A dispatch from [Fashion X], an event launched by the Swedish Fashion Council to address issues of economic and environmental sustainability
It’s early November, and I find myself in Stockholm. I arrive in darkness (which means 5:15pm), descending into the city’s airport under cover of darkness. Upon arriving at the hotel, I’m whisked away to the city hall, where there are two long tables lined directly with hundreds of seats. It’s a Scandi Succession.
Last month, the Swedish Fashion Council (SFC) launched [Fashion X] Stockholm, a five day event aimed at introducing an alternative to a traditional fashion week. [Fashion X] showcases a variety of independent brands within an ecosystem of talks, formal dinners, and collection presentations in the Swedish capital, a city largely unknown to most of the invited media and press. Much has already been said about the aging fashion week model, in particular, the ability for the broader industry to be sustainable (both ecologically and economically). In an environment where editors and buyers travel quarterly to multiple cities, attending four or five shows a day put on by brands who have invested tens of thousands of dollars just to mount brief displays of their newest collections, it becomes impossible to stand out. This system has a regressive effect on small brands, and more so on brands that are based outside of major fashion capitals like Paris or Milan. If you can’t afford to continually produce and showcase collections, how can you compete in the global market?
Attendees confronted this question with a surprising directness over the course of the five days of [Fashion X]. On the first full morning, we were transported outside of town to attend talks organized by the SFC in partnership with Dazed & Confused Magazine, featuring Grace Ladoja, the team behind brand All-In, SSENSE’s Senior Buyer Nick Tran, and New York City PR maven Gia Kuan, to name a few. Diversity, youth, and sustainability drove each discussion, highlighting how Sweden’s greater Scandinavian sensibilities interacted with those concepts. The country itself is on the path of dramatic change, part of a seismic shift towards multiculturalism in a region whose social foundation was formed around a singular sense of Swedish heritage. As a consequence, the SFC [Incubator] creates an opportunity for them to pass commercial opportunities down to younger voices, attempting to create change in the industry internally. In another presentation, Tran explained the difficulty of buying from brands who don’t follow a traditional calendar; highlighting a hindrance to bringing All-In to SSENSE, which only came after a special appeal to house the brand despite the incongruence of their production calendar. On the communications side, Kuan shared both the struggles and triumphs that small brands face in bringing the right eyes to their new collections, emphasizing the tricky obligation to put on a show that will almost certainly cost more than what it will add in commercial value.
Sustainable production felt present in every conversation. From mind-melds about the ways to creatively reuse eco-friendly fabrics, to anecdotes from owners of hundred-acre-forests, the itinerary showcased a number of sides to the ecological puzzle. The practicality of each dialogue felt novel for the fashion community, who typically discuss the challenge of mitigating environmental impacts as theoretical, and therefore removed from the very obvious conclusion that our industry needs to cut back production, and discourage blind consumption to reduce its larger contribution to the global climate crisis. This ethos ties in nicely with the departure of the traditional fashion calendar. Hypothetically, if the only new clothes produced were a result of a desire to generate an innovative design as opposed to an obligation to buyers or a flawed calendar, we would begin to behave as an industry that intends to stick around. While I’m suspicious that this idea could function at legacy houses that operate at the highest volumes, it’s exciting to imagine the creative possibilities that come along with a holistic conversation about sustainability.
Scandinavian beauty, in terms of the built environment, reveals itself slowly when venturing through the city, with public metropolitan space both showing the flourishes of craft, and a sense of functionality and confidence. This point of view is not lost on Swedish brands. Our Legacy Workshop’s brand team presented a new collaboration with Emporio Armani, showcasing a merge between the former’s playful aesthetics, with the latter’s softened masculinity. Later in the night, HODAKOVA held an immaculate dinner featuring tables festooned with crumpled up paper, discarded office equipment, and precarious glassware, all in service of what feels like an MDMA-meets-business-casual-aesthetic. Jacob Skragge rounded out the day with an extremely astute presentation for his jewelry line All Blues in his immaculate showroom, highlighting a recent release in partnership with Peter Do.
I began to think about the positives that come from the cultural distance between the Swedish capital and places like Paris or Milan, and if this can allow for a sense of individuality in design. There is no trend-based social media infrastructure to be seen in Stockholm’s fashion community, no sense that the myriad of secondary brand support accounts with blue squares, or simplified copy mean much to designers. Even the younger designers like Petra Fagerström (who showcased in the basement of an austere white box gallery) showcase an incredibly coherent visual language: The designer utilized the echo of snow spikes on concrete as a dark chorus for the presentation of goth outerwear, each look more angsty than the last. Would many of these teams be approaching design differently if subjected to the relentless expectation of a major fashion capital, despite the opportunity for resources? Is there a tradeoff between singularity and commerciality?
On the morning of the last day I walked to Södermalm, crossing several islands. I felt like a Viking (on foot). It’s a great tragedy that one feels finally comfortable on the last day in a new place, and although ultimately my way of living is only functional in the narrower parts of Bushwick, I did feel a sense of ease wandering around Stockholm. The SFC created a program to imagine a new approach to an industry that we all acknowledge is not working for everyone. Attendees now bring these central questions of sustainability, independent design, and functionality back home. Our ability to take control of our own future as collective brands, manufacturers, buyers, and media remains to be seen, but perhaps our clock is ticking faster than we imagine.