Swedish fashion – from catwalk to sidewalk

‘Less is more’ accurately describes much of Swedish fashion. There’s a fondness for discreet colours and a pared-down, refined look. As with so many aspects of life, Swedes tend to take a practical approach to what they wear, but this doesn’t mean there is any lack of creativity.

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The Swedish fashion wonder

About ten years ago, people started talking about the Swedish ‘fashion wonder’. Opinions differ as to what this actually means. Is it a reference to Acne’s fairytale success, to the huge quantities of clothing that H&M sells worldwide, or to artistic, avant-garde fashion?

Some people argue that there have in fact been several Swedish fashion wonders, although the generic term refers to the rapid development of Swedish fashion as a whole.

Filippa K and Anna Holtblad were among the trailblazers for the Swedish fashion miracle.

Filippa K’s business idea is to design, manufacture and sell wearable fashion garments and accessories with a timeless style. Early on, Filippa K made her name in Sweden with her characteristic women’s stretch jeans. A few years later, Filippa K Man was launched, and the brand began to spread across Europe and North America. Today, Filippa K clothes are sold in some 700 stores in 17 countries.

Anna Holtblad has received wide acclaim for her knitted collections. Holtblad sells her designs via her own shop in Stockholm and via retailers in Europe, North America and Japan.

Designer jeans have made a significant contribution to Swedish fashion exports. Acne Jeans, founded in 1996, placed Sweden on the international jeans map. Acne saw a rising demand for denim on the market and designed 100 different styles of unisex jeans. Once primarily a jeans label, Acne now produces internationally recognised fashion collections.

Designer jeans have made a significant contribution to Swedish fashion exports. WeSC and Nudie are among the biggest names in Swedish denim.

Photos: WeSC, Jonas Linell/Nudie Jeans

Cheap Monday’s characteristic unwashed slim jeans with the skull label have spread across the world since the brand was launched in 2004. Cheap Monday is now found in 35 countries with 1,800 stores. Today, it is owned by H&M.

WeSC (WeAretheSuperlativeConspiracy) was founded in 2000. Initially flourishing mainly in street and skateboarding subcultures, the brand soon became internationally known as a result of clever marketing. Instead of regular advertising, WeSC largely relied on famous actors and artists to wear and thereby promote their clothes. Today, the brand has stores in cities such as Tokyo, Paris and New York.

Nudie Jeans, founded in 2001, was one of Sweden’s fastest-growing fashion companies in the early 2000s. For the spring/summer 2013 season, 100 per cent of Nudie’s denim garments were made from organic cotton, fulfilling one of the company’s long-term goals.

Whyred produced its first menswear collection in 1999 and its first women’s collection one year later. Whyred makes clothes inspired by art and music. The Whyred Art Project is a series of joint ventures with contemporary artists, including Jockum Nordström. The company sells its wares in some 200 stores in more than 20 countries.

Photos, left to right: Rodebjer; Peter Farago/
Sandra Backlund; Hope

More stars on the Swedish fashion scene

Hope, Carin Rodebjer, Carin Wester, Sandra Backlund and Ann-Sofie Back are some of the stars on the Swedish fashion stage.

Ann-Sofie Back has attracted plenty of attention and made a notable international career. Back has also worked as a designer for Acne and is now creative director at Cheap Monday.


Tiger of Sweden was founded in 1903. It marketed something completely new – mass-produced suits – and met with success. After some ups and downs the company redefined its profile in the late 1990s. The idea was to take suits out of the bank and into the street. In 1997, Tiger released its first women’s collection, followed in 2000 by the launch of Tiger Jeans.

Sandra Backlund is known for her hand-knitted, oversized designs. Backlund has made a splash on the international scene and has worked with designers such as Marc Jacobs, Emilio Pucci and Louis Vuitton.

Hope, comprising the design duo of Ann Ringstrand and Stefan Söderberg, has long been synonymous with Swedish and Scandinavian style. The two specialise in clean, simple lines and well-made details, and seek to produce garments that last.

Carin Rodebjer’s formula is effortless elegance for all occasions for the modern and universal woman. In 2011, Rodebjer launched a web shop and established its first international branch in New York.

Dagmar is run by three sisters and known for its modern take on knitwear. Seen on the likes of Beyoncé, the label’s sensual and unconventional designs have had considerable international success.

Ida Sjöstedt combines ready-to-wear collections with couture dresses for private clients. She won the Guldknappen Readers’ Choice Award for best designer in 2011.

Menswear brand Common is giving streetwear a Scandinavian spin with clean lines and modernist prints. Designed by Saif Bakir and Emma Hedlund, the label is showing in London.

Swedish Hasbeens brought the traditional wooden clog back into fashion.

Photo: Swedish Hasbeens

Fashion for the future

The fashion industry is facing some major environmental challenges. These include a growing mountain of waste, harsh working conditions in the supply chain, the high level of water consumption, and the use of chemicals in the production process.

The vision of the Sustainable Fashion Academy (SFA) is an apparel industry that creates ‘happier people, stronger communities and a resilient planet.’ The SFA’s mission is to accelerate innovations within the industry to ensure this happens.

Sustainable fashion is important to many designers in Sweden. Uniforms for the Dedicated is a menswear label with an individualistic design aesthetic, committed to treating the earth with respect.

The shoe company Swedish Hasbeens entered the market in 2006. It produces sustainable handmade collections using traditional methods in small factories, emphasising respect for people and the environment. Swedish Hasbeens currently sells its footwear in 22 countries.

One of the pioneers of sustainable fashion is Gudrun Sjödén, who launched her company of the same name in 1976. Her business idea is to produce colourful home textiles and clothes in natural materials, featuring functional models that suit all ages and figures. Environmental thinking is part of all its collections.

Other designer labels that focus on sustainable fashion include Dem Collective, Bergmans and accessories brand Nordisko.

Last updated: 29 April 2014