Tag Archives: travel

Swedish Style Diary: Of Food and Fashion

I love thinking about the parallels between the food and fashion industries, but Karin Stenmar of Dem Collective took it a little too far.

Sitting in her office in Stockholm, in a sun-filled old church with soaring ceilings, she picked up a pair of her brand’s new jeans, and told me I could eat them. 

I politely declined, having had my share of muesli and yogurt that morning.

“There’s no chemicals at all,” said the bespectacled blonde, as if the presence of additives kept me from snacking on the pants.

Food is very much a part of Dem Collective’s concept. When Steinmar was on vacation in Jamaica (how innocently these stories begin!), she learned about Ital Food–imagine a Rastafari pronouncing “vital food,” and you’ll hear the derivation. Ital Food is a religious diet tradition that focuses on pure, natural ingredients. So why, Karin wondered, did she see so many Jamaicans eating instant American macaroni and cheese? 

Karin Steinmar

The short answer is not because it’s the cheesiest, but because it’s cheap. But as Karin continued to think macaroni she realized the Rastafaris had abandoned their traditions not just out of thrift, or financial necessity, but also out of addiction to the fat and sugar.

It’s the same thing in fashion, she said, and that’s why the company is called Don’t Eat Macaroni. 

“H&M, for example, they are making people addicted to cheap garments,” she said, invoking the name of the fast fashion giant omnipresent in every conversation I’ve had in Sweden regarding fashion and sustainability. I’m going to meet a press officer at H&M’s headquarters, so I’ll do my very best to get their take on this idea.

I’ve got my own ideas, and lots more to tell you about Dem Collective, but for the moment, I’m trying to sponge up as many ingredients as I can. We can synthesize the soup back in New York.


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Swedish Style Diary: Play Hard to Get, Take it Slow

Over several years working in the fashion industry, and countless more wondering what to wear, I’ve seen the topic of “sustainability,” appear with increasing frequency. And while the fashion industry and the media agree on its importance, no one seems able to land on a definition. The Financial Times’ Vanessa Friedman spent two days at a conference on the topic, only to conclude that “the more you try to figure it out, the more confusing it becomes.” She asked a handful of fashion designers to define the term and received as many varying answers—a troubling result, she wrote, as “sustainability” becomes more ubiquitous in the fashion community.

I don’t mind giving designers a little wiggle room as they find their places in the movement, but like Friedman, I’d like to clarify my own concept of sustainable style. So when the Swedish Institute invited me to Stockholm to learn about their country’s take on the idea, I happily accepted.

What I found on Day One in Stockholm surprised me.

Stockholm’s Old City, Gamla Stan

When I met Piotr Zaleski, one half of the duo behind denim label Julian Red, I expected to hear about sustainable materials like organic cotton and natural dyes, and I did. They were integrated into pieces like high-waisted, straight-legged, slightly cropped jeans (“The Lady Hi”—take note) and a floor-grazing skirt in midnight gauzy wool, hand-painted with thin stripes of watery rainbows. The styles were wearable and well-designed, so I found it odd when Piotr said that since 2003, their company has been growing by about 20% each season—much slower, he clarified, than many successful young fashion labels, that easily increase sales by 100% each season.

“Small quantities are the most ecological part of our business,” Piotr said. “The idea is not to make more than you need.”

Piotr Zaleski

He explained that Julian Red presently makes no more than about 200 pieces in a given style. It’s only now that he is confident with his supply chain, which includes fabric mills in Japan, and factories in Mauritius and Portugal, that Piotr will push the sales a little more—but just a little.

He manages both the brand’s marketing and production—a position that likely leaves him sleep-deprived, but also offers him the unique perspective to adopt an effectively non-aggressive sales style (I believe in dating we call this “hard to get”) that brings the label to stores like Oak in New York City and Isetan in Japan, while growing at a pace everyone—mills, factories and Piotr and his partner Mattias Lind—is comfortable with.  To boot, there aren’t scores of leftover clothing each season, an issue another Swedish brand has reckoned with in regrettable fashion.

This idea, sustainability defined as growth at a supportable pace for a business and its partners, shouldn’t seem so novel. But let’s be honest, this is fashion, and designers and the media alike have been trained to strike while the iron is hot, because it might not be for long.

But I think the guys at Julian Red are onto something, adding fuel to a fire—sustainable fashion—that is better off starting as a slow burn.


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Stockholm Bound

It seems only yesterday I was wondering what to wear in Colorado. As I said,  wondering what to packessentially wondering what to wear in advance, in a foreign setting, is quite an extensive endeavor for me.

This week, my setting is about to get even more foreign. Tomorrow, I’m headed to Sweden!

I haven’t yet begun to pack. It’s not that I’m not excited. On the contrary, I’m sort of paralyzed with anticipation. I’ll be one third of a traveling trio that includes dear Erin Dixon of Dossier and Turner, who styled the magazine’s latest cover–a springtime stunner starring Daria Werbowy.

