Kateryna Panchenko: “Being a part of something special doesn’t make you special, something is special because you are a part of it”

Excitement — gather people around you who believe in the idea as much as you do and are genuinely excited to develop, promote, and make your product. As part of my interview series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Kateryna Panchenko. She is 22 years old and has founded Clover in 2018. The native of Ukraine, Panchenko has […]

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Excitement — gather people around you who believe in the idea as much as you do and are genuinely excited to develop, promote, and make your product.

As part of my interview series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Kateryna Panchenko. She is 22 years old and has founded Clover in 2018. The native of Ukraine, Panchenko has moved to Munich, Germany, to pursue her career goals and expand the business. Clover is the 2020 winner of Germany’s prestigious Red Dot 2020 Innovation Design award for its outstanding bag collection that combines luxury and organization, such as switchable inner compartments and a sensor light. The company is currently testing its first face-protecting masks to match every bag.

Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Thank you for having me! Well, my career started in my head as a thinking process, long before the idea of founding a company was formed. It took a lot of baby steps to be “struck by lightning”, as they say, just as it usually takes years for someone to become an “overnight success”. Around the age of 16, fashion started to interest me, and bags, in particular. You know the story of when a girl tries her mama’s shoes on and sees what she looks like as she tries her handbags?

I would dig into her closet, trying on her clothes and shoes, while pulling out all her bags and try them out, one by one. At the time, I didn’t really pay a lot of attention to the process of designing or making a bag, because they were already finished products, so I would just grab one and I was good to go.

It is quite a challenging process for a woman — and similarly, for a man — to find the one bag that you really like, that really catches your eye, and more importantly, that suits the look and mood of the moment you’re in or the occasion you’re about to experience. Truly understanding this came to me a bit later, when I was a little bit older and wiser.

I remember that day perfectly well: my family and I were on a summer vacation in London, doing some shopping in Regent St., and I was looking for a simple white hobo-style handbag, while also thinking of creating my own range of branded bags.

You’re probably thinking: “This girl must be crazy — coming up with the idea for a new bag brand in one of the fashion capitals of the world!” Now don’t get me wrong — I love bags made by Coach, Kate Spade or Burberry for that matter, but often they are just too much in various ways, which I’ll explain in a moment if you aren’t already nodding your head in agreement.

Do you know how hard it was — and still is — to find a simple, every-day hobo? 🙂 It has to be elegantly crafted and to be made of high-quality materials — that’s rule number one, right? On top of that, you are looking for an accessory that complements and completes your every-day look.

So, in my opinion, sometimes it’s just too much when your bag has too much “special” or “flashy” written all over it. Too much fashion and not enough function. Well, this frustrated me, and I knew I had to do something about it, so I did.

That’s how I ended up having founded “Clover” — great forms and lines in essential basic colors, and of course, in bold combinations too. These are combined with innovative features to make your everyday routine more organized, clever, elegant, and convenient than you’ve ever experienced before from a handbag that is now the essential companion for so many wonderful women.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started?

Well, the most interesting and challenging story I can tell is about our team’s journey to the lighthouse. We wanted to make a commercial (which you can see on the front page of our website) and feature a lighthouse not only in the background of an elegant beach scene but also to be inside the lighthouse, right at the top next to the huge light source itself. As we are a brand with Ukrainian roots, we decided to pick one of the Ukrainian beacons that were built in 1827.

Now, that was already a challenge in itself. The lighthouse is still used as a military installation to this very day, and believe me, it’s definitely not easy to get permission to shoot photos and video on military property. However, we persevered, and we arrived at this beautiful location after sailing for two hours. We started shooting photos and video and captured some incredible footage, but one of the other main reasons we were there was to shoot at sunset to see how the lighthouse shines, and so this meant that after we were finished, we had to sail back in complete darkness.

So, the crew, the model and I were sitting in a boat. The lights on the boat don’t help at all to see where you’re going as you can’t really see anything. It started getting cold and to make matters worse — it started raining heavily!

The wind was really howling, the seas were swelling, and about the only thing you can do in that situation is to pray you’ll stay alive on the boat in the stormy weather and, of course, try not to fall out of the boat. Luckily, this two-hour ride in darkness in pouring rain ended well, with everybody fine and unharmed, but it is definitely a trip I will remember for the rest of my life.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Yes, we have quite a funny story that ended up influencing the development of our collection. When we were just starting with the designs and color palettes of our bags, we were discussing the color options for our mini bags with the designer. We decided that we want to sew the first prototypes in dark liquid oxygen blue and woody colors first. This was to get a feeling of whether we were making more of a classical or a casual model. Two days later I was shown one mini bag prototypes in double color — blue on the outside and brown on the inside to save materials. It was absolutely unexpected, but I loved the idea of creating a bag with this color twist! So, we decided to sew mini bags in all these crazy combinations and not in what we now see would have been a monotonous, identically colored inside-and-out style, as we had planned initially. My favorite one is the avocado-flirt, i.e. in green and red. You pick it up and have the ultimate Christmas feeling! You can check all other combinations on our web site, too. https://myclover.de/en/.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

