Eco Chic: Towards Sustainable Swedish Fashion

Julian Red. Photo: Mikael Schultz @ Swedish Institute

by Francesca Granata

The Eco-Chic: Towards Sustainable Swedish Fashion Exhibition at the Scandinavia House opened with an interesting panel discussion including Marcus Bergman (managing director of Ecocotton, a pioneer in organic cotton production), Sass Brown (a professor at the Fashion Institute of Technology whose research focuses on women’s cooperatives in Latin America) and Karin Stenmar (a founder of the Swedish eco-fashion company Dem Collective). It was moderated by Hazel Clark, Dean of the School of Art and Design History and Theory at Parsons, who has a longstanding interest in slow fashion and the secondhand clothing trade.

Organized as a roundtable discussion, it covered the difficulty in sourcing sustainable material, partially attributed to the lack of innovation in the textiles industry, the need for living wages and the development of women’s cooperatives. Bodkin tied her interest in eco-fashion to her interest in Swedish Modernism and a drive towards functionality in clothing. However, it was interesting to hear how, according to Bergman, the ethos of Swedish design “of functionality and honesty in design” did not sufficiently enter the realm of fashion, due to the fact that fashion/textiles studies developed separately from other branches of design, at least in Sweden. The need for a new fashion design education was thus addressed to allow for the development of more aware designers. Also mentioned was the need for mass-market companies to join the conversation. According to Brown, this is actually occurring: As an example she mentioned Wal-Mart’s commitment to transitional cotton—a company which seemed odd to bring up due to their long-standing history of labour exploitation.

Clark asked about the creation of memories and narratives through clothes, something that Stenmar’s company, Dem Collective, addressed by having buyers record the life of their clothes in a project called One in a Thousand Jeans. This reminded me of an evocative and inspiring project I had been meaning to write about by a Dutch designer Ruby Hoette—Worn Relics—which involves the recording of the life story of one’s favourite piece of clothes.

The exhibition, shows the diversity of design comprising Swedish eco fashion, and proves a real commitment on the part of Sweden and the Swedish design community to the search for sustainable solutions for the fashion industry. It remains open through August 21.