by Jessy Humann
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The Scandinavian countries Norway, Sweden, and Denmark have long been known for their deep sense of connection to nature, and so have many sustainable and ethical fashion brands that are committed to making a difference in the industry.
The Scandinavian aesthetic is known for its timelessness, clean lines, simplicity, harmony, functionality, and minimalistic approach. Sustainable Scandinavian brands take this aesthetic one step further by striving to make clothes that will last a lifetime and have a smaller impact on the environment.
In Denmark, there’s an organization called the Global Fashion Agenda that puts on the Copenhagen Fashion Summit every year, which gathers together brands, organizations, policymakers, and other experts in the industry to discuss the future of sustainable fashion.
The Swedish government has committed to reducing greenhouse gases by at least 30% by 2030, leading the Swedish fashion industry to launch the Swedish Textile Initiative for Climate Change, which aims to help Swedish, Norweigan, and Danish apparel and textile companies hit their own 2030 targets.
Finland, even though it isn’t geographically considered a Scandinavian country, is considered by many experts to be culturally Scandinavian, with similar aesthetics. The Finnish government has pledged to make the country carbon neutral by 2035, and has lent support to fashion industry innovation. For example, Aalto University in Finland has developed a textile fibre called Ioncell that’s made from cellulose, which is created with a non-toxic recyclable solvent instead of harsh chemicals. These are just a few examples of how Scandinavian countries are striving to create a fashion industry that’s kinder to the planet.
What to look for in sustainable fashion from Scandinavia
Use of wool: Scandinavian countries have a long tradition of working with wool, and many sustainable brands are using the local wool industry to their advantage to create environmentally friendly pieces. Sweden alone produces over 1,800 tonnes of wool every year, but only about 300 tonnes of it are currently used. Norway produces almost 4,000 tonnes every year. Many brands find recycled wool to work with or partner with sheep farmers in their country to source Scandinavian wool that comes from well-treated sheep. By 2030, Sweden hopes that 50% of Swedish wool will be used for the textile industry.
Look for brands that use recycled or locally sourced wool, and also keep an eye out for the use of other natural materials like organic cotton, linen, recycled cashmere, or upcycled leather that comes from places like the furniture industry.
A focus on renewable energy, reducing carbon emissions, and reducing greenhouse gases: Many Scandinavian brands that have factories in their own countries run those factories with solar or wind power, require employees at their corporate headquarters to recycle, and measure and offset their carbon emissions. Filippa K, for example, measures carbon emissions that come from all of their Swedish stores – which comes from renewable hydropower sources – and they measure how much fuel they consume globally from inbound and outbound transports. House of Dagmar is partnered with the Swedish Textile Initiative for Climate Action in an effort to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. Practices like these come from government initiatives that urge companies to become carbon neutral, reduce greenhouse gases, and reduce negative climate impacts. Some brands even partner with other nonprofits and organizations to do things like plant trees or promote education in third-world countries.
Working conditions: Scandinavian countries have historically placed high value on things like inclusivity, gender equality, and education. A sustainable and ethical Scandinavian brand will make sure that its corporate employees have access to things like inclusive leadership, parental leave, and vacation time. That doesn’t mean workers in developing countries get the same protection, so look for companies that have shops/factories in their own country, or that have information about their factories listed on their website.
A focus on circularity: Many Scandinavian brands have a special focus on promoting circularity and reducing waste in the fashion industry. By 2030, Filippa K aims to remake, resell, or recycle 100% of collected garments received from customers through their Collection Program. They currently wash, repair, and remake collected garments to put them back into circulation. They also allow customers to lease items and have a second-hand store in Stockholm. The Swedish brand Nudie Jeans has recycling projects, offers customers free repairs for life, and sells Re-use jeans that have been repaired and upcycled. Look for brands like these that have reuse and recycling as some of their core values.
Here’s a roundup of some of the most sustainable and ethical brands from Norway, Sweden, Denmark, and Finland.
