When pondering the pace of the fashion industry today, I often find myself thinking about Aesop’s Fable, 'The Tortoise and the Hare', likening the arrogance of the speedy hare to the established industry where more is more, and enough is never enough. Of course, that leaves the slow-moving tortoise as today’s underdogs; the emerging designers and fledgling brands confronting fashion’s ongoing challenges by running the race on their own terms. Central to this fashion allegory is the ever-growing black cloud of the climate crisis due in large part to overconsumption, that has, in the last decade, become the defining issue around fashion.
That’s exactly where the Swedish Fashion Council’s Fashion X event comes in. This week, the second iteration of Stockholm’s answer to a traditional fashion week took place, with more than just runway shows and showroom appointments. Looking to challenge the established system, SFC is using the platform to focus on the challenges the industry faces today by opening a dialogue between its creatives and industry insiders on how to facilitate positive change.
'With SFC [FASHION X] Stockholm, we want to challenge the traditional fashion week format and step away from the conventional emphasis on seasons, providing a dynamic space for designers and creatives to push boundaries and showcase their brands in innovative and unconventional ways,' SFC CEO Jennie Rosén tells me.'
The festivities kicked off with a talk on diversity with SFC [Incubator] (the initiative that supports Swedish talent) alum Feben along with the founder of Our Homecoming, the Lagos-based music and art festival Grace Ladoja and Dazed editorial director Kacion Mayers to discuss their experiences as black creatives in predominately white spaces. The key takeaway being the importance of cultivating a creative community that puts collaboration and connection at the forefront of all aspects of the industry. Ladoja defined this as not only finding support but also providing support through 'allyship'.
Maybe it was the scale of Fashion X compared to the likes of the Big Four's fashion weeks but collaboration and connection were felt throughout the five-day event. This was evident in the dinner and presentation hosted by designer Ellen Hodakova Larsson. Something of a homecoming, the event was held in Hagaparken at the venue where the designer's first collection was shot in 2021. Having already presented her S/S 24 collection in Paris this September, the dinner, with tables horse-shoed around mannequins wearing key pieces from the collection, allowed attendees to get up close and personal with her distinct take on upcycling.
Towing the line between the DIY ethos of the 1970s punk movement, and the refined craftsmanship of today's premier ateliers, Hodakova's reworked belt bags were ever present on the arms of the event's attendees. How she bridges the past — using discarded materials like vintage belts and watch straps — with the present was highlighted in the dinner that was themed around the corporate world with papers, staplers, and calculators as table centrepieces.
When asked about her inspirations she tells me her intent was never to make officewear sexy. 'My narrative was not about officewear, it was about beauty and what perfectionism is', she explains. '[The dinner] was meta. I played with the media's misconceptions.' What the dinner, and what Fashion X allowed was for Hodakova to expand on her collection based on the dialogue between her and critics just weeks ago.
New to the SFC [Incubator] was Petra Fagerström, who is riding the high of being awarded the L’Atelier des Matières Prize and the Mercedes-Benz Sustainability Prize at the 38th edition of the International Hyères Festival. While her lenticular pleats and use of upcycled military surplus have garnered much fanfare, she's also been criticised for not being as committed as her competitors to utilising and innovating sustainable techniques. Jury member Orsola de Castro to Instagram to voice her frustrations at the result saying, ‘In terms of sustainability, other participants displayed outstanding creativity and interesting solutions in their collections and beyond’.
Still, Stockholm isn't all upcycling, as Atelier Saman Amel proves. Founded by childhood friends Saman Amel and Dag Granath in 2015, the brand is reframing the luxury model more akin to the days of yore with their made-to-measure tailoring. I met with co-founder Dag Granath at the atelier to get some insight into the brand's approach and why bespoke services are the future of luxury.
‘In a world where so much of your time is spent on a digital screen, true luxury revolves around the tactile sensation and I believe clothes have a massive role to play here'. Not just devoted to sourcing the highest quality materials, what separates the label from today's 'luxury' giants is a commitment to timeless design and building meaningful relationships with their clients. 'Brands need to focus on less but better throughout the whole value chain and create fewer clothes, but clothes made with a real sense of purpose are produced in a responsible way.'
What I found really interesting in my conversation with Granath is that expansion at a fast pace isn't their priority. It's the common thread throughout Fashion X that was echoed again and again. Creative director of AVAVAV Beate Karlsson presented an irreverent fashion film in line with her often ironic runway shows in lieu of showcasing any actual clothes. Lasting less than the span of a music video, the 'film' was a series of witty trailer parodies and production title cards. Afterwards, she tells me, ‘For us, it’s the biggest obstacle in the industry. Mass production, everything is going so fast, based on these cycles. You’re always working on a collection one year ahead or even more.'
Of course, Fashion X is by no means a sustainable utopia that exists outside of the industry. While its creatives had more space to explore their frustrations around the pressures of mass production and the pace the industry expects them to run in exciting and creative ways, there was no shortage of moments that brought us back to the reality that fashion is a billion-pound industry. The final dinner hosted by Fashion X's main partner, the Swedish Trader Federation, included a roundtable talk where a handful of Swedish brands discussed how they're expanding their business while meeting their sustainability goals.
Maybe it's being inundated with 'Just Stop Oils' radical activism, but the cynic in me couldn't help from thinking that expansion in any form couldn't possibly be the answer to fashion's sustainability problem. However, it was hearing from designers like Hodakova and Karlsson that really quelled this scepticism.
While they present in Paris and Milan respectively, both designers tell me that being based in Stockholm keeps them grounded away from the pressures of global expansion. As young brands, they can't rewrite the rules of a production schedule just yet, but as it's on the forefront of their mind, and as Fashion X continues to support their local talent, there is no doubt that they'll continue to look for alternative ways of running the fashion race at a pace that works for them.