Trying to be fashion-forward while at the same time eco-friendly doesn’t mean wearing a burlap sack and 10-year-old T-shirts, at least not for the designers behind the Swedish Institute’s “Eco Chic – Towards Sino-Swedish Sustainable Swedish Fashion” exhibition, currently in Shanghai.
Whether it is shoes that are made by hand and use naturally tanned leather, a coat made from recycled polyester or wool products that are locally and organically sourced, each of the Swedish designers featured in the exhibition demonstrate how even fashionistas can be green. The 20 Swedish outfits shown at the exhibition not only push the envelope in their designs and concepts but also show how those in fashion can be more environmentally and ecologically friendly in the way they make their products.
Kajsa Guterstam, the project manager from the Swedish Institute for the exhibition, says the theme is meant to inspire people to be more sustainable one step at a time.
“No one can guarantee to be entirely eco-friendly. It’s really difficult and they might end up not doing it,” she says.
That gives designers the encouragement to make small or significant changes to their production. “It’s a humble way and the only way to move toward a more sustainable way of living.”
While eco-friendly fashions may not be on the radar for most in the industry, Guterstam says it’s an important market. Environmental issues are something we all have to deal with, she says, “so we ask ourselves: ‘How can I contribute to make my living more sustainable?’ Clothes are something that applies to everyone”.
The Swedish labels included in the exhibition were picked based on how ecological the products are, whether they use organic or locally sourced materials, methods of production and whether they reduce the supply chain. Many are leading designers in the Scandinavian country; some have collaborated on special lines for international chains like H&M.
For a few of the featured artists, it is more than just making a fashion statement. “The way you dress yourself expresses how you feel,” says Camilla Wellton, whose fashions are featured in the exhibition. “In turn it shows how (you) treat the environment.”
“Beauty is not about being outwardly beautiful,” says Emy Blixt, founder and creative designer of Swedish Hasbeens, which sells handmade and eco-friendly clogs, shoes and other accessories. “Making goods that don’t harm the environment is also beautiful,” she adds.
The exhibition, started in 2008, has already traveled to eight other cities around the world, but its stop in Shanghai is unique. Along with the 14 Swedish designers that make up the exhibition, seven established Chinese designers and two Chinese students from Raffles Design Institute of Donghua University are included in the show.
The Shanghai installment of the exhibition offers a mix of more practical and ready-to-wear items that are iconic, while the Chinese designs showcase how clothes can be fashionable and organic.
While finding organic materials is difficult in China, designers like Shanghai-native Helen Lee are making it their mission. She’s made changes in how and where she sources some of the products and reuses leftover material for other garments or accessories.
She says one way to start is by educating her customers about the value of sustainability. Like Blixt from Swedish Hasbeens, Lee thinks that fashion and beauty go beyond the surface level. “Fashion is about beauty,” she says, “and more importantly, inner beauty.”