On Mar. 24–26, the "i am u are" platform is hosting an exhibition at the heart of NYC’s Skylight at Essex Crossing. It will show the world the best of Ukraine’s creativity, innovation, and transparency in business. More than 120 projects will be presented — from technology startups to a state-of-the-art smartphone apps.
In an exclusive interview with the KyivPost, the event organizers, Anna Pagava and Kristina Skrypka told us why they had decided to take on such a large-scale project, what inspired them, and how they had chosen participants from among thousands of Ukrainian brands.
I only found out about "i am u are" recently so wasn't fully aware of what it was about. As you are among the founders and moving spirits behind the project, can you tell us what it is, what it is about, and what it is for.
AP: "i am u are" is all about our country's creative economy and we want to alter perceptions of Ukraine - this country is not about problems but solutions.
After the start of the full-scale war, there was a whole wave of events and projects devoted to Ukraine in the States. As a PR specialist, I wanted to show Ukraine, not as the stereotype it is usually shown as, but the way it is — strong, creative, progressive - a country the whole world can be proud of doesn’t yet really know. I took my initial idea and gathered together a team that could help me to accomplish this mission of showing the truly independent and creative nature of Ukraine.
We want to show the positive aspects of our country and its real nature in a way that no one has ever done before. There are currently a lot of events devoted to Ukraine here in the USA but our ambition is to become the main one, firstly here and then around the globe.
We started the project to bring the businesses of our participants together with journalists, buyers and investors not only in the Ukrainian market but in US and European markets as well.
Anna Pagava, the co-founder of the "i am u are" platform.
KS: Indeed, "i am u are" was launched because we felt there was no event in the States that truly represented the Ukraine we know. After working with the BANDA agency (award-winning Ukrainian creative agency) for two months we realized that there is actually a huge gap between what our country is really like and how we are perceived in America.
Another reason for launching the project was that, by the fifth month of the war, there was a growing vacuum in Ukraine's creative economy whereby a lot of talented and unique Ukrainian businesses did not know how to enter the global market.
Ukrainian people are a great source of inspiration for us, and we want others to learn how well they can perform and create by presenting them to the world.
What types of Ukrainian brands and startups will be presented at the exhibition?
KS: Only Ukrainian brands and technology businesses will be presented. They represent many categories: fashion, technology, product design, ceramics, accessories, books and Ukrainian culture. The latter includes ethnographic study of Ukrainian heritage, by Nadia Shapoval and a section on modern culture with a photo exhibition by Masha Reva.
What criteria did you choose the participants? Was there a competition for places or could anyone get in? At first glance, the list of participants contains a few household names.
KS: We didn’t hold a contest; the selection was carried out by our team and was a subjective decision of the kinds of projects we wanted to show to the world. Everyone who applied to us received a reply.
Kristina Skripka, the cо-founder of the "i am u are" platform.
AP: We didn’t only select household names, there are a number of very authentic, little-known brands. Our creative team, each with their own specialty, made the selection process and the best ones were chosen to participate. Some participants are doing so in spite of production problems caused by disruption of electricity supplies in Ukraine and other factors.
Whose idea was it, and how long did it take to implement it?
AP: As I said I had the initial idea so, when the war started, I understood that the time had come to make an event that could really represent our country. The implementation of the concept and development is the work of the entire team: me and Khrystina as partners, along with our creative team: Masha Reva, Ivan Grabko, Nadia Shapoval, the FORMA architectural bureau and my agency GOGOLA, with the great contribution of our ideologist and strategist Lena Balova and our COO Nadia Pagava.
It took us 9 months to implement. We started working on the project in June, so it’s taken a lot of time but we know it will be worth it.
Was it challenging to find support, particularly financial help?
KS: The support we received was incredible right from the start! When your country is at war, raising money for cultural diplomacy is quite tricky, as there are so many urgent needs, such as the rebuilding of houses. 80 % of our funding comes from Ukrainian businesses or foundations based in America. But we believe that cultural diplomacy is truly important and will be confirmed as so in the future.
AP: Finding financial support was arduous. We got much help, but our initial investment was from me and my GOGOLA agency. Later we found sponsors - WePlay Esports, Razom for Ukraine, Nova Ukraine, WeCare Fund, SOLO for Diamonds, and donut - and got great support from my many friends living here in California, who simply believed in the project, and who gave us money.
Everyone who knew me helped us financially. It is only now, after 9 months, that it is becoming easier to raise funds, mainly because we now have something physical to show sponsors: a video about the project, a firm location, photo materials, and architectural and design development. There is a business model and a specific budget, so now it is easier to attract sponsors.
The fair will last for three days — will there be some sort of physical extension? Or, maybe, all the brands and their products on display, including the technological developments, can be seen and bought online?
KS: This event is going to last for 3 days, but we are already preparing and are about to launch an online platform showcasing businesses and their contact details. We are also planning to launch an online store where one can order products from all of the businesses. In the future, as a creative agency we will advertise and promote Ukrainian businesses. We dream of becoming the global platform introducing Ukraine to the world as a real, young and progressive state.
AP: Yes, in parallel, we are developing a marketplace where everything will be available for purchase online. Also, we don’t intend to stop at New York, we have big plans. But for now, we will keep that to ourselves and announce everything later.
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Comments ( 1)
I applaud and echo these premise, 1000%! Ukraine is a marvelous place, with unbelievably creative and dynamic people, at least from what I observed there from my brief visit, last fall.