A Bettter Garment: JULIE PELIPAS Is a Fashion Anti-Villain

At the height of fashion’s villain era, where sustainability has become an inflated buzzword and micro trends are ubiquitous, Julie Pelipas has disrupted the industry. After a journey that is in part intuitive and involuntary, Pelipas has moved from Vogue Ukraine in Kyiv to her upcycling system BETTTER in London, which is one of the winners of this year’s Karl Lagerfeld Prize.

Inherently shy, Pelipas has viewed clothes as mental armor that provides the wearer with comfort and confidence. While she often felt uncomfortable being photographed by paparazzi during her time at Vogue, her street style pictures of androgynous, well-tailored suits have left the industry enamored. Little did they know she was wearing prototypes for her first upcycled deadstock pieces: Wide-legged trousers with side pleats from their adaptable waist, knee-length suit pants, and oversized blazers with hyper-broad shoulders and surprising cutouts––all in a reduced color palette.


HANNAH ERNST: You’ve been wearing oversized men’s suits since your early childhood. Do you think you created BETTTER with yourself in mind as the customer?

JULIE PELIPAS: BETTTER is a very genuine continuation of myself. Everything I do for it is the reflection of my inner world. But I always love to say that BETTTER is much bigger than me. I don’t consider myself a designer, I just consider myself a visionary that creates this system as a platform for other creatives to have enough tools and education to thrive and develop upcycling as a method. I hope it’s going to develop further and there’s going to be a community that will develop it into a global movement.

HE: In your brand manifesto, you describe BETTTER garments as emotional membranes. What does that mean to you?

JP: BETTTER, to me, is my third child. I refer to it as a child because I had to stop so many other projects in my life to give birth to this project. There are no limits to how much I dedicate myself to it. I don’t sleep, I control and direct almost everything right now.

The emotional membrane is a reflection of how I perceive and create clothes. I’ve always been very shy and far from being a confident woman, even if it may look the opposite in streetstyle photos. I’m enormously tall, almost two meters. It’s always given me this weird feeling that I’m too different from other people. Nevertheless, I believe that you can alter your emotional state with the clothes you wear. I did it myself, many times. And doing so might give you more confidence and self-esteem than you might have originally.

Also, we collect memories with clothes, some suits remind us of particular events in our lives, we wear some dresses for special events with our lovers… So, clothes are emotional capsules we choose to wear on occasion.

HE: You grew up on a small farm in Mariupol without any major fashion influences and later moved to Kyiv. How did your origin and your experience of Kyiv’s vibrant creative scene influence the way you look at fashion?

JP: Perhaps I have this clear vision of fashion because I wasn’t polluted with fashion from my early years. In Mariupol, I had this very healthy surrounding with my grandparents and spent most days in our garden. Culture-wise, my education started when I was in seventh grade and started to listen to the radio station. On Fridays, there was a guy who would educate us about techno music. He would introduce DJs and musicians and then they brought them to Mariupol. To be honest, I’m a true raver [laughs]. I have two kids and I’m almost forty, but it is my passion next to surfing. My husband is always surprised that I’m still going to raves.


I get very inspired when I hear exceptional techno. I grew up around women sewing clothes professionally. When I was in eighth grade, I started upcycling my grandfather’s suits for myself. So, there were no magazines, no TV shows, but very good music, and very good Soviet Union suits from my grandfather. One time, I cut my mother’s coat into this vest with a huge collar, Rick Owens style [laughs]. It was very…intuitive. Maybe it’s DNA. But then I decided to be a journalist. I never planned to work in fashion. I think magazines can educate the current generation because they don’t read books. Books are your emotional journey into something whereas magazines are these curated and edited kaleidoscopes of all types of information.

HE: What inspires you?

JP: I think seeing how the product affects people. It sounds a bit abstract, but when you’re contemplating a concept in your brain, then put it on paper, and give birth to this product, then it should appear in the right hands. When you see your product on a customer and they’re happy and beautiful and feel like the concept changed their perception of fashion—this is what drives me. I could also say raves, music, surfing, kids, nature, the ocean. Somehow, I never talk about other artists or contemporary art. I don’t know why but art made by other people doesn’t inspire me that much.

HE: You had previously worked in TV and decided to quit your job to publish your own magazine. Later you left your job at Vogue to found BETTTER. What exactly made you quit these jobs? Would you say you’re an impulsive person?


JP: I’m not impulsive at all. I’m very intuitive in the first place and rational in the second place. I just know that when you don’t follow your heart and your intuition, you’re going to be unhappy all your life. And since you’re unhappy, you’re not able to create something special. So why would you stay there?We’re here to create, to invent, not to just consume. We’re here to give something to this world. Considering my capacities and my creative nature, I will always choose what I will be able to deliver. I never had illusions about my potential. Of course, leaving Vogue was a big decision. It’s not every day that you’re quitting your dream job. But at that moment, I did everything I had dreamed about. Maybe because I have kids, maybe because of my nature, I always feel responsible for what I’m contributing to this world—and I just felt like I wouldn’t contribute anything new staying at Vogue. So, I didn’t regret my decision for a second.

HE: The shift from a trend-oriented fashion magazine to building a system that aims to abolish trend cycles was kind of extreme, right?

JP: With BETTTER, being human is at the center of what we do, not the profits or trends. We’re looking for the perfect membrane for humans. When we serve humans, we also serve nature because both are very interconnected.


