Zlata

Fashion Designer

Lives in Leeds // From Gerviaty, Belarus // Grew up in Lithuania

Belarus, it’s still so deep in my heart because I was born there, in this tiniest little village. I grew up there with my grandparents, and they have a really big home, huge yard, a lot of cows, pigs, chickens. They don’t buy anything from the shops, mostly like sugar and salt, the rest is all there. Since I was little they had a business so probably that's why I'm very business minded as well. They always worked hard, very hard. And they saved all the money. For them, being in such a little village in Belarus, I think they did so well. I respect them so deeply, that’s why it will always be my home. And even when I was growing up in Lithuania, since I was five, I probably missed Belarus a little bit. And I would always go for three months holiday to be there. When I went back to school, I would use some Belarussian words, and my mum was like, “Oh god, what’s going on?”.

I grew up in Lithuania, all the way to high school, passed all my exams and then I felt pressure to study somewhere. I didn’t know what I wanted. Well… I knew. I always knew. My family struggled financially, my mum raised me and my brother. So, it was hard. I knew I will never ever study in Lithuania. I did not like the language because I never really immersed in the culture, I was always pulled away for holidays to Belarus. I never made Lithuanian friends, I did not belong in Lithuania. 

But, then I decided to go back to Belarus because I had no choice. And they had a program where if you are Belarusian, with a Belarusoam passport, you can study for free. So, I chose to be a translator, English and Russian, and German as well. And I went there and studied for one and a half year, and I had to study five. This is how long I lasted. The shock was huge. It’s one thing to go and visit your grandparents and then it’s another thing to go to the capital city and live there. The mentality – it’s still not European. 

I guess in Belarus I was a hundred years back. Very different people with a Post-Soviet mentality. They are kind and loving but very different. For example, the customer service was very bad. I couldn't be there. Some friends in my student halls were scared of their government and they couldn't pronounce certain names. Can you imagine? I could not believe that. I thought that’s something you see in movies. I felt there is no freedom, couldn’t relax and express myself. I wouldn’t live in Belarus and at the same time I wouldn’t live in Lithuania, so I like being in the UK. I like the values of freedom, like that you can express yourself.

When I came here I was very feminine, always looking after myself because in Lithuania if you don’t have painted nails, that’s a big deal for a girl. It’s a big thing – heels, you have to be classy, look nice. Here, I started to slowly chip away all these layers of who I wasn’t. I felt like I could experiment more and be myself without a pressure of not being understood. But, then I still think here it depends where you are, what group of people you belong to. Sometimes you still feel like you need to fit in a certain category of people, but I like it here.

When I first came here I heard misconceptions that “British people are not deep, you can’t really be friends with them, they don’t want to go deep”. And I thought maybe that’s true but then, I don’t know, I think they are nice and friendly, and they are polite. And I respect that politeness. Definitely a lot of my opinions changed after I came here.

I’m here for now because it’s easier for me, and I mean being in Leeds where I just graduated, where I still have a job and I know people, I know photographers, I know models, I have a studio here now. It is expensive to set up your own fashion brand so financially it's good for me to be here right now. It's hard, in order to save up for my final year of university I didn't go home for two years. I spent over £2000 in total. You have to be careful through the final year and maybe not spend as much, it’s a hard balance.

I don’t like authority and I have an opinion, and I am very nice and kind, I don’t speak up much unless something is not fair. Not everyone likes it. At first, I was so scared after Uni. They say you should go to university, work for like five years and get an experience and only then set up your business. I’m not very patient, and I thought maybe I am not ready… I struggled with this decision and I asked my boyfriend, “what do you think I should do?”. He was like, “you can’t work for anyone” because he knows me. “After a month or two you will be bored”, and when I am bored I am depressed. I wish I was that person who can work for someone full-time and then just come home and chill.

Apart from people, I don’t miss much. I guess I never fitted in before so I never missed that. I like people’s style though, style is a big thing for me. Here in the UK they dress very differently, because they don’t care as much. I feel like the weather is different as well, especially here in Yorkshire. Here are so many walks in the nature, so they do that a lot.

I know our people care a lot about what other people think so they just look more presentable. But I like to dress up and make an effort, at least a little bit. Style is a big one, I get inspired when I go back home. The food is different. But then, it’s not fair. When I go back I feel like I am on a holiday, and I am, so I enjoy it. While people who live there… it’s not the same for them. 

It’s all nice and it’s all great but then the moment I think “what if I had to work here?”, I almost get a panic, like, “get me back home to the UK”. After two weeks of being in Lithuania, I want to go back home. 

And “home”… I mean here in the UK where I have my life, work, and relationships.

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