A Russian activist clothing brand is proving there’s more to fashion than Black Friday deals

A Russian activist clothing brand is proving there’s more to fashion than Black Friday deals

On our radar this month is Kultrab, the streetwear brand using fashion to support Russian activism.

29 November 2019

If the year’s end is harvest time, then in 2019, the grapes of wrath are growing heavy indeed. Protests across the globe continue to lay bare the conflicting relationships between individuals and the state, with protesters battling against the authorities, against inequality, against discrimination, climate change or capitalism. Russia is no exception.

Successful protests against the building of a new church to replace a much-treasured local park took place in Yekaterinburg in May, followed by demonstrations that helped secure the release of arrested journalist Ivan Golunov in June. Marches took place ahead of local Moscow elections throughout the summer, while more rallied in support of the Khachaturyan sisters, three young women charged with murder after fighting back against their abusive father. An alternative Russia is taking root. Or at least, that’s how it feels to Egor Eremeev and Alina Muzychenko, founders of punk community Kultrab.

Based in Moscow, Kultrab is a collective and clothing brand producing charity merchandise to support Russian activism, working closely with media organisations such as MediaZona, which focuses on the country’s criminal justice system, and OVD-Info, which monitors police arrests.

Their clothes neatly fit into Russia’s latest wave of streetwear aesthetic, but Kultrab isn’t jumping on the latest trend — they haven’t forgotten the movement’s defiant anti-authoritarian roots. Rather than being another brand playing with Cyrillic lettering, the label’s greater mission is to foster solidarity in a simple and concise way.

Kultrab is keen to show that their fashion is about more than just clothes

Their latest collection, Parallel Russia, is a collaborative project of Kultrab and Youth of the North, a punk community from Russia’s Far Eastern region of Yakutia, and aims to retrace the origins and legacy of Russian anarchism in Siberia. It features long, striped t-shirts designed to evoke prison uniform, as well as the image of shamans: a nod to the complex and multicultural history of Siberia that feels perhaps more subversive than their statement hoodies emblazoned with anarchy symbols. Their previous drop, Sami Valite (or “Bug Yourself Out” in English), used childlike drawings to decorate clothes and accessories: a political statement from the politically engaged kids who grew up under Putin, a generation that is determined to fight for their rights instead of simply leaving the country.

But while their releases may make headlines, Kultrab is keen to show that their fashion is about more than just clothes. The label’s Instagram account streamed protests and one-person pickets in Russia this autumn, fighting for digital space in a media landscape that largely ignored the movement. And in late November, when temperatures dropped below zero, Kultrab began donating hoodies to protestors detained in Russia’s pre-trial detention centres, where a lack of heating can often leave cells freezing.

Today is Black Friday, when we all embrace the messy consumer maze of internet shopping. If Kultrab teaches us anything, it’s think before you click.

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