yeah" out loud. Well, before their sleepwear collection was born, Kate Zubarieva and Aysa Varetsa were in their native Ukraine working at glossy magazines like ELLE magazine. But they craved something meaningful that they could call their own, and quickly realized they should go into business together.
But it wasn't all smooth sailing. The brand launched in 2014, the same year as the Ukraine revolution and they had no former business experience. So, of course, they have made many mistakes along the way, but none of them could prepare them for the first collection which they tell me was "literally a disaster." Read on to hear how they turned it around and even look back on that experience with fondness and gratitude. Because without it, they don't believe they would've reached the global success they have now.
Tell us about your first career path?
Katya: In 2011, I graduated from Kiev University with an MA in International Journalism. In the beginning, I was hired at Information Agency, but shortly after I started working for glossy publications, and later in media management. Since the age of 19, I have held positions as the editor-in-chief of Playing Fashion (2009), then editor-in-chief of the online version of the Pink magazine (2010-2013). I've written numerous articles on fashion and art-directed shoots for various fashion publications.
Asya: I graduated from the State University of Management in Moscow with an MA in Marketing in 2012. Since 2009, I worked as a stylist for Playing Fashion newspaper, and 2010, while still in University, I became a junior fashion editor for ELLE Russia styling and directing photo shoots.
How did you make the transition from your first career to becoming an entrepreneur and launching your own business?
Asya: At the time, both of us were unemployed. Katya left the position of editor-in-chief of PINK online to pursue her religious studies, whereas I departed my job in Moscow and moved to Kiev to be with my fiancé. When we began working on Sleeper, the revolution was taking place on the streets of Kiev. We all participated in marches; Katya was a true Maidan activist. We had all lived through a true nightmare.
Although the European idea of a civil society won in 2014, it came at a very high price. But we also realized our true potential and our fears vanished completely. We stopped being afraid and felt ready to start a new chapter in our lives. Then we came up with the idea of creating a company with its own voice; one that would bring joy in simple situations.
Tell us about your current career path/business? What's involved in starting a business? Was it easier/harder than you thought/and why?
We had never run any business before launching Sleeper. One thing we found out quickly in business is that you have to learn fast. We believe this is our strong suit. Starting a business was easier than we thought because at the beginning you are 100%focused on every single stage and there is no room for fear or negative thoughts. For instance, you understand that there is no pajama brand without pajamas themselves, so you’re completely involved with the design and the production and don’t think about whether it will sell or not, or what will someone think about it.
What have been the biggest challenges in your various careers and why?
We are from Ukraine. We have lived through two revolutions, and now the country is at war. Those are real problems. Everything that one might consider to be a problem we treat as an exciting challenge for tomorrow.
Why is your current path suitable for your personality?
We really wanted to build a company with a strong aesthetic that could infiltrate everything: our product, our internal relationships, our shoots, even our approach to solving problems and finding the solutions. Our mission was to create a masterwork of quality and marketing with humanity. Those beliefs came from our consciousness, our paradigms, and our awareness.
Not only are Sleeper accomplishments important for us, it’s not about the destination but the road you’re on. We are concerned about the people who work for us. We want them to be heard and to be happy. We want our seamstresses to feel dignified and accomplished. That is the Sleeper concept; it's the beauty of everyday life. That is what Sleeper stands for. Strive for the absolute: the product, customer service, relationships and enjoy excelling.
What's the most important thing you have learned in making a big change in your career life?
There were many surprises after switching careers. We knew what multitasking meant before starting our own business so the most important lesson was to always aspire to projects where all your potential could be fully realized.
What are some mistakes you made along the way that ended up helping your success? How did you learn from it/them?
Our first collection of 24 black and white cotton pajamas was literally a disaster. They had to be taken apart and completely resewn in order to fulfill a requisition from a Ukrainian retailer. We spent the next few months refining our supply chain and instilling the highest quality control.
Half a year later, our garments were available at the top retailer, Moda Operandi. This became a major reason we started factory production. Now our collections are available at Barneys, Shopbop, Moda Operandi, Goop, Secret Location and in many other stores all over the world largely thanks to that first mistake.
What do you love most about your current role and why?
Emotion, being appreciated, and the feeling of pride and respect you feel when everyone does his/her best and shoots for the sky. People. Our clients. Our employees, and our partners who support us. Twice a month we hold staff meetings where we read the feedback messages to our seamstresses, discuss what Sleeper was praised for, and what needs to be improved. This feeling that we are one big family is the greatest reward.
When you look back and reflect on your previous career do you have any regrets? Or are you still really happy with your decision?
We are completely happy with our decision. We don’t have any regrets and never look back.
What advice do you have for other women who want to branch out and make a change in their lives as you have?
Always follow your heart. Fear nothing. Don’t compromise. Stay true to yourself. And please, be kinder.