Swedishness Extended

Written by Fashion Tales

Ludmila Christeseva in dialogue with Ulrika Skoog Holmgaard

The trend to buy cheap and accessible clothes, otherwise known as “fast” or “democratized” fashion has over the last decades established excessive consumer behavior globally, sparking the debate on unsustainable character of fashion industry. Swedish fashion scene has witnessed the rapid development over the past two decades successfully contributing to the development of this trend. Known as the home of the H&M brand, Sweden also gained its influence in the late 2000’s as a fashion capital through introducing a sustainable style of Swedishness to the rest of the world. Such successful brands as Filippa K, ACNE, Carin Rodebjer, Tiger of Sweden promote conscious fashion design and production practices. Their Swedish `Fashion Wonder` is characterised by simplicity of forms, discreteness of color palette and timelessness of design, establishing a less-is-more philosophy, without sacrificing creativity. In general, mass-produced fashion may make quite a few people happy through providing disposability and thus, affordable variety. Yet many people understand that this disposable form of clothing comes with other costs such as global environmental issues, wasteful overstock of out of date fashion, and underpaid female workers. 

Being born in Belarus and raised during times of scarcity, which defined the consumption culture in the Soviet Union, I still remember how I was used to mending and redesigning the clothes of my older sister and our cousins. The social conditions and the deficit of the basic wardrobe elements such as nylon tights, lingerie and shoes forced us to be extraordinary careful with clothes that we possessed.  The DIY (Do it Yourself) principle, so popular nowadays among hipsters, was our know-how. We tie-dyed our trousers so they looked like fancy jeans, we re-modelled our fathers’ old shirts into party dresses and we shared accessories we had among friends. Moving to Sweden made my world turn upside down. I no longer needed to mend and sew my own clothes.

Some fashion consumers might not want to purchase products which are mass produced in sweatshops, but they often do this despite good intentions, since the practice of buying disposable fashion is built into our cultural constructions, and as mass produced fashion is readily available for purchase. We do it because we can. There is an abundance of affordable wear, enough to change a full set of clothes every season. Mesmerised by the shopaholic paradise of sales and discounts, we get used to uncontrollable shopping, which goes against the principle of sustainability. And it comes at a price — toxic production waste which destroys ecosystems and people’s health; greedy profiting results in slave labor at factories in many third world countries. Does our craving for status, position and well-being create a necessity to neglect the world around us? Perhaps other cultural experience of fashion production could contribute to a change from such habitual manner to consume. How would such change impact our identity? What, really, defines Swedish identity when talking about fashion? Who knows, perhaps, my slightly forgotten experience of sewing and remodelling clothes inspired all these questions as well as paved the way for me to make art from left overs, promote conscious fashion design practices and support couturiers who try to rise against the fast fashion paradigm.

Wednesday, 28th of August, fifteen incredible Stockholm women; working in various industries, brightened up Stockholm in spectacular dresses and beautiful costumes designed by the Belarusian fashion brand Historia Naturalis led by Polina Voronova. The aesthetics of the brand are inspired by the laconic nature of Swedish style, with its functionality and pragmatism. The colourful march “100 Shades of Nature”, full of conspicuous playful motives, started at Norrmalmstorg, in the restaurant Vau de Ville and joint along the path of sunny Strandvägen. This magnificent parade danced across the streets, leaving observers with a smile on their faces.

100 Shades of Nature” has brought together some really inspiring women of Stockholm, all with a special history that deserves its own chapter and all are concerned with the issues of sustainability. One of them is the Swedish Ambassador in Belarus, Christina Johannesson. Christina was leading the procession of the conscientious consumers, while holding a stylish string bag created by blind crafters in Belarus and transformed into fashionable accessory by Historia Naturalis. For the Swedish Ambassador in Belarus, to support and be part of a cultural exchange between Belarus and Sweden was an obvious way to support a good cause.  Whether it is art, performance, fashion, music or theatre – Christina joined the discussion between our ‘fashion nations’, with many differences and possible similarities. Sustainability seems to be a trend for contemporary consumers both in Sweden and Belarus, but the meaning of the term is still not precisely defined. Despite these facts; emphasis on sustainability resonates strongly with what the contemporary consumer wants or calls for globally. That is why sharing professional experience across the borders might pave the way for creative solutions towards more principled practices within the apparel industry.