The new Manchester vintage football shirt shop set up by Ukrainian refugees as war rages at home

We spoke to the Ukrainian owners of Stunner vintage football shirt shop in Manchester about what it’s like to open business abroad.
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Starting a new business is bound to come with challenges. But most new business owners don’t expect a global pandemic or war to be among those challenges.

This was the reality for Serge Shcherbyna, 29, and Polina Vynohradova, 27, who opened their vintage football shirt store in their hometown of Kyiv just as the global pandemic was forcing businesses to shut around the world. Life had barely returned to normal when they were faced with their next challenge – war.

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The couple managed to get out of Ukraine just 24 hours before the all-out invasion started in February 2022. They travelled around Europe for a few months, surviving by selling their remaining football shirt stock to pay for AirBnBs. They eventually applied for the UK’s Homes for Ukraine scheme and were welcomed by a sponsor family in Macclesfield.

Serge Shcherbyn and Polina Vynohradova, owners of Stunner vintage football shirt shop in Manchester.Serge Shcherbyn and Polina Vynohradova, owners of Stunner vintage football shirt shop in Manchester.
Serge Shcherbyn and Polina Vynohradova, owners of Stunner vintage football shirt shop in Manchester.

Eleven months on, and they have just opened their new shop, Stunner, in Manchester city centre on King Street South.

Serge said: “You could feel something was about to happen. We were freshly-made shopkeepers, we had quit our proper jobs just before. With our back pushed against the wall, we figured we’d travel abroad a bit.

“It’s 18 months now since we left home. All of us, including our family and friends in Ukraine, have got used to what’s going on, which is fascinating. It showed me another side of how adaptable we are as human beings. Regardless of what’s going on, you can always get used to it.”

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And it seems like the young entrepreneurs are not just adapting, but thriving in their new homes – which also happens to be one of Europe’s major footballing cities. Serge said that they have sold more shirts in the few short weeks they’ve been open in Manchester than they would have in Kyiv in three months.

Manchester’s new vintage football shirt shop Stunner, owned by Ukrainians Serge and Polina. Manchester’s new vintage football shirt shop Stunner, owned by Ukrainians Serge and Polina.
Manchester’s new vintage football shirt shop Stunner, owned by Ukrainians Serge and Polina.

How it started

Serge has been collecting football shirts since he was a child, starting out with fake shirts sold at local markets. As he got older, he realised that to be a proper collector, he’d need to find the real thing and, thanks to a boom in thrift stores in Ukraine around 2010, he was able to do just that.

He said: “Shirts would appear in my hometown on nearly every corner and not everyone would straight away understand the value of them commercially, historically, or aesthetically. So I got a few dozen.”

But Polina understood this immediately. Although she is not a football fan herself, she found Serge’s collection “fascinating.”

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She said: “By the design, first of all. I could never imagine that football shirts might be so interesting, so bright and so crazy in terms of design. Because it’s just sport equipment, you think that it is something to wear just when you’re exercising, but no.

“It was a surprise for me, and I started thinking right away about how I can wear them on a daily basis, how I can combine them with my wardrobe, with dresses, skirts, and not just jeans.”

The former creative copywriter immediately saw the business potential in vintage football shirts. She had the idea to start an Instagram account, create a logo, choose a name and design proper photoshoots for the shirts. And before long they were part of the global vintage football shirt community.

Some of the most influential people within that community, who Serge describes as the “engines of the movement,” are Classic Football Shirt founders Matthew Dale and Doug Bierton. They founded their business back in 2006, right here in Manchester.

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Serge said: “I find it quite ironic that the circle is closing, they inspired us and now we have come to the city where the whole movement started.”

Different to Ukraine

Manchester’s new vintage football shirt shop Stunner, owned by Ukrainians Serge and Polina (pictured). Manchester’s new vintage football shirt shop Stunner, owned by Ukrainians Serge and Polina (pictured).
Manchester’s new vintage football shirt shop Stunner, owned by Ukrainians Serge and Polina (pictured).

While Manchester has a ripe market when it comes to the vintage football shirt industry, the situation could not be more different in Ukraine, where the culture around football is still developing.

Serge explained: “Ukrainian football is one big enjoyable dramedy or soap opera. Obviously here it has been present for a hundred-plus years. In Ukraine, it’s only getting established.

“Plus with all the interruptions we get in terms of our existence as an independent country, obviously football stagnates as well among other things. Sadly, we are years away from becoming an up-to-date football community, but we will work on that.”

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He said that many Ukrainians could not see the appeal of spending £100 on an old, used football shirt without the tags. Their research into the Ukrainian football industry at large also showed that even getting hold of current replica football shirts from the country’s Premier League clubs is also hard.

Serge explained: “In Ukraine, I wouldn’t say that our business was successful commercially. But still, we managed to create a community around the store, met some really good people, many of them are our best friends now. So it’s not about commercial success, it’s more about this kind of success.

“People became the greatest asset in terms of the Kyiv store. And it keeps happening here as well. This is only our third week and we have already met dozens of people and they all keep reaching out, offering some sort of collaboration, if not now then in the future.”

Future plans

These future plans are already in motion. Their store on King Street South is a former art gallery, with a currently unused basement space and gallery lighting. The pair envision using the space for creative collaborations with artists, illustrators, photographers.

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Serge said:  “I’m very excited because we came here. It was not a conscious decision, it’s just where circumstances led us, but if we end up creating some sort of cultural space in this beautiful city, I will consider our UK period to be very successful. Because if we manage to establish a place where people could circle around, meet each other, enjoy themselves, collaborate – it would be great.”

Manchester’s new vintage football shirt shop Stunner, owned by Ukrainians Serge and Polina. Manchester’s new vintage football shirt shop Stunner, owned by Ukrainians Serge and Polina.
Manchester’s new vintage football shirt shop Stunner, owned by Ukrainians Serge and Polina.

Their long-term plan, however, has always been to return to Kyiv. Serge said: “Many people think that once we opened this business here, it means that we are tied to the place for decades. The truth is, we never get too attached to places. We always moved apartments at least once every year. We moved stores in Kyiv once as well, even within the same building. The same will happen here.

“If, let’s say, in one year’s time, we understand that it’s safe to go to Kyiv, me and Polina will sit down and talk. One year is more than enough to reach all the goals that we have set here. In terms of going back to Ukraine, that’s obviously top of my priority list right now.”

In the meantime, they are grateful for the home they have in the UK and to all the people that have helped them, especially their hosts who have helped get their UK business up and running.

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Serge said: “We came to realise that we are extremely grateful to the people here, first of all. Even the government, who introduced the Homes for Ukraine scheme so quickly, and it was such a seamless process.

“Every time we meet someone in the pub or on the street and they discover that we are from Ukraine, they would share their involvement in how they’ve helped - either a fundraising campaign or someone actually bought an ambulance and sent it to Ukraine.  A lot of people hosted or are still hosting Ukrainian families - that means a lot.”

  • Stunner is located on South King Street in Manchester city centre and you can find them online and on Instagram.