Russian clothing brands plug gaps left by Western rivals

STORY: Russian shoppers are getting used to some new names.

As Western brands leave, local firms are rushing in to fill the gaps.

This store in a Moscow mall used to be a branch of Spanish clothing chain Zara.

Now it’s operated by new brand MAAG.

Some former Zara fans say the quality isn’t what it was.

Others think it’s no big deal:

(Anton, Moscow resident) "Looks like nothing changed, since you-know-who (Zara) was here. I think you can find some basic, everyday clothes here. Shorts for the summer, for example, shirts, T-shirts. I think the price-to-quality ratio is OK."

Hundreds of Western clothing brands quit Russia after conflict began in Ukraine.

Besides Zara, departures include H&M and Uniqlo.

That saw a slump in retail sales, but Russia's Council of Shopping Centres President Oleg Klimov says the sector soon bounced back:

"Of course, we incurred financial losses. People in general just did not understand what was going on. They did not want to spend money. Losses were about 200 billion roubles ($2.5 billion dollars) across the whole industry. But it is recovering now. Money always eventually changes hands. People earn money to live. And in life, there are clothes and other expenses. So, people go to malls anyway."

Even so, filling the gaps hasn’t been easy for Russian makers.

Ksenia Zhdanova runs her own label, and is commercial director for a designer clothing website.

She says access to vital imports is one problem amid sanctions.

Finding good workers is another:

"The biggest one is the shortage of staff. I mean we do not have enough seamstresses and professionals in technology. I think it’s a big big problem. How can we cope with it? I have no idea. Maybe we need to ask our government to make some campaigns or even propaganda activities in order to make this profession more popular.”

Zhdanova says it could take ten years for Russia to reach the level of existing textile producers like Turkey.

Meantime, some Russians say they are going to Kazakhstan to buy clothes.

(Tatiana Vakhonina, Moscow resident) "We go to Kazakhstan to go shopping now. But some things you cannot buy at all anymore. It happens."

(Reporter) "What brands do you miss the most?"

"For example, we are now in the middle of refurbishing our home, so we miss IKEA a lot. And if you mean clothes, then Zara.”