A New Sweden: Interview with Lisa Bergstrand

A New Sweden, Edition 1: The Jämtland sweatshirt | photo: Niklas Bergstrand

 
Sustainable fashion. An expression that is used very often. I myself use it often because that is the kind of fashion I care to write about. The only kind of fashion that makes sense in our world today. The only kind of fashion that will ensure our world a viable future. But what exactly does sustainable mean? Does 100% sustainable even exist? I doubt it. But there are brands which are 100% dedicated to change that. A New Sweden is one of them. Their creative and innovative efforts are aimed to working with nature, not against it. They are aimed to celebrating slow living and timeless style and to making clothes for longevity, both from an aesthetic and quality perspective. They are aimed to draw upon the unique beauty of the world around us without destroying it in the process. But how, more exactly, is A New Sweden different from other sustainable fashion brands?

A New Sweden is different because they are uncompromisingly challenging the standards of sustainable fashion itself. They will release a single item each year. The first edition is the sweatshirt (the Jämtland sweatshirt). They make clothes in Sweden from natural Swedish materials and they have created their own farm-to-factory supply chain to sustain their business model. Their garments are plastic- and chemical-free. They have based their first Edition around making use of wool that would otherwise be wasted, thus preventing waste of precious natural resources. They work with small, trustworthy sheep farms who take good care of their animals. And they don’t believe in, nor seek for infinite growth.

A New Sweden is also different because they hold themselves accountable for their actions and are completely transparent. Their use of plastic in the entire production cycle is minimum, but not nonexistent – even if that means that the only plastic they use is the plastic in the self-adhesive shipping label. They are honest about it and state how they can do better to eliminate plastic altogether. And they show the same openness about each phase of the production process. This is the kind of visibility that makes me feel that I understand not only what sustainable means for A New Sweden, but what sustainable fashion should really mean. And that makes A New Sweden the standard in sustainable fashion.

Founder and creative director Lisa Bergstrand has been working in fashion for more than a decade, having designed for legendary fashion houses such as Céline, Isabel Marant, Givenchy and Saint Laurent, before embarking on her very personal journey in fashion. In my interview with Lisa, I have talked to her about her own brand, about the biggest challenge in doing fashion her own way and about her realistic thoughts on the future of fashion. Authenticity – that’s another quality both Lisa and her brand stand for.
 

A New Sweden, Edition 1: The sweatshirt | photo: Niklas Bergstrand

 
Made in Sweden, of Swedish wool. Why did you choose wool (not the first fabric that would spring to mind when it comes to sweatshirts) for the first 100% Swedish sweatshirt?
I asked myself how to make a garment that I believed was actually made in a good way. And I decided that it was to use locally grown natural materials and have every step of the production as locally as possible. As I started to investigate the different options of materials, I also learnt more about wool. I found out that only 18% of all Swedish wool was being used. And that wool is an amazing material that is very versatile. Wool does not need to be shipped from Australia or South America to be soft and have an excellent quality. We actually have sheep in Sweden that have all kinds of different wool qualities.

Your approach to building up your collection is truly innovative not just in the fashion industry, but you are challenging the standards of sustainable fashion itself. You are planning to release just one new item per year. Will each Edition be a reinterpretation of a classic wardrobe piece?
Yes, that is the idea. I think everyone has a set of favourites in their wardrobe that they keep coming back to, something that makes them happy, like an old friend.

Looking in my own wardrobe, I have a favourite trench, a favourite pair of Chelsea boots, and, of course, a favourite sweatshirt.

I think a lot of favourite garments are classic pieces. Our vision is to make the most sustainable version of each one of these garments.

What do you think is/will be the most challenging part of making fashion this way?
The most challenging part of making fashion this way is how uncompromising we want to be.

It’s not hard to make garments in Sweden, but it is hard if you want all the materials to be farmed in Sweden, without chemicals. This restriction we put on ourselves has limited the materials we have to work with, which is why we went with wool.

Additionally, much of the knowledge and infrastructure that used to exist in Sweden now no longer exist, as garment manufacturing has long since been moved to countries where the cost of labour isn’t so high.

