Emerging British/Icelandic studio partners with the fashion industry to make it more sustainable
Joining forces with manufacturers and external partners to lead the way for a change.
15 Aug 2022

Last Thursday, Luke Stevens and Arnar Már Jónsson, based in London and Reykjavik respectively, were announced the winners of this edition of the Zalando Sustainability Award, highlighting emerging designers at the forefront of sustainability, at Copenhagen Fashion Week. Their brand, Ranra, impressed the jury with an unexpected mix of colours and textures on the runway, which is not as prevalent in more sustainable shows and making it highly fashionable, and also how the brand designed its collection with longevity in mind, with many of the garments being adaptable and versatile.

Ranra SS23. Photography: James Cochrane

Ranra, Arnar Már Jónsson explains, has had a conscious approach right from the start.

— When we started, we really didn’t want to just make more garments for the sake of making more garments — it’s enough garments out there and how much that is getting produced every year is insane. So, the first thing that we put on our list, was that we wanted it to be a reason for every garment that we put out there — be it an idea behind the performance, the sustainability, or anything else, there needs to be a reason for it to exist.

— We’ve also been speaking a lot about how you educate the consumer, what role you have as a designer, and such, says Stevens. Something that we think about quite a lot is how we can work directly with industry and educate the industry and industry partners instead of put such an emphasis on the consumer to make the right decisions. Instead, we want to intervene within different stages of manufacturing and production cycles and really engage with the industry.

And, being a new brand, how do you do it, more specifically?

— Through collaborations with manufacturers and external partners, like the one we do with Salomon, says Stevens.

— Salomon doesn’t work with many others and we’re quite small compared to the brands that they normally work with. They came to us and asked: ’What would you guys do to our shoe?’ And we replied, saying that we’d make it as natural as possible, eliminate glue, and see what else we can do, yet keep it functional. The midsole is all recycled and the upper part is made using recycled and organic fabrics, which we dyed using heather plants from around my house in Iceland. 30% of the rubber is ’real’ rubber, and I think that this is the first time that they have worked with that amount of real rubber. The shoe is released this October and the one we release next year for them is called Better, where we try to replace even more materials with these natural materials, adding algae to the ’middle part’ of the shoe. You have to try and make it better, try and make it better…, says Arnar Már Jónsson.

Do you call the shoe ’Better’?

— Yes, the first one we’ve developed is called Cross Pro and, secondly, we have Cross Pro Better — same shoe, done better, Stevens explains.

You’re partly British and partly Icelandic. How do you work? And how does this affect your brand and the design?

— I’ve always worked with manufacturing in the UK and I’ve always been very interested in how we make things, the production process and textile manufacturing. I’ve spent 10 years working alongside machinists to understand how the garments are put together and how we can do that differently and use the machines differently, says Luke Stevens.

— And then there are obviously problems, with Brexit and such, says Arnar Már Jónsson. But another thing that the UK really gives us is that they have the two, probably, best fashion educations there — Central St Martins and RCA, where we met — so that you can get the best people and team by being based in London.

— They might work for two or three days, or they might stay much longer, but having that kind of hub where they can come and engage with us is important, Stevens adds.

— When it comes to Iceland, Már Jónsson continues, the Icelandic folk stories are very important for us as inspiration. And our instinct in the beginning, when we create, is to address a weather pattern. In Iceland, we look outside the window before we get dressed — it might be windy, rainy, or snowing, you never know. So, a very big part of what we do is outerwear — pushing you as a customer to engage with the environment, to create stuff that you can go hiking in and push this engagement with nature. When our brand got more popular during Covid, we really felt that it had a lot to do with people seeking this interaction with nature. Nature plays an integral part in the way Icelandic people dress — there’s not really a city life and people all go hiking as it’s such a big part of the culture — so to design outerwear is what Iceland brings with you.

You just won the Zalando Sustainability Award. You mentioned it earlier, but how can you, as a new brand, drive change the industry, in terms of sustainability? 

— A lot of the way which Ranra operates is around collaboration. To be honest, if the two of us sat here on our own probably couldn’t do a great deal so it’s all about the people that we can bring on board or work with — whether that’s people in our studio or a partner like Solomon or Zalando. The conversation, exchange, and understanding of how the industry as a whole and the infrastructure operates, the way to intervene and the space for creative design problem solving within all of these things are what can bring that change, says Luke Stevens.

— We talk a lot about how our role is to do ideas. But it can also be others doing it as long as we have that impact. We also talk about creating a database where you can access all the techniques. We’re working on it now, says Arnar Már Jónsson.

— It’s like the Whole Earth Catalog, from the 60s, a ’proto’ Wikipedia, open-source, and DIY, Stevens adds.