irina dzhus


When talking to fellow creatives, we often wonder: HOW DO THEY DO IT? To prevent Instagram stalking or doom-scrolling to figure out their secret sauces and success stories, we prefer to ask them face-to-face. Today: an unfiltered conversation with IRINA DZHUS, FOUNDER of DZHUS. Cover photo: Oriana Senia

Also, read: Berlin Fashion Week’s design talent to have on your radar


When Irina Dzhus was three years old, she told her mermaid a story: she wanted to become a mermaid, too. However, her mother was less happy with her daughter becoming a mermaid and refused to sew her a fishtail. It didn’t crush her hopes for the future, nor her creativity. The way her youth has shaped her fuels her inspiration daily. 

She never exactly knew why, but her grandmother started homeschooling Dzhus at three. “She had just retired from her teaching job and probably went through a crisis,” she commemorates. “As a result, by the time I went to the primary school, there was nothing new I could learn there.” As she was in a drawing class, she asked her grandmother to teach her how to draw a mermaid. What her grandmother sketched wasn’t recognizable, so Dzhus corrected the picture. “It worked out so well that my family had to admit my artistic skills. At that point, I realized by age five that I wouldn’t be allowed to become a mermaid for a living, so I had to put up with a more practical concept of becoming a fashion designer. Since then, I’d been learning nonstop to bring that ambition to life until it happened.”


Only a little later did Dzhus become interested in fashion. She soon developed a personal magazine, scrapbooking patternmaking magazines, from her grandmother. “I was mad about Granny’s vintage patternmaking catalogs with glamourous illustrations, which must have been an escapist portal to a parallel dimension, considering the hostile Soviet reality when it came to shopping. And so, I sketched fashion all the time and once put the pages together, wrote some articles and even drew advertising into the layout.” It’s hard to believe Dzhus was only seven years old. Her aunt, with whom she shared a room for some time, had made brilliant garments for her first “precious” Barbies. “In the nineties, Ukraine had just gained long-dreamed independence and was undergoing a tough economic period. Hence, people had to be inventive with what they got.”

With so many creative outlets, it’s hard to summarize Dzhus’ work in just a few words. “I have several fields of expertise,” she starts, “such as fashion design, creative direction and styling, makeup, writing, and photo editing. I also do high-end poetry, but that’s completely non-commercial.” Having fled Ukraine as the war began, she had to shrink her specialization, as she put maximum effort into her professional integration in the EU. “It meant I had to prioritize which work directions to push and promote. That was a relevant occasion to filter out activities I had been tired of or frustrated with, or leaving those that weren’t profitable enough as a hobby.” And so, she focused entirely on DZHUS, with rare and refined styling jobs, mainly celeb dressing and some high-budget campaigns. “I also do some articles and image strategies as well as teaching. Since my relocation, I’ve taught courses at IED Milan and Warsaw Fine Arts Academy’s design faculty.”

At DZHUS, she’s responsible for designing, creative direction, patternmaking, styling, organizing all shoots and events, sales management, communications, PR, copywriting, SMM, retouching, graphic design and layout, merchandising, e-commerce, and production management. “I do everything except photography, manufacturing, modeling, hairstyling, and music. I wouldn’t say I like organization, so when a chance occurs, I delegate that in the first place. I wonder why I don’t experience burnout, but I need a vacation.”

What do the first two hours of your day look like? Do you swear by any rituals?

“I’ve recently begun wearing teeth aligners as well as undergone aesthetic surgery of my breasts, which now prolongs my morning rituals for an hour. However, these are temporary measures, and the result is undoubtedly worth it, so I’m not lacking motivation. The second hour of my day is about fast makeup, a fast meal, and essential social media activity. Then comes correspondence and another ongoing routine, followed by a planned activity ranging from fabric sourcing trips to patternmaking sessions, a photo shoot to a collection presentation, Photoshop to an interview, and whatever is connected to the brand’s assignments or industry integration.” 

What has driven you to start your DZHUS? 

“I always aimed at being a designer – if not a mermaid – and considering my selfish nature, what else but an eponymous label could that result in? Looking back at when DZHUS was launched, I regret positioning my activity as a brand. I was a fresh graduate paving my way through the fashion crowd, creating my experimental mini collections. Although the results stood out and gained media coverage, it was still very far from a real product defined by a brand. Defining my label so early has led to confusing consequences, for example, making it illegitimate for me to apply for young designer contests, whereas I was still one. Or, for instance, facing serious expectations from myself business-wise, being an adventurist.”

