Asya Varetsa moved to New York in December 2017, and doesn’t yet have an office for the U.S. outpost of Sleeper, the wildly popular loungewear brand she founded with her friend, Kate Zubarieva, back in the Ukraine.
Though Varetsa works with a remote team based in Kiev, 70% of the brand’s customers come from the U.S.—customers who’ve become attached to Sleeper’s uber-chic knack for versatility. From pajama bottoms with feathered hems to sleek slip dresses, Sleeper loungewear can be worn for just about any occasion, from the comfort of your Netflix binge to a night out with friends (or from a long international flight to a board meeting—just add blazer).
“We don’t sell you clothes,” says Varetsa. “We sell you the feeling, the happy moments that you’re going to have wearing this dress or these pajamas.”
Born just outside of Moscow, Varetsa moved to Ukraine looking to get away from the madness of the city after a stint as fashion editor at ELLE Russia (it was in Kiev where she met Zubarieva). She lived there for just a year, then moved to San Francisco for three years, and LA for one. Now she’s settled in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn, with her boyfriend and a four-year-old Pomeranian named Pusher, continuing her work on business development and marketing for Sleeper, traveling back to Kiev on a frequent basis to be with the team.
Here, we got the scoop on Varetsa’s travel style, essentials, and philosophy.
IN DEFENSE OF THE CHECKED BAG
I travel a lot, and when I travel I usually go for at least a month, so I need to pack for both vacation and business. Next week, I’m going to go to our headquarters in Kiev. We have a team of around 50 people there, so that usually includes a lot of meetings and maybe I’ll go to photoshoots, so I pack stuff that’s more for a business trip. But then, since I’m already over there, I usually go on vacation as well. This time I’m going to the South of France with my co-founder, Kate.
I pack basic stuff like jeans, tank tops (the ones the the boys like to wear), and I always bring a business jacket that I can throw over the jeans or wear with a dress. And I always try to keep a simple palette because it’s easier than figuring out what to combine with what. I don’t take my steamer because it kept breaking. If I need to iron something I put the things in the bathroom while I shower with hot water and then they get steamed.
WHAT TO CARRY-ON
I always take another pair of jeans and a t-shirt, just in case I need an emergency outfit. I take a sleep mask just to be able to at least rest—earplugs as well. I love the Jet Lag Face Mask for the plane. It’s really good for moisturizing. Living Proof Dry Shampoo is so good because my hair always gets really dirty on the plane. My favorite lip gloss is the Smith & Cult Hydragloss—super moisturizing but not sticky. I also have eye patches that I wear. I keep them in the freezer when I’m not traveling. Also—fabric freshener. If you’re staying somewhere and it stinks (or you stink!) just spray it on your clothes. It smells like baby.
We are five years into our business now and it feels like I can still remember the first day. We didn’t plan on being in stores or serving so many customers. Both Kate and I came from fashion magazines—she was editor-in-chief for a few magazines in the Ukraine. Kate has this ability to make you do crazy things and get you out of your comfort zone. She was basically like, “I want to start this company with you,” and I was like, “We don’t have any money!” We started the company with our own capital of about $2,000. In the beginning, when you have such an exciting project, everyone is just doing everything they can. We didn’t know anything about the industry when we started, but success came really fast. I think because we were both editors, we knew what kinds of things magazines wanted to write about, how to make it catchy. People really resonated with the idea of versatility in our brand.
- 1Sumer Fridays Mini Jet Lag Face Mask, $25
- 2Living Proof Dry Shampoo Travel Size, $14
- 3Smith & Cult Hydragloss, $20
- 4The Laundress Fabric Fresh Baby, $10
- 5Avène Thermal Spring Water, $18.50
- 6Nintendo Switch, $299
- 7Sleeper Silk Pajama Set, $390
- 8Sleeper Loungewear Dress, $250
- 9Away Large Aluminum suitcase, $595
ON MOVING AROUND
I’ve lived in four places in five years. The biggest struggle is finding that community feeling, making friends. Because once I established myself in San Francisco and finally got to have friends and know the places to go for coffee and dinners—then I moved to a whole new place and needed to establish all that again from the beginning. But it’s also exciting because now I have so many people I know and love from so many different cultures, from so many different places.
MAKING NEW FRIENDS IN NEW PLACES
I’m such a socially awkward person. I usually use social media to make friends. I met one of my best friends this way. She’s Russian but we actually met in San Francisco. I saw on Instagram that she was moving to San Francisco and I was like, “Let me know how I can help! I’ll show you around.” And that’s where our really strong relationship started.
WHY YOU SHOULD TRAVEL WITH YOUR CO-WORKERS
Me and my co-founder Kate love taking vacation together. The last time I went to Kiev we flew to Tokyo together and spent the New Years there. The main reason I love traveling with Kate is because we can get inspired together and bring all that energy back to our team, back to the product, and come up with something new. After the Japan trip, we made a resort collection with really simple linen pajamas and clean, simple linen bags. It was mostly inspired by the simplicity of Japan. It’s hard to create new products all the time, so traveling is really the biggest inspiration for me.