The FINANCIAL -- Andrey and Svetlana Serikov seem like an ordinary couple, but little do people know that they are actually two of the most influential people in the fashion industry in Belarus. So influential, in fact, that they have a medal for their contribution to the development of the retail sector in the country presented to them by its President!
Andrey and Svetlana are the brains and beauty – or more precisely, the co-founders and creative directors - behind Belarus’s leading fashion brand Mark Formelle, a long-standing EBRD client.
It was a pair of boxers that launched the company. Continuing the legacy of her parents, long time managers of an underwear manufacturing plant in Vitebsk, Svetlana, together with husband Andrey, opened a small factory in 2009, manufacturing generic wholesale undergarments.
When the time came to think bigger, the couple expanded their family business from a factory shop to a brand and called it Mark Formelle: Mark to signify the masculine side of the brand, and Formelle – the feminine. They opened their first store in Uzda in 2010 selling the undergarments they produced.
“We knew we had two competencies,” said Andrey. “We had a good product with an established production system, and we also knew how to sell to our partners.”
But bringing these competencies together and creating a brand that would be sustainable and recognisable throughout the country and new expansion plans required expertise. So in 2012 Mark Formelle approached the EBRD for business advice on branding and marketing.
The EBRD’s business advice programme, which in Belarus is supported by the European Union, put Mark Formelle in touch with a consultant for guidance on marketing and brand development.
“It helped us to develop a brand strategy and expand our own retail chain,” says Svetlana. The efforts paid off; Mark Formelle expanded its range from lingerie to clothing, raised its brand awareness, doubled exports and increased turnover by 87%.
Growing with the EBRD
After another EU-funded project with an international adviser that helped Mark Formelle in areas ranging from the development of new collections, advertising and production planning, Andrey and Svetlana approached the EBRD once again.
In 2015, after acquiring new factory premises to cope with increased demand and with new shops opening rapidly, Mark Formelle required additional resources to continue their growth. As a trusted partner, the EBRD provided Mark Formelle with a US$ 4 million loan to finance the brand’s production expansion in Belarus and neighbouring countries. “We paid off the loan two years earlier than needed!” beams Andrey.
Small business no more
It’s still a family business, but not a small one anymore. With 4000 employees to date and over 170 stores in Belarus and Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan, Mark Formelle is quickly spreading its fashion wings.
What makes the brand so successful?
Innovation, creativity and “hype”.
Andrey and Svetlana are not afraid to experiment. From a collection focused on endangered species, to raising awareness of the tragedy of Chernobyl, and even dressing Belavia’s flight attendants for the 2019 European Games, Mark Formelle is always surprising the public with its bold statements. And with an official contract to design the uniform of Belarusian athletes for the upcoming Olympic Games in Tokyo, it will certainly remain in the public eye.
“Don’t be afraid to try new ideas and don’t be afraid of change,” says Andrey. “The world doesn’t stand still, and neither should brands.”