Would you advise young designers to start differently?

Based on that controversial experience, I would advise beginner designers not to rush into opening their own fashion houses but to practice for a while in the industry first to obtain the necessary knowledge and connections. It is crucial to eliminate all pride in yourself and be grateful for development opportunities that are not always exciting or prestigious. Whatever enriches your professional background is much more valuable for your future than status. I wish I understood that back in 2010.”

How do you generate ideas and bring them to life?

“The creative process is my constant condition, interrupted by intruding factors. Once a corruptive thought like ‘this is going to be my final collection!’ knocks on my door, it is, at once, shifted by a bunch of new innovative concepts that must be fulfilled. I’ve already put up with the thought that no matter how low my mental state is or how exhausted I am from the business rollercoaster, I will never get rid of these design compulsions. This is just my duty versus the world. I’m nothing more than a medium for materializing those existences from the ethereal universe of imagery.”

How do you incorporate your background within the designs?

“When I was 14, I was lucky to get to know my then favorite Ukrainian designer, Victoria Krasnova, whose intellectual and authentic work has unveiled the essence of true avant-garde. As Victoria found my ideas interesting, she allowed me to attend her studio and learn by observing her brand KRASNOVA’s everyday processes, which is hard to overestimate. Later, I completed an internship at this fashion house, and that experience has shaped my entire design worldview and vision for my future brand. Since then, my creative work has been saturated with the vibes I got charged with during the practice, as I always embody a range of intersecting narratives and sartorial quizzes in the product I come up with.”

How did the past years—including the war—shape your work? Has it changed your perspective on fashion? 

“Before the war, I had never encoded my origin in DZHUS garments and had a rather childish perception of my national background. The past years have opened my eyes to my unique roots. I find it precious to define my creations as ‘Ukrainian design’ and implement my gratitude to the Motherland in the subtle symbolism I operate with.”

What hiccups have you experienced along the way? 

“I always feel like an alien in society, being either an outsider or a parvenu. No matter my professional experience, I stumble upon elementary communication issues. Although polite and respectful, I somehow end up in drastic confrontations I’m often unaware of until some precedents explode. From multiple social fails, I’ve learned that it’s best to divide personal and business affairs and go as bureaucratic as possible, documenting every step to protect yourself at the official level. However, for an artist, such conformism can be destructive. And so, it’s a constant dilemma.”

And what’s the best part of doing the work you do? 

“Surprisingly, after 20 years since my first professional practices, I still feel that design is the best thing in the world. When I work on DZHUS concepts, time stops, and problems don’t exist unless I want to translate them through my garments. Even at the bottom, I take a ruler, tracing paper, and some rough cotton – and the calamities move away. If only I could focus on design to the fullest, I’d be the happiest.”

Irina Dzhus

You showed at Berlin Fashion Week last season. Why did you choose this city?

“I’m truly honored to have won a grant from the Senate of Berlin 3 times in a row. The funds were missioned to budget a show at BFW. As Berlin is, indeed, a European capital of bold, underground style, I find it an incredible opportunity to spread some DZHUS DNA amongst the Berlin fashion community. Nevertheless, I haven’t neglected the proposals to show at other leading fashion events. For instance, DZHUS has showcased during Paris Fashion Week, Vegan Fashion Week in LA, Premium tradeshow in Berlin, and Design Weeks in Milan and Vienna.”

What’s the one moment in your career that you will never forget?

“This season’s Berlin Fashion Week experience has been marvelous. It looks like we’ve succeeded in delivering an outstanding performance. At the same time, this show came out as a therapy session for myself, as I’ve encoded my most intimate reflections in the collection.”

What are you most proud of? 

“Throughout the last year, I was reckless enough to change my personal life radically. It has led to one of the most traumatic situations ever. Even though I still haven’t coped with the insulting experience, it was worth finding a path to my true self and the stunning growth that personal tragedy has provoked. Among the organic achievements was my victory over a 7-year-long aerophobia. Furthermore, I became much more decisive and selective in business strategies. When you have nothing to lose, it can sometimes lead to success.”