BY HANNAH BANKS-WALKER, GRAZIA
How did a nightdress become a social media sensation? Hannah Banks-Walker spoke to Kate Zubarieva and Asya Varetsa, founders of Sleeper, to find out
It started with a dream, quite literally. Kate Zubarieva, during a Christmas Day nap, imagined herself standing in a pyjama factory. Six months later in 2014, she and her friend Asya Varetsa had launched Sleeper, the brand responsible for the oft-photographed dresses currently reaching our eyeballs via Instagram. As fashion editors in Russia and Ukraine, it’s no surprise that the pair managed to create clothes that women really want to wear, but considering the fact that they launched the brand in Kiev during the Ukrainian Revolution of Dignity – not to mention the fact that it’s a collection of nightwear – it was certainly no mean feat.
Although Sleeper launched five years ago, its combination of comfort, ease and an aesthetic that is perfectly aligned with fashion’s current zeitgeist has made it ripe for now – something which is reflected in the myriad influencers tagging the brand on Instagram. For Zubarieva, she thinks that it is down to a shift in the way women are dressing. “I consider that the boundaries of wearing loungewear are now getting blurred,” she says. “For one, as we all can observe, so-called dress code becomes an atavism. Nowadays, people’s perception of style is solely based on their own ideas about beauty and convenience.”
While Sleeper’s dresses and pyjamas are designed as loungewear and nightwear, they have been appropriated as everything from holiday frocks to black tie outfits, and it’s that sense of mobility which Varetsa thinks has contributed to the brand’s success. “I think it’s about mobility and simplicity. One can wear real pajamas, slip into mules, throw over a coat and go out with the dog to a café – isn’t it wonderful? The same applies to traveling to holiday resorts. The idea of being comfortable both on the beach and at dinner with friends just having packed three dresses is very appealing.”
Puff-sleeve dresses, feather-trimmed pyjama sets and breezy, linen midis are Sleeper’s signatures and have led to stockists like Net-a-Porter experiencing sell-out success. Just two days ago, Net-a-Porter launched two new shoes that are a collaboration between London-based label Le Monde Beryl and Sleeper, and – unsurprisingly – several sizes have already sold out. It seems that Zubarieva and Varetsa certainly have the magic touch, which could possibly be largely attributed to the fact that they’re both women, designing for women. “We think that there is some truth to this statement,” they say. “We think of women who always inspired us and we can relate because when we’re creating our collections there’s no need to rely on marketing research.”
The pair are keen to open pop-up shops in cities all over the world, starting with their current home in New York. “We’ve just introduced our basic line of linen pajamas, robes and bags and we are definitely planning to extend our accessories line in future,” says Varetsa. “But we also have a big dream to open a huge factory with a learning center where we’ll be sharing our experiences to educate new generations of seamstresses, embroiderers, engineers and technologists to design first-class clothes.”
In the current climate, where retailers are facing more pressure than ever to examine their practices and ensure that they’re focusing on sustainability and ethical modes of production, Sleeper is certainly an antidote to fast fashion and transient trends. The brand supports artisan manufacturing techniques and each piece is handmade using natural, eco-friendly fabrics. Also, because each piece is made-to-order, there isn’t any waste.
Like many start-up companies, Sleeper has relied on social media and its (inexpensive) role as a tool for marketing. In fact, as both Zubarieva and Varetsa explain, it has been invaluable in the growth of their brand: “When we launched Sleeper in 2014, we had no experience in designing clothes, just $2,000 in savings and a dream. We just didn’t have any budget to do a paid advertisement but we really wanted to tell our story and make people hear our voice. Instagram was a perfect way to express ourselves. But the most important advantage of Instagram for us is to receive an immediate feedback from our audience. We can see the photos of our clients in our garments, we read all the comments, so we always can see the final result of our work. We truly believe that our happy customers are the best advertisement.”