The ubiquitous plastic bag: it seemed so innocuous at first but has blighted our streets and spoiled our natural environment for far too long. Governments across the world are now attempting to phase out single-use plastics. In Ukraine, where there is no infrastructure around sorting waste products, the transition to plastic-free shopping has had a slow uptake so far, with issues ranging from stockpiling to customer backlash. One brand, Raw Flaw, is posing a more fashionable alternative.
Made from water-resistant reusable paper, Raw Flaw bags are a divergence from their gaudy plastic carriers and the much-loved string avoskas, both of which have made a surprise appearance on luxury runways in recent years. The brand was launched in 2018 by two Ukrainian entrepreneurs, Anastasia Dieieva and Irina Nikolenko, with the aim to “help people to consume more consciously and decrease the use of plastic in their lives”.
The pair, who have backgrounds in international human rights, were inspired to collaborate after Nikolenko, a keen diver, saw the increasing levels of plastic pollution with her very own eyes. Around the same time, Dieieva had been learning about a new vegan fabric alternative: a water-repellent FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) quality-paper, sourced from forests with an environmentally and socially responsible upkeep. Despite not having any experience in the fashion industry, they decided to bring the new fabric from Europe to Ukraine for their range of eco-friendly and cruelty-free bags. Raw Flaw started with only Nikolenko and Dieieva working there; now the duo employ a team of 10 people, with two small workshops in Kyiv, and one manufacturer in Dnipro.
As a result of the unique paper they are made from, the bags have a leather-like feel — and though they appear delicate in their chic pastel colours, they can withstand up to 10 pounds and can be recycled.
Raw Flaw’s bags gained popularity even without an active advertising campaign, with sales carried out via Instagram. Their summer hit was the Floral Street Bag, decorated with a watercolour-style motif. One of their bestselling products, a large-scale tote bag, was made in collaboration with Ukrainian designer THEO, a rising star of maximalism with an eye for practical, everyday fashion.
Nikolenko and Dieieva’s next challenge is to reduce CO2 emissions and packaging involved in the whole manufacturing process. They explain that while their packaging is eco-friendly, delivery companies will still attach tapes to their parcels. “That is also one of the reasons why we chose to deliver locally, encourage people to buy locally, and be transparent about the carbon emission,” they said.
The pair feel businesses have a responsibility to set a precedent for consumers and are keen to preserve their authenticity in the future. “We believed only in organic growth: if people like it and feel that this is usable and effective, they will recommend it,” says Dieieva. “We believe in sincerity and being genuine.”