I think our approach is new for the fashionable bag industry and is truly what makes us stand out. We combine luxury, technology, and organization into each bag in a way that just hasn’t been done before, even though we are still in the early stages of being a startup. Every bag is made of beautifully high-quality Italian leather in many colors and combinations and includes a range of matching, stylish, luxurious accessories and hardware, such as the innovative idea of a motion-sensor flashlight within that lights up your bag as soon as you put your hand inside, letting you easily find anything in the dark. Another cool and convenient feature is the transformable inner compartment, letting you quickly switch between bags in moments and changing your style on-demand, as you desire. This year we were awarded the prestigious Red Dot award in Germany for innovation in fashion, which we were humbled and grateful to receive, so this all speaks for itself, and our happy customers speak for us, too.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

I think listening to your gut is really important. There are so many people and so many opinions that even if you think something is beautiful, there are people who will agree or disagree with you. Every idea will find its audience, so follow yours. Another tip is to take some time off — you can’t be involved in the process 24/7, and stepping away from it all from time to time to recharge your mind, body and spirit will help you think overall the important decisions you need to make. The best ideas always come to me when I’m walking or during my sport routine, which is when I’m in a different and even more meditative frame of mind, and not when I’m at my desk in the thick of work. Finally, be passionate about what it is that you’re doing. Having said that, I think that this advice is standard for all professions out there.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

I think that the idea of making everyday life easier for women has given a real push to the whole idea of our brand and that it is the philosophy behind Clover. Our mission is to create comfortable goods that are beautiful, and you don’t have to choose between these two options!

Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share a story of how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Being a part of something special doesn’t make you special, something is special because you are a part of it.” When my team and I just started developing our first designs, I was worried that the things that we are making were not unique, because every now and then, I saw products already on the market that were similar to some degree. I mean, we make bags that have two handles with 12 to 15 possible models — just like a lot of other bag makers. So, when creating our designs, I always asked myself the question — how to make products that are “one of a kind”? I had various doubts at the early stages of the business, but when I saw our final models for the first time, I realized that we did indeed create something special. It was our hard work and our passion that allowed us to do it. Each and every person working with me on our products has put in a share of their skills and thoughts to make it happen, and I thank them all for it!

Do you see any fascinating developments emerging over the next few years in the fashion industry that you are excited about? Can you tell us about that?

A couple of months ago I was visiting the fashion show for bags in Milan, and I bumped into a great idea from an American brand. The main material they’re using is pineapple leaves. They recycle them and make a fabric that looks like leather! I think this is a very important development for people that want to have a 100% vegan lifestyle experience. However, as our brand mainly focuses on the combination of fashion and innovation, I am paying a lot more attention to this branch of the industry. I am certain that in today’s times, with COVID-19 changing our lives in ways we’re still discovering, that the fashion industry will also follow and will adapt to the needs of our society. For example, right now we are testing leather masks with twin filters that will help people stay both protected — and look fabulous! It’s the little things that make our day bright and pleasant. At Clover, we try supporting our customers in every possible way — and if customers have any suggestions on how we could do even better, we’d love to hear them!

What are your “Top 5 Things Needed to Succeed in the Fashion Industry”. Please share a story or example for each.

Excitement — gather people around you who believe in the idea as much as you do and are genuinely excited to develop, promote, and make your product.

Flexibility — “Non progredi est regredi” is one of my favorite quotes — to not go forward is to go backward. The world is developing faster and faster every day, and our main goal is to keep up with the changing needs of our customers, while also trying to anticipate them, which brings us to the next point.

Awareness — knowledge is power, no matter where you apply it.

Mnogozodachnost — this means multitasking. It doesn’t matter what you’re doing, try to operate in a way where you will be solving more problems in one movement. It will make your life easier. Besides, it is a really great exercise for your brain — thinking about how you can achieve even bigger utility with your actions. That said, sometimes you need to focus, too, but it is possible to walk and chew gum at the time same time, you just need practice.

Persistence — starting is hard for everyone and there are as many opinions as there are people. You may hear that your product isn’t good enough or isn’t likable. Great! Gather some constructive criticism and improve. In the end, you will be stronger and better than before, and remember, waiting to start until something is perfect means you’ll never start at all. Start, constantly iterate and improve, and you’ll be on your way!

Every industry constantly evolves and seeks improvement. How do you think the fashion industry can improve itself? Can you give an example?

I’m clearly not talking only about the fashion industry when I say that new ideas and new technologies are the keys. Not long ago I discovered a beautiful leatherette that is made from the huge leaves of a Brazilian plant. It’s both beautiful and gentle to mother nature. I think that moving towards materials with a smaller ecological footprint is a great improvement for the fashion industry.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement, that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

Well, at Clover, we have already managed to give women something that is both beautiful and comfortable — but this isn’t where this idea ends. I would love to extend this vision to the day-to-day life of women all over the world. Nowadays, many brands are still pushing the image of a woman in uncomfortable high-heel shoes that are only good for standing in, and definitely not for walking in the subway or running errands. In the future, it would be great to spread the idea that women are no longer okay with having this tradeoff between beauty and functionality. Why? Because being beautiful for someone else is not the main goal of women. I want to push the philosophy of self-respect and love of your body. So, the long-term goal of our brand is to change the century-old stereotype that you can be either pretty or successful while also developing new products that are comfortable AND beautiful.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

We have our Instagram https://www.instagram.com/myclover.bag/ and Facebook https://www.facebook.com/MyClover.de/ and my personal profile is https://www.instagram.com/katarina.panchenko/ if you’d like to get a look behind the curtains of our productions.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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