INTERVIEW WITH WENDY HEIJNE - THE FOUNDER OF STUDIO HEIJNE
I had the pleasure to meet and interview Wendy Heijne a few weeks ago, about the Stockholm based concept store Studio Heijne. As you probably already are aware of, the fashion industry is known for being unsustainable; both in regard to producing clothes with unsustainable materials, not caring about labour rights adequately and engaging in mass and overproduction. Studio Heijne however, is not the standard fashion brand - they put a lot of thought into the sustainability aspects of their business.
Studio Heijne launched in 2016 during Stockholm Fashion Week. The first year mainly consisted of online sales, a pop-up shop and events. After that initial first year, they opened their store, making it easier for people to visit them and try on the clothes.
"I always wanted to start my own fashion brand, but started to work at H&M since I did not feel ready for starting my own brand. After about 10 years I met a lot of students through work and was inspired by a lot of their ideas. I talked to them about H&M and how they work with sustainability, but the students questioned the fact that it's mass production. I thought that they were right, so I started to question it."
There are two main things you should know about this brand; they are passionate about both personalized and sustainable fashion. Buying regular clothes today means having to buy standard sizes. I believe we all have had trouble with this from time to time - I sure have! I'm usually a size S, but I often have trouble with sleeves and trousers being too long since I am quite short. Some clothes do not really fit in the right way either since all bodies are different. This is an issue that Heijne highlights and therefore produces clothes with the perfect fit. How this is done, you might wonder? On their website, you can add your personal measurements and thereby getting a perfectly fitted piece of clothing.
"People really like the concept; both sustainable and a new way of thinking about sizes."
Since launching the brand, the reactions have been great. Wendy Heijne explained how there was a lot of press during the event when they launched and that they even were featured in American Vogue.
Since Studio Heijne makes clothes on demand, they avoid both mass production and overproduction - which means not having clothes going to waste. We talked a bit about Wendy Heijnes background working at H&M, where the approach is quite different. Standard sizes are such a big part of the fast fashion industry, since it makes it possible for companies to mass produce.
"Standard sizes is just something we made up, for the mass production of clothes. You have to make this standard size system, otherwise you can't mass produce. But actually, no one has a standard size."
People like that the brand is sustainable and have custom made clothes, since some of their consumers prefer to invest more when buying clothes; quality over quantity. The goal, Heijne explained, is to make clothes which people invest more time, money and thought into - thus keeping them for a longer period of time. Compared to previously working with fast fashion, this is a big change.
"I used to work in fast fashion and I was shocked about how the conversations went; 'our costumers buy it and wear it once' - it shocked me. So little love for each garment."
Since I was curious about how the production works, I asked several questions regarding how the clothes are made. Concerning the production of the clothes, Heijne told me that there are several criteria that must be met. The production place must have good working conditions; in other words, the workers must be paid fairly, the working environment must be good and the workers should not work too much.
Heijne told me that the production of the clothes is based in Lithuania and the scarfs are made in China. She has visited the atelier in Lithuania and knows what the people working there are paid. Concerning the production in China, there is an agency involved which works with sustainable production. Therefore she feels reassured that the place of production is reliable.
We further talked about trust and how difficult it might be to actually trust a brand that says that they are sustainable. Even though Heijne trusts the agency, she tells me that it of course can be hard to know for sure that everything is done right. She explained that it is not usually a problem with such a small brand, since small brands often have much more control over the production. However, there might be some difficulties regarding the materials; as a small brand it is harder to get all the information you might want. Heijne explained that even though it might say that the materials are imported from Holland, the fibres come from China. Knowing exactly where they come from might be difficult and requires resources that smaller brands not always have.
"As a small brand, the sourcing for sustainable fabrics is actually a challenge. It's not as easy as with normal fabrics. As a small brand you can only buy small quantities, so then you are quite limited. But it's not a super big challenge."
Therefore she has decided that in the future, when looking for new materials, she will only use certified fabrics. Certified fabrics make it easier for brands to actually trust that the fabric is made in a sustainable way, since it often means that a third party checks the production.
"I have decided that in the future, when I'm sourcing for new materials I will only use certified fabrics, like GOTS-certified, so I know that they have done the work with checking that the material is made in a good way."
I told Heijne that even though I am so interested in this and really want to learn and know more about which brands that are sustainable and not, I find it to be difficult. I check brands websites to see what they say. A brand can seem transparent, but it's difficult for me as a consumer to know how transparent they actually are, since I cannot see what they are not showing me. Heijne told me that they value transparency and try to be transparent regarding how their clothes are made - since it makes it easier for consumers to know what they are buying.
When talking about the fashion industry and sustainability issues, we often hear about transparency and how important it is. The reason for this is that transparency leads to accountability, and by holding brands accountable the industry can change. I asked Heijne about this and she told me that it is not always easy to get all of the questions one might have answered.
"It is difficult to get answers to all my questions for the suppliers. It's difficult to get a good overview. There is a lack of transparency in the industry."
I asked Heijne what she thought that they could improve, sustainability-wise, and she told me that there are several aspects of their production which they plan to improve in the future. For example phase out some of the materials and replace them with more sustainable ones; either recycled materials or using certified fabrics like Tencel and GOTS. They could also improve regarding transportation.
I really enjoyed talking with Wendy Heijne and felt as if I learned a lot about how a smaller brand can work in a more sustainable way. I want to end this post with this quote, which I find to describe Studio Heijne's main core very well:
"The core is to not overproduce, that's what's standing out compared to other brands. Other things are also a part of it though; the people who are producing the clothes and the materials."