Industry unity at Borås Textile Days

Observations from a workshop on Fashion industry collaboration during Borås Textile Days.
November 22, 2023
Me with John-Jamal Gille, Project Director of ASFB,
and PR executive Neda Modiri Sadejou at the Fabric of Life Award. Photo: Louise Xin.

It almost made last week’s column feel foreboding, arriving at Borås Textile Week last Tuesday. Coming off my ramblings on the need for collaboration, I stepped into a workshop hosted by Marketplace Borås and the Swedish Fashion Council, aptly focused on the term “collaboration”. 

A group of 30 or so operatives from both coasts of the Swedish fashion scene spent half a day reasoning and rationalising how our nation’s textile and fashion industry could better work together, both across organisations, and in relation to the lawmakers who are tasked with steering the transformation of the next few years. 

It made me think that the Swedish fashion scene just might be more collaborative than ever before.

 There was a time, in a not-so-distant past, when discord ensued in the industry, and organisations like Swedish Fashion Council (SFC) and Association of Swedish Fashion Brands (ASFB) were in constant bickering, with Stockholm Fashion District in Nacka Strand as the polite observer, and the batch of structures in the old textile center of Borås feeling like distant satellites, far from the epicenter of fashion weeks in the capital. 

There is much to say about these old times of conflict and drama, the infighting over the state of Stockholm Fashion Week, and the constant dichotomy between the cool brands that constituted the ”Swedish fashion wonder” and the commercial power of the wider industry. But it doesn’t make much sense to open old wounds, except to say that one of the consequences of this era in Swedish fashion infighting became the rise of Copenhagen Fashion Week as the global center for Nordic fashion. It’s probably for the better.

What’s more important is that this has left the Swedish fashion industry as a collection of companies and organisations that seem keener on collaborating than ever before. Previous arch rivals Swedish Fashion Council and Association of Swedish Fashion Brands were both in attendance at the workshop, which was led by Philip Warkander, Senior Lecturer at the Swedish School of Textiles, who once came on our podcast to talk about why “fashion has become unfashionable”.

It seems like the Swedish industry has found a new type of purpose, fuelled by Fashion Council’s talk about the need for a new fashion system, the rise of the tech researchers at Science Park Borås, and – dare I say – a few seasons of Transformation Conference organised by Scandinavian MIND and Stockholm Fashion District (whose experienced CEO Helena Waker added much-appreciated gravitas to the workshop). 

The conversations last week circled around how to tackle upcoming legislations from the European Union and empowering new business models like rental, reselling, and up-cycling. A theme that continued into the evening, when the Fabric of Life Award was handed out to upcycling mastermind Ellen Hodakova Larsson, “paving the way for change in fashion eco-system”, and a lifetime achievement award to Sanjeev Bahl of Saitex, praised for being a “pioneer in sustainable manufacturing” and utilizing “cutting-edge technologies to minimize its environmental impact”. 

Selam Fessahaye and Louise Xin at the Fabric of Life Award. Image kindly borrowed from Louise’s Instagram.

I had a great time schmoozing the halls of Textilmuseet, and finally meeting some of the nation’s leading fashion researchers, designers, and entrepreneurs, many of whom have filled our newsfeeds in the last three years. From AI researcher Jonas Larsson, “redesign doctor” Anna Lidström, professor Clemens Thornquist, textile strategist Susanne Nejderås, to executives like Pierre Rosengren (CEO, Marketplace Borås), Erik Bresky (CEO, Science Park), Moon Suck Song (CEO, Panagora), Ted Boman (CEO, Gina Tricot), Elisabeth Peregi (CEO, Kappahl), and the renowned Paul Frankenius, fashion executive gone investor and initiator of the Fabric of Life Award. 

The most inspiring was finally meeting and getting to know former prize winners Selam Fessahaye and Louise Xin, both of whom have built their careers on their own, sharply phrased point-of-view. At the post-event dinner, I was fortunate to learn more about the activism of the Louise Xin, who seems to have made her collections as a tool for fighting workers’ rights in the fashion industry. 

The night left me hopeful that our industry is on the right track towards transformation. Swedish fashion in the year 2023 is all about sustainability, technology, and a new sense of responsibility.