The purpose of this trip is not to sip aquavit, sweat in saunas, or scour modern design shops (though we just might do all those things), but rather to spend a few days with Swedish academics and fashion designers whose work is tied to the country’s admirable efforts in sustainable development. So of course, I am wondering what to wear. Financial Times editor Vanessa Friedman totally nailed the conundrum of packing of clothes for a trip to research sustainability and style when she wrote this article about wondering what to wear to a fashion conference in Copenhagen.  

image via Ffffound!

Although spring has sprung in New York, it looks like Stockholm is expecting light snow, so I’ll likely bring my jeans, sweaters and scarves. Truth be told, I’m tempted to just forget it all. It wouldn’t be the most sustainable solution, but then I would just have to go shopping in Stockholm.

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The USA, Today

Although I was raised a Midwestern girl, until my recent 5-day trip to Colorado, I had spent almost no time in our country’s middle over the last several years. Recently, I got a little more than I bargained for at the Montrose, CO airport, so I went for a stroll outside. There, in a newspaper machine on the sidewalk: I saw this headline on USA Today:

“When the textile mill goes, so does a way of life.”

I found a dollar in change, and got the last copy from the dispenser. The story that followed traced massive job losses in Surry County, North Carolina, once a hub of the domestic textile industry.

Mount Airy, North Carolina

The story is a familiar one, of American manufacturing unable to compete with cheap goods from overseas, but reporter Paul Wiseman did a nice job of putting some faces on the story and looking towards the future. Some of that future, of course, is really bleak (BLS predicts the job market will lose 71,500 sewing machine operators between 2008 and 2018), but Wiseman managed to find a little bit of hope as well. He wrote about a government program called Trade Adjustment Assistance, that helps workers like Steve “Stump” Jenkins, who lost his job at Perry Manufacturing Mill in 2008, train for jobs in other fields. Jenkins chose law enforcement, his reasoning being that the police force couldn’t be displaced by foreign competition. He told the paper he loves his new job, but the fact remains he’s earning only $25,000 per year, less than a quarter of what he earned at Perry Manufacturing. Other workers are training in wine-making at Surry Community College, making use of land where fields of tobacco once grew.

I’ve sort of snubbed USA Today in the past (“Finches fight to death in blood sport” was, after all, the headline beside the one that caught my eye), in favor of fashion industry stories from The Financial Times, The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. But I’m glad I was stuck in Montrose for a moment, cause otherwise I might have missed this one.

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What to Wear at 12,000 Feet

Although I started skiing soon after I started walking, I had taken a 5-year hiatus until my recent trip to Telluride. My aprés-ski wardrobe strategy was pretty low maintenance, but what to wear on the mountain required a little more thought. Here, clothing crosses into the realm of equipment, where performance–or lack thereof–can affect not just the wearer’s comfort, but their safety as well.

I know of one family where the four kids were required to dress entirely for a day of skiing the night before they hit the slopes, so that each child had a distinct pile of clothing to put on in the morning with utmost efficiency.

Here’s what would have been in my pile for the past week: neon wool socks, Icebreaker merino leggings and undershirt, second Patagonia Capilene long-sleeved shirt, wool (with 2% acrylic) turtleneck sweater, polyester fleece neck gaiter, nylon fleece-lined mittens (not warm enough), a North Face nylon shell and lined nylon powder pants. Although the general color scheme has changed a bit, this is more or less the same layering strategy I’ve had since I was a student of the Snow Bunnies ski school as a toddler, with the addition of one major accessory: a plastic helmet. (As The New York Times reported in last week’s Style Section gear test, some resorts require them now.)

If this sounds like a lot of crap to put on, that’s because it is. It’s sort of ironic that what should be a simple pleasure–essentially succumbing to gravity to slide down snowy mountains–requires so much gear. And if you think ski-bums are all laid-back hippies, just engage one in a conversation about what to wear, and watch how dogmatic they can get. I thought I was going to be thrown out of Telluride Sports when the guy in the ski boot section saw my stretchy ski pants that went inside–inside!!!–my boots. No wonder I had sore shins and frozen toes. Poor circulation, he diagnosed, and shook his head. The next day I wore baggy powder pants, a sexy ski bunny no longer.

But he was right. Although this might be a sweeter photo in stretch pants, I’m not sure I would have made it to the top, and in this case, the scenery is not wearing spandex.

But there is a tension–and I’m not just talking about tight pants–between outdoor clothing companies and the natural settings their garments are designed for. Just look at that list of what I wore for a few March days in Telluride, and imagine how much clothing would be required for more technical expeditions. I’m lucky most of my ski clothes are hand-me-downs, but eventually it seems no amount of Scotch-Guard can make a worn-out shell waterproof, and many fabrics that keep warm against water and wind are synthetic and non-biodegradable. It seems a bit hypocritical to consume these materials and the resources they require for production to appreciate the great outdoors, but the companies that make these clothes do a pretty admirable job of confronting the contradiction head-on.

Yvon Chouinard, image from Malibu Magazine

Yvon Chouinard, who founded Patagonia, wrote a great book with a silly title about this very topic, and how he reconciles his roles as an environmentalist and a businessman. It’s a thought-provoking read for anyone who has ever wondered how to humanely run a business…or even simply wondered what to wear. But, the simple answer, at 12,000 feet? Layers.

