Evacuation of Business: The Story of Anastasia Symonenko

Anastasia Symonenko lived in Melitopol and was engaged in the family business of making leather accessories, but after the outbreak of a full-scale war, the city was occupied by Russian troops. Anastasia’s family was able to leave, taking a suitcase with them to help them start a new life in a new place.

“Our friends who had left earlier told us that it would be impossible to take the equipment with us, as the occupiers would take everything away at the checkpoints. But we couldn’t give up our business, because this is what we know how to do best and this is how we can make money, so we took a hand tool that fits in a small suitcase and a small box of tanned leather enough to make 20 wallets,” says Anastasia, the owner of “The Wallet UA” family workshop.

In the end, the family was able to take these items with them as they left, which created the illusion of evacuating the business, although these instruments were not enough to continue working. 

After settling in Ternopil, Anastasia and her husband spent the summer unsuccessfully trying to find ways to take the equipment from Melitopol, and in the fall, they decided to borrow money to buy the minimum necessary equipment, materials for furniture, and leather and rent a place for the workshop.

Around the same time, Anastasia came across an announcement about a business course for women, filled out an application, completed a four-day training, and submitted a business plan to participate in the grant competition under the project “Economic Opportunities for Women Affected by Conflict” implemented by the Ukrainian Women’s Fund with the support of UN Women and the UN Women’s Peace and Humanitarian Fund.

With the grant money, she bought a triple press machine suitable for working with heavy weight materials. This equipment makes it possible to manufacture high-quality products, and it has also helped expand the range of products, so now the workshop produces belts that it had not previously offered to customers.

Currently, we make purses, small wallets, large clutch wallets, cover holders, clips, key holders, banana bags, messenger bags, and belts. Each product can be engraved. We also trim the edges and always choose high-quality leather,” says Anastasiia. 

In addition to paying special attention to product quality, a thorough analysis of target groups and their behavior, an individual approach to potential customers, knowledge of targeting, and the ability to develop risk minimization strategies help to promote accessories and find new customers.

“We have slight seasonal fluctuations. Accessories sell well in the months when there are holidays. Summer is the least profitable period, so we introduce a line of banana bags, messenger bags, and handbags in summer colors in advance, and we develop concepts for birthday gift sets,” Anastasia shares her experience. 

Despite the loss of equipment and forced relocation, the family business survived. Today, Anastasia and her husband discuss the introduction of new models, analyze the demand for existing accessories, and build a strategy for attracting new customers, realizing that it is worth moving forward in any circumstances. 

Our plan is to grow the business. We want to hire employees and expand into new markets, including foreign ones,” Anastasia concludes.