Some of the steps in the process have to be done outside of Sweden because the mills that could have done it closed down. To give an example, we had to send our wool to Italy to be turned into worsted wool because no one in Sweden could do it any more.

However, it’s not all bad. The few people who are left, and especially those who I have been in contact with, are incredibly passionate and really helpful.
 

A New Sweden, Edition 1: The sweatshirt | photo: Niklas Bergstrand

 
You have been working in fashion for 15 years and before founding A New Sweden you designed for some of the world’s leading fashion houses. The textile industry and its products have shaped the contemporary world more than anything else. The disposal of textile waste is one of the biggest preoccupations we have at the moment. How do you see the future of fashion? As the founder of a socially conscious fashion brand, do you think there is a significatly increased interest in the locally-made, in craftsmanship and mindful shopping or do you think it will take mass action to curb our addiction to mass-produced, cheap products?
Hmm, this is a tricky one. There’s the future of fashion that the optimistic part of me would like to see, and the future of fashion that… the less optimistic part of me sees.

The less optimistic side of me thinks that the only way that we can stop the impact the fashion industry has is through policy.

One aspect of textile waste is plastic. Plastic is a global problem – a garment made in Vietnam out of fabric made in Bangladesh, commissioned by a company in Sweden, bought by a consumer in the United States sheds microplastic that finds itself in the gut of a turtle swimming in the Indian ocean. How do we stop this plastic from entering our ecosystems? Do we prevent the consumer from washing their clothes? Do we stop the company in Sweden from using polyester? Or prevent the fabric maker in Bangladesh? This problem is so faceted.

Ideally, I would want people to move more towards an idea of a personal style than to continue along the lines of fashion. Fashion is moving so fast now, that even many people who buy fast fashion can’t keep up with all the styles and there is a level of apathy. I hope customers will start to feel that the fast fashion brands see them as an endless supply of money to be drained.

And what do you think is the first thing every individual should do in order to address this issue, any tip that may help someone else just starting out on their sustainable journey?
First thing – don’t throw anything out! The least sustainable thing anyone could do right now is to entirely replace their current wardrobe with a “sustainable” one.

The most important thing is not to buy “more” sustainable, but rather buy “less” everything. Even the most sustainably made garment still has a footprint.
 

photo: A New Sweden | Edition 1: The sweatshirt

 
What does style mean to you?
Style can be so many things, it’s very personal in the end. I love looking at people in the street with different styles, it’s very inspiring.

A person’s style often shapes the first impression you get of people, so it is very important. But most important is to dress the way you feel like, not cause it is a trend or it should be in a certain way. I think people that are comfortable in their clothes automatically bring their style to a higher level.

Lisa, you are an inspiration for design with purpose. But who and what inspires you on a daily basis?
Greta Thunberg is a big inspiration right now. I went with my family to the climate protest two Fridays ago, and I think it’s such an important message that she is putting out there.
 
 

 
 
 

“The least sustainable thing anyone
could do right now is to entirely
replace their current wardrobe
with a ‘sustainable’ one.”

 
 
 
 
 

photo: Lisa Bergstrand, founder and creative director of A New Sweden

 
 
We live in a hectic world and more and more people are trying to go back to basics, to find a balance, to live mindfully. How do you find balance every day? How do you live life as a conscious choice?
I wish I had an easy answer for finding balance! I think it’s very difficult to actually live in the way I wish. Often real conscious options in every-day life are hard to find. For example, in our supermarket, all the organic and biodynamic vegetables and fruit are packaged in plastic, not to mention that some are flown halfway around the world! The best I can do is to buy as little as I need, and make the best choices with the information I have, and try to waste nothing.
 
In this time and age, what do you wish people appreciated more (not just fashion-wise)?
I wish people appreciated themselves and what they already had more. If we appreciated what we already have, we wouldn’t have the need to buy so many things we don’t need.
 
 

photo: A New Sweden

 

Website and online shop: anewsweden.com
Instagram: @a.new.sweden | Facebook: A New Sweden

 

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