Denmark, and the rest of Scandinavia, has made a name for itself over the years for minimal, considered fashion design and for pushing the agenda in terms of homeware and technology. But anyone who’s been following Swedish and Danish brands of late knows that it’s no longer all about cool monochrome clothes and denim. As Scandinavian style becomes more diverse, the regional focus has turned to eco-friendly and sustainable fashion. ‘There’s a deep-rooted tradition in our social democratic society for taking responsibility – not only for people, but also the environment,’ explains Jonas Eder-Hansen, director of development of the Danish Fashion Institute. ‘Social equality, fair working conditions, environmental protection were introduced by legislation several decades ago, so it lies in our traditions and in our values to think responsibly.’ Denmark is a country that’s always been ahead of the curve on eco-matters.
Designing the future
This way of thinking and working is visible in a wide array of Danish brands, both commercial, mainstream labels and edgy catwalk designers. Few other countries have managed to convince so many of its customers that sustainable fashion doesn't have to equal beige and boring garments, and it’s down to an unquestionable emphasis on design. ‘I think it’s really important to realise that consumers will not buy a product only because it’s sustainable – you must create something that’s relevant and covers the customer’s needs,’ says Kjetil Aas, co-founder of menswear brand Armoire d’Homme. The Danish fashion industry seems fully aware that just being eco-friendly isn’t enough – style and substance must go hand in hand. According to Marie Worsaae from knitwear-focused brand Aiayu, that notion hit Denmark a while back. ‘There’s an increased understanding that sustainable fashion can also meet good quality and that ethics and aesthetics can join hands,’ she says.
Kjetil Aas believes that this green consciousness is inherent to to Scandinavian designers. ‘Quality has always been of big importance in Scandinavian design tradition. At the same time, Scandi fashion is focused on so-called “democratic fashion”, which means it should be accessible to everyone. Those two factors combined might explain why a lot of Scandinavian fashion designers are working with sustainability.’
Designer Barbara í Gongini, who shows at Copenhagen Fashion Week, suggests that the willingness to embrace environmentally friendly fashion is down to consumer mindset and to being prepared to spend a little extra. Her eponymous brand might challenge people’s perception of how ‘ecologic fashion’ should look. The Barbara í Gongini aesthetic is dark and moody, reminiscent of Ann Demeulemeester and Rick Owens. Though the brand conforms to fashion’s biannual collection cycle, the tempo is not a problem when it comes to maintaining eco-quality. ‘We generally don't work with fast trends and mass consumption. On the contrary, our core essence is to make long-lasting styles, and we work hard to implement that mindset in our design process,’ the designer explains.
Any brand with a focus on sustainability might struggle to implement a holistic, 360-degree policy. ‘There are still limitations in realising a 100% sustainable product, but it’s important that we support the industry in their effort to reach that point,’ says í Gongini. ‘We have developed an in-house rating system that we use from season to season in order to measure our success. We are not there yet, though.’ Marie Worsaae of Aiayu, which produces Danish designs made out of top-quality Bolivian fabrics, finds it difficult to locate suitable manufacturing partners. This is especially true, she says, for ‘materials that have a uniqueness about them but still maintain high quality. Moreover, it’s still hard for the manufacturers to understand the importance of certifications as customers’ demands for increased quality increase.’
In many ways, however, that’s a ‘good problem’ – it’s only when consumers choose high-quality, sustainable garments over throwaway fashion that progress has been made – and Denmark seems to be leading the way.