HE: Why do you believe that upcycling is the way to disrupt the industry?

JP: I do not consider upcycling as the solution to the whole problem, but I believe it can trigger a healing process. Developing upcycling methods on an industrial scale will significantly shift towards less waste and more reuse of pre-existing garments. By that time, customers will be educated to a level where they will prefer this type of product. That means that the market will need to respond to customers’ demands. Fashion is a very controversial world: On the one hand, it creates a desire for newness, for trendy stuff—it promotes these illusions. On the other hand, fashion should be very practical. Clothes should not have negative effects on our bodies or nature. As such, there’s this original function of clothes that we’ve completely forgotten. I don’t have this abstract idea of who my customer is, but I think they’re very realistic women: they’re mothers, social workers, lawyers. They work hard and need comfortable clothes that embrace their confidence. On top of that, it should be stylish and desirable so that people will move more easily toward sustainability.

HE: Could you tell me what working on BETTTER has been like since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine?

JP: I’m in London now. In the early days, it was easier for me to speak about it. Now I think we Ukrainians kind of blocked this pain. We had to leave and now we have to stay normal because there’s no war where we live. There is no recipe for how to live with it. You have to move to another country and build everything from scratch. In Kyiv, everything was set. And then from one day to the next, you had two suitcases and were in a whole new country. You have to make sure that your kids are happy in school, that they’re not traumatized. All these factors with the worst experience of my life in the background. But on another hand, there‘s this mysterious thing, maybe it’s a chemical response, but that level of adrenaline and stress pushed us to an enormously driven state of body and mind. We all were very productive. We are all exhausted and tired, but we have so much more motivation and determination. We all started to volunteer which became a big part of what we do daily. We donate money and check on communities that help animals or old people left behind, and communities that rebuild destroyed houses. And it’s a lot, it’s almost like another profession. Recently, I felt like I needed to protect myself because I started to feel that I’m dead inside. I gave so much of myself and didn’t leave anything to me. It’s like my whole life was converted into streams of work, volunteering, and setting up a new life bases to survive.


HE: I guess it helps to occupy your mind with creative work but at the same time, you probably lose your healthy relationship with work.

JP: Yeah, exactly. You don’t have your friend group and a whole new life happens.

HE: Ukraine is among the top importers of second-hand textiles. Do you usually source your textiles in Ukraine and how did that change due to the war?

JP: This was actually a starting point for BETTTER because we have such an abundant second-hand culture. I can almost confidently say that young Ukrainians would prefer second-hand over any other shops. I did it myself when I was a student. There was a golden era when you could find amazing vintage brands like Gucci, Prada, Miu Miu. When we started BETTTER, we researched how the infrastructure of second-hand imports operates. I was very saddened to find out that humanitarian aid will just resell without controlling the number of clothes imported and that they don’t control where garments go when they’re unsold. There are a lot of labor rights problems. It looked like signs of positive change when organizations tried to regulate imports but then the war happened.

HE: What does a typical product journey look like at BETTTER?

JP: During the proof-of-concept stage, we sourced in secondhand and vintage markets to test the first prototypes of BETTTER. Now, a major part of BETTTER’s concept is B2B where we do partnerships with big brands. In these partnerships, we take the deadstock, collaborate on the creative direction, upcycle the clothes, and later sell them together on all relevant channels. As a result, it’s always co-branding. Essentially, we’re talking about launching upcycled lines within big brands. But it has many layers, one of them being upcycling vintage garments for retailers like Dover Street Market, which is very exciting.

In the big picture of BETTTER, I’m dreaming of a global system where we would source, upcycle, and sell locally without external logistics. We would then never ship any product to any other part of the planet. I dream to have these big BETTTER stations that will function as an open lab where our customers can come to explore the production process. They could donate their clothes for upcycling and get credit in the system to buy clothes as well. Designers are welcome to create their designs, which we call smart design algorithms. If we put that algorithm into bulk production, the designer will receive royalties from each item sold. I want to set up a transparent system where designers are linked to their product through its entire lifespan. Soon, we’re also going to integrate digital passports, which will give us the capacity to track the lifespan of the product when it’s already sold.


HE: Tell me more about the smart design algorithms.

JP: Since we’re converting menswear into womenswear, we work with original metrics of menswear, and we adopt them to womenswear. But it’s not just about converting sizes, it’s much more about a variety of body types—there is no such thing as medium or large. Everybody has these specific features, so we do digital fittings on avatars. The reason I call it an algorithm is that we integrate tricks that allow customers to control the fit. For trousers, there are a few waist positions you can choose. If you gain some weight or if you’re pregnant, you can adjust them. When we design, we don’t only take care of how a garment looks, but we invest a lot into the technical construction of the garment.

HE: Do you value transparency mostly for sustainability reasons or is a garment’s history also emotionally important to you?

JP: I believe that each company should be very transparent, and this is where real sustainability starts. It’s the same in love: When you’re not transparent and honest with your partner, there is no chance for profound, deep feelings. There is a joke that says you cannot be half-pregnant. And here it’s the same. Maybe it’s my personality, but I just don’t see an in-between state. I hate the number of sustainability terms in media now—it’s everywhere, yet it means nothing. We don’t even use them in our communications because they’re so overused. We’re profoundly sustainable, it’s just the base of how we work and what we do.

  • Text: Hannah Ernst