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Closettour: Colorado Style

You’ve seen what I can do with wondering what to wear, so you can imagine that wondering what to pack—essentially wondering what to wear in advance, in a foreign setting—is an extensive endeavor.

But I’ve done it. I’m composing this post from an airplane that left LaGuardia just after dawn, headed towards Telluride, Colorado, an old mining town turned ski village where I’ll spend the next several days on the slopes. I think I was in middle school the first time I saw Telluride and I was totally spellbound—not just by the town’s stupendous setting (nestled in a high-walled box canyon) but by the style of its residents.

Each day, to reach the mountain, we walked through a parking lot where a bump-top Volkswagen Westfalia, with the requisite Grateful Dead stickers, was parked, it’s owner likely still sleeping inside behind the little printed curtains. Growing up in St. Louis, the coolest older sisters in my life (other than my own, of course) were Colorado-bound Deadheads, and Telluride was my first exposure to the species in their element. I was in love. 

I bought a tee-shirt from “Baked in Telluride,” where I would walk post-skiing for hot chocolate, and wore it winkingly well into high school. (Sadly, I just found this news, that the bakery burned to the ground only a few weeks ago.)  I would love to tell you I chose these memories as inspiration when I packed my bag, but it wouldn’t be true. The fact that my wardrobe for the week to come could have been pulled straight from my high school style file was entirely unconscious.

Today I’m wearing a grey cotton dress with a patchwork placket over hunter green tights and olive green Converse. (Eva—the ones you bought me in Brazil, love!) I’ve got my rainbow-blankety scarf and my pumpkin-colored Patagonia down jacket to keep me warm.

This look extends to the rest of the suitcase. From mom’s archives I’ve got ski pants—vintage navy Obermeyers with suspenders and little over-the-boot bells (incredible) and the above alpaca sweater (previously photographed in its “Christmas sweater” capacity) that I have lived in all winter. The tag reads “Horn’s of St. Louis,” so we’re really in keeping with the Midwestern-mountain-bound hippie theme. A couple New Zealand merino fine-knit undershirts made the cut as well, as did this turquoise and coral necklace.

What didn’t make the cut is equally revealing. It’s much more difficult, for me anyway, to leave something behind, than to toss it in the bag. Unless of course, that something is a pair of behemoth goat hair boots.


D&G Fall 2010 Ready-to-Wear

D&G F/W2010 from Style.com

Although they were all over D&G’s runway, and a hit at NYC Fashion Week, the only way these guys were coming to Colorado was on my feet, and I just couldn’t do it.

First of all, picture airport security. They may have tried to nab them, tranquilize them and put them in a cage. Secondly, I kept picturing myself rolling into Telluride like Harry and Lloyd arriving in Aspen—just a little overstated. I thought better to try to mix in with the locals.

So, I left my shaggingest après-ski boots at home in favor of my sister’s old Vasque hiking boots. I did however, just open my purse to find my coyote earmuffs—a gift from an old co-worker. You can take the girl out of New York…


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A Clean, Well-Lighted Place

I went to see Breakfast at Tiffany’s at the Film Forum the other night and realized I’ve never watched the entire movie from start to finish. I absolutely loved it, and suffice to say I could identify with Ms. Golightly when she expressed her love of Tiffany’s–not so much because of the jewelry, but because I too have felt that inside certain shops, nothing bad could befall me.

On the way home from the movies, crossing SoHo, we passed Purl, the knitting shop where I bought my first skein of yarn in 2003. It was dark, silent, and freezing on Sullivan Street, but Purl was lit up like a Christmas tree.

It was the first night of the year, and I think they were doing inventory.

I stopped to peer into the window undetected for a moment before continuing to the J-Train. Incidentally, I had a project waiting for me at home, for the very fella who escorted me to the Film Forum. (Well-earned, you may be thinking, but I think he liked the movie as much as I did.) This is it–completed just a couple of days ago. Nevermind that wavy rib.

I started this in California, with the help of  Strands Knitting Studio in San Clemente.

It was a fortuitous find  on my way home from the Casa de Kathy Thrift Shop. I couldn’t resist.

Once hooked, I picked out a skein of charcoal grey Misti Alpaca yarn and the Gwyneth Paltrow-lookalike manning the store helped me work out a pattern.

Strands got me started, but I couldn’t have finished that beanie without popping by Purl, just a couple days after passing by that cold night. (It really takes a village.) I had knit myself into a bit of a corner and needed help getting the hat off the needles at the end. My stitches were too tight. As ever, one of the ladies at Purl was patiently helpful. Maybe she shook her head at me ever so slightly, but it was only as she bailed me out.

You might not believe it, but on my way across SoHo to Purl that very afternoon, for help with the project I started at Strands in San Clemente, I came across yet another amazing, and completely different knitting store.  All I wanted to do was buy the yarn to start another project, but I made myself wait, at least until the charcoal beanie was finished. Now I’m ready for my next project, and dying to return to my new find so I can tell you all about it, but it may have to wait for a day or two.

As Ms. Golightly could attest, this restlessness is exhausting.


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