Bite Studios is based between Stockholm and London and creates uncompromisingly sustainable clothes. Ninety-five percent of every collection they release is made from organic fibres, recycled fibres, or low-impact fibres with environmental and social certifications.
This Swedish company focuses on creating Scandinavian minimalist pieces that are classic and timeless. It reuses materials from previous collections to create new ones, recycle cutting waste, and add more natural materials to its products every year. It has even partnered with the Filippa K Secondhand shop in Stockholm so people can purchase gently used garments from previous collections.
This Swedish brand makes 85% of its products from natural materials like linen, regenerated wool, chrome-free leather, Tencel, organic denim, and certified viscose. House of Dagmar creates timeless clothes that are meant to empower women and last a lifetime.
Knowledge Cotton Apparel is a Danish brand that’s inspired by the ever-changing weather of the Nordic outback. It uses eco-friendly and functional fabrics like organic cotton and recycled polyester to create clothing that women, men, and kids can feel good about wearing.
This Swedish brand focuses on Scandinavian aesthetics and is independent and family-owned. All its knitwear yarn is spun in Europe following EU labor laws and chemical regulations. The cashmere and silk they use are produced in Nepal in a GOTS-certified factory.
Nudie Jeans’ goal is to become the most sustainable denim company in the world. In 2020, this Swedish-based brand produced 98.6% sustainable products, offset all of its carbon emissions annually, and worked with 100% organic cotton in all styles containing virgin cotton. Nudie Jeans repairs, collects and resells worn jeans, and implements living wage programs at selected suppliers. In 2020, it won an award for its efforts in circular business activities.
Coming from Denmark, Organic Basics makes sustainably made basics like bras, underwear, socks, and T-shirts. It supports grassroots activists and organizations that address environmental problems. Its factories are free of child and forced labor, and it works with sustainable materials like organic cotton, recycled wool, and yarn made from wood pulp.
Swedish Hasbeens makes classic clog-like shoes from chrome-free leather and wood that comes from forests in Europe. For every tree cut, a new one is planted. Every pair of shoes is made by an artisan in a small factory to ensure quality craftsmanship, fair labor, and fair wages.
Swedish Stockings aims to be the world’s first circular hosiery brand. It uses pre-consumer and post-consumer nylon waste to create new stockings, which contain no harmful chemicals. It also upcycles old tights to make new furniture and its production is powered by renewable energy.
Based out of Copenhagen, WORON makes everyday basics that are vegan, allergy-friendly, and non-toxic. It uses natural materials like organic cotton and beechwood pulp, and all of the dyes it uses are free of toxic chemicals for peace of mind.
Wyilda is a Swedish company that makes luxury scarves from mulberry silk. Its scarves are free of toxic chemicals like formaldehyde, and Wyilda collaborates with a trade union in Bangladesh to make a difference in women’s working conditions, childcare, and education.
This Helsinki-based brand makes sustainably made bags, backpacks, and small accessories either from plant leather, 100% regenerated nylon fibre, or 100% recycled polyester. ASK Scandinavia’s products are made in a factory in Portugal, with strict environmental and social regulations to ensure fair wages, good working conditions, and female empowerment.
This Finish-brand’s design roots come from Kainuu, Northern Finland. Lovia makes bags from waste materials that would otherwise end up in a landfill. Much of the waste they upcycle comes from the Finnish furniture industry.
Hasla is a jewelry company based out of Setesdal, Norway. Its pieces are inspired by Norweigan nature and art and are made from recycled metals. Its larger factory in Bangkok is a certified member of the London-based Responsible Jewellery Council, which advances responsible business, ethical, and environmental practices throughout the jewelry supply chain.
This Danish brand offsets its carbon emissions by planting trees, partners with charitable organizations around the world, and has high standards for responsible manufacturing. While most straps are made of leather, customers can choose to have a vegan watch strap if they’d like.
This Swedish fine jewelry brand handmakes pieces from 100% recycled gold and natural gemstones. All of its pieces are made from start to finish in Sweden, and they never over-produce.