Many things have slowed down in Iceland since the island economy collapsed in 2008. Fashion is not one of those things, I learned at this weekend’s Reykjavik Fashion Festival. Still, two women are taking it slow, embracing the “slow fashion movement” to be exact, and trying to instill integrity, honesty and respect into design. Their show had one of the most talked about shows and collections at the RFF.
When I first heard that the house of Ella was a proponent of “slow fashion” I immediately asked, “what is slow fashion?” Is it like slow food? Small-scale, sustainable, high quality? Designer Katrin Maria Karadottir and Creative director and founder Elinros Lindal explained to me that that’s exactly what it is.
They walked me through their movement like grownups explaining something complex (algebra, fusion, the Kardashians) to a child. At the end of our chat I came to see that slow fashion (and slow things in general in the hands of women like Elinros and Katrin could be the future of Iceland’s economic prosperity.
Fashionista: What exactly does slow fashion mean here in Iceland?
Katrin: It is back to basics. It is an effort to try to limit the cycle of consuming and consuming. We buy all the fabrics from Europe and produce everything in Europe. We ask the managers things like what is your average salary and how do you treat your workers. We want everything to be proper. I visited where we were producing things in Portugal once…not to spy but to make sure everything was proper and to know the person at the end of the line.
Elinros: It is fashion with integrity. It’s about making more quality and less quanitity and bringing honesty and fairness back into the fashion market. We want to be able to tell the customer and show the customer what we are doing and how we are doing it.
To that end, Katrin and Elinros have an open showroom within their store on Seltjarnarnes street in Reyjavik. Customers can go in the back of the perfectly appointed shop to look at inspiration boards and tailoring samples. Until last July Elinros and Katrin were operating (successfully) out of a garage in the suburbs of the city.
Fashionista: You did two collections from that garage. It must have gotten awfully crowded.
Elinros: I always said if we want to be successful we have to start in a garage because everyone good always starts in a garage.
Katrin: I didn’t want to work in a a garage. In the suburbs. But I had faith. When the production came in for our first show we had no space. But we had plenty of sales off our website and people would hear about the collection being sold out of a garage and come out to us. One time we took the entire collection outside and sold it in the garden.
Elinros: I have never sold as much as I did when I sold it in the garden.
Fashionista: You mention the word integrity a lot. What does that mean in fashion?
Elinros: To me it is never asking the consumer to be something she shouldn’t be like thinner or curvier. And it is very important not to copy trends. We are empowering women. Our clients are young women fighting in a man’s world.
Katrin: I am a tailor. I studied design in Paris. I am conservative and I like a good cut. We do the footwork and we take the time to make the shapes for women of different sizes, not just what looks good on the catwalk.
Fashionista: Elinros, you said that your aim when you first got into this wacky business was to dress the first woman president of Iceland. Could that come true?
Elinros: Yes! The candidate who has the most support in the polls right now is a woman and she just called me and asked me to dress her.
Fashionista: So do the clothes take longer to make, being slow and all?
Katrin: It takes a longer time to research and go through the process. But because we are so organized there is nothing slow about the company.
Elinros: But our team is tiny. Three of us at the core and five or six on and off during the month.
Katrin: And we don’t have to be totally new each season. Each of our pieces are assets moving forward. That’s when being slow is a good thing.
Elinros: We try not to put the pressure too much on sales. If somebody wanted to buy a large quantity of Ella abroad in a large quantity we would have to say no because we want to control it as much as possible. We learned from the Iceland economic crush that big is not better! We want to be the good news out of Iceland.
Fashionista: You mentioned that slow fashion is a back-to-basics formula. Your pieces are not astronomically expensive, but they’re pricier than H&M or places like Banana Republic in the United States. What makes them worth it?
Katrin: Historically it was always a big deal to buy an entire outfit, until very recently. It’s now possible for you to buy an entire outfit every week if you want and to throw out an outfit every week.
Elinros: We want to clear up misunderstandings about pricing. When you look at a dress that costs 25,000 króna ($198) or 60,000 króna ($475) you need to think about all the work that went into that. When you buy a dress that costs very little you have to realize that someone is suffering to make that dress.
Katrin: When a dress costs close to your cup of coffee it isn’t right.
Elinros: It is similar to the Pareto model in economics. 80% of the time you use 20% of your wardrobe. We are trying to do the 20%