By Rostyslav Averchuk
Lviv, Ukraine, Aug 29 (EFE).- Ukraine’s outdoor activities sector was in rapid development around the western city of Lviv before the Russian invasion but has since had to shift its focus by offering Ukrainians a reprieve from the conflict while redirecting business to assisting soldiers and displaced people.
It’s a Saturday morning and a bus is preparing to set off from one of Lviv’s central squares.
Despite the early hour, 40 minutes after the end of the night curfew, it is already full of people.
Sporting trekking shoes, they are waiting for the beginning of the trip that will take them to the nearby Carpathian mountains and then back to Lviv before the curfew starts again at 11pm.
A scene like this would have been unimaginable some four months ago when the conflict’s front lines were only taking shape and the whole country was scrambling to provide its army with everything it needed.
It was in late May when it became clear to this trip’s organizers, the Ukrainian outdoor gear and clothing company Gorgany, that people were eager to escape to the mountains they loved, at least for a short time
“Many of our clients, including those who had to leave their homes in Kharkiv and other cities, were looking for ways to recharge their batteries”, Khrystyna Senkiv, chief of marketing at Gorgany, told Efe.
Gorgany, which has a chain of outdoor gear shops primarily in western and central Ukraine, as well as the system of distribution and production, was growing at 40% a year before the invasion.
The growth was tightly connected to the rise in the number of active tourists who were willing to travel both in Ukraine and abroad and could afford high-quality gear.
The Russian invasion halved its growth and forced it to change its structure significantly by reorienting it towards the needs of the army.
Tourist demand took a sharp dip as a large number of the active young people who constituted the bulk of the client base enlisted in the army, several million Ukrainians left the country and outdoor activities fell to the bottom in the list of priorities.
Still, the company was met with an unprecedented demand for some of its products.
“The expanding Ukrainian army and newly formed territorial defense units urgently needed large amounts of sleeping bags, fleeces, multitool knives, trekking shoes, gas burners,” says Khrystyna.
Orders were coming in bulk from the volunteers who helped procure gear for the military, as well as individuals from the newly mobilized soldiers and their relatives.
While other businesses were mostly closed, Gorgany kept working with some employees even choosing to move to the stores, which have their own basements and felt safer in the first weeks of the invasion.
With cross-border logistics disrupted, the company’s production arm, Turbat has risen to the occasion by quickly scaling up its production of sleeping bags, thermal underwear and fleece jackets and other products urgently needed both by soldiers on the frontline and civilians in bomb shelters.
“We were able to survive and even expand by shortening our product planning cycle from two years to 10 days”, says Marian Striltsiv, creative director at Turbat.
While meeting the demand from the Ukrainian military, Turbat has provided orders to a number of smaller textile producers who saw demand for their usual products, such as suits or dresses, fall to zero overnight, including one firm that managed to move all of its equipment from the shelled city of Kharkiv.
“We also made the designs of the most needed products freely available so that anyone who had the necessary equipment could start producing them immediately”, says Striltsiv.