For Kollektiv’s first Features article, we speak to Volchok Clothing founder Vasily Volchok-Rusakovich about his brand’s humble beginnings, his desire for conquest and what the future holds for Russian streetwear.
If Russian streetwear is on the ascent the world over, it is thanks in no small part to Moscow’s Volchok. Since its first drop in 2014, the brand has become a household name among young Russians, with its self-proclaimed “Russian Gothic” style and rave-influenced designs providing a vital means of self-expression for young people throughout Russia and beyond. But driving the rise of streetwear culture in Russia wasn’t always the plan for a man who sold his camera to print 200 t-shirts, give them out to his mates and see what happened.
“For me, this is my family, it’s a way of life,” says founder Vasily Volchok of the brand to which he has devoted his life over the past few years. It’s unsurprising: Volchok, which means “little wolf”, has become bigger than Vasily ever anticipated, with him and his team making increasingly frequent visits to Europe as the brand eyes up a non-Russian market. Yet the whole thing came about almost by mistake, when Vasily was working in a second-hand shop in Saint Petersburg. “The second-hand shop was my first project to do with clothes. When I was working there, I realised I enjoy taking photos of clothes and talking about them, but I wanted to start making my own things, from scratch, rather than working with ready-made stuff.”
“I made a page called Volchok and started posting all these dark, moody pictures there. Eventually it grew into a clothing brand.”
It was a chance exchange with a friend that led to a moment of inspiration. “About a year before the brand launched, I was talking to a friend, and he asked how things were going with my second-hand shop Volchok. The shop was called Volnovik, so I was like, ‘it’s Volnovik, not Volchok.’ Then I thought, hang on, that’s actually a cool name. So I made a page on [Russian social network] VK called Volchok and started posting all these dark, moody pictures there. Eventually it grew into a clothing brand.”
The bleak VK page with the dark pictures served as a sort of moodboard for Vasily to gauge his audience and refine his soon-to-be brand’s image. Even before it was making clothes, Volchok was taking inspiration from underground culture and social injustice. From the brand’s very first design – a black t-shirt with “Yunost” (“Youth”) emblazoned across it in white Cyrillic, famously worn by Foals frontman Yannis Phillipakis during the British band’s 2016 Moscow gig – to newer pieces adorned with the iconic “Russian Underground” slogan, youth culture and protest have always been at the heart of what Volchok do.
This is why, as Vasily says, the brand has such an affinity with Moscow’s celebrated rave scene. “We support raves, we’re friends with the people running MY IDEM [a VK page promoting the best nights out, gigs and exhibitions happening in Moscow and Saint Petersburg], most of our team go to raves pretty often. We’ve even got two DJs in our office. Rave is about energy and protest, so it suits us perfectly.”
“Moscow, Saint Petersburg and Kiev are all capitals with their own unique culture. We want all our stores to reflect the spirit of the city they’re in, which is why they’ve started doing their own designs.”
It is local scenes and movements like this that drive Vasily and Volchok forward. “Local colleagues doing well inspires me most. I keep an eye on what people like Sputnik1985, Ziq&Yoni and Wolee are doing, as well as shops with their own clothing lines like Otdel and Blok18.” It was, after all, a local colleague – Andrey Dugin of Mech Clothing – who gave Vasily the confidence to launch his own brand in the first place. “It was him who made me realise this was possible,” he says. Perhaps for this reason, Volchok’s three branches – in Moscow and Saint Petersburg, Russia’s largest cities, and Ukrainian capital Kiev – have their own distinct identity, inspired by both the past and present of their local area. “Moscow, Saint Petersburg and Kiev are all capitals with their own unique culture. We want all our stores to reflect the spirit of the city they’re in, which is why they’ve started doing their own designs. Volchok Ukraine have already had a few drops.”
Having deservedly garnered a devoted following in their home country, the Volchok team now have their sights set even farther afield. Over the past year, they have been spending ever more time in Europe, making waves at a showroom of Russian fashion in Paris and opening their own spaces in stores in Berlin and Barcelona. “We do it because we want to conquer,” explains Vasily. “Once upon a time you could just pick up your sword and go off to conquer the next village. Fortunately, it’s hard to imagine that happening nowadays, but instead you can open your own little corner in another country.”
“We’ve just recently moved to a new office with a new warehouse and production, so we’re still living out of boxes. We want to just breathe.”
“One day we’ll open our own stores abroad,” Vasily proclaims. “But it’s not easy. There’s definitely demand, but it’s hard to say how well things are going just yet. Right now our priority is to sort out our release schedule and be in time for each season. We’ve just recently moved to a new office with a new warehouse and production, so we’re still living out of boxes. We want to just breathe.”
While inspired by the successes of those around them, Volchok are disciplined, striving to maintain high standards across the board. “One problem in the Russian scene is that there are a lot of enthusiasts and not enough professionalism,” highlights Vasily. “We try to improve every single day.” After their recent move to a new office in Moscow’s up-and-coming Avtozavodskaya area, Volchok’s professionalism and ambition are beyond doubt. This is, after all, a man who legally changed his surname in honour of his brand; he was serious about this from the very start.
It’s clear that Volchok have everything it takes to achieve their goal of conquering the non-Russian-speaking world. Yet, despite growing popularity both at home and abroad, Vasily remains phlegmatic when pressed on what the future holds for Russian streetwear. “I don’t know. I wish someone would tell us where all this is going.” If Volchok’s recent successes are anything to go by, then Vasily and co will go on conquering for a long time yet.