We were the only Scandinavian media at Riga Fashion Week — here’s what we learned
Last month some of the most celebrated Baltic fashion brands gathered in Riga to present their upcoming collections during Riga Fashion Week. RFW executives told us they hadn’t had Scandinavian coverage for years, so what have we been missing out on?

Fashion weeks are often very hierarchical in their rank and how they are compared to each other. Depending on where you are from and how you are defining them, they are often acknowledged with some sort of status — progressive, traditional, focused on craftsmanship, and so on. This is often historically imprinted and maintained by media and the fashion system in general. 

The Baltics — Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania — have a complicated history and have been governed by different leaders and nations. During the ’90s all three countries gained independence due to the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Nowadays, many people wouldn’t recognize Riga, the Latvian capital, as one of the international fashion centres. However, Riga historically has been the fashionable city within the Soviet and the city in which fashion was introduced, produced, and then spread to the east. When the dissolution of the Soviet occurred, Riga also lost a lot of the centralization of fashion production and its status as a fashion city.

”In the beginning, foreign designers were much more popular than local designers. And now it’s actually vice versa.”

The regional neighbour of Scandinavia, however, is slowly building up its fashion industry again. Today, Riga Fashion Week is organized, and founded, by the Baltic Fashion Federation. A collective body that works to support and promote fashion talent in the Baltic region. The organization was founded in 1999, at a time when fashion in the region was mainly focused on and influenced by the international fashion scene.

— In the beginning, our main goal was to promote and show that Latvian fashion is good enough. We wanted people to value our own designers, because in the nineties our audience used to value brands like Versace, Dolce and Gabbana, Valentino, or any other brand from abroad. At the time, I was often asked ”do we have fashion in Latvia? Do you think that our designers are good enough?”. In the beginning, the shows of foreign designers were much more popular than local designers. And now it’s actually vice versa, explains Elena Strahova, the founder and President of the Baltic Fashion Federation.

Each edition of Riga Fashion Week focuses on one theme. This time, for its 35th jubilee, sustainability was in focus. Which was accompanied by the newly initiated partnership between Riga Fashion Week and the Investment and Development Agency of Latvia. That will be supporting brands and designers in their work of becoming more sustainable.

With a seminar entitled Sustainable Fashion. Stereotypes and Reality. Experts and designers from the region were invited to discuss and share insights on the topic. One participating organization was Fashion for Change. An EU-funded project dedicated towards SMEs operating in fashion within the region. They also organize a start-up accelerator for sustainable, fashion start-ups. The organization shared success stories and how sustainability start-ups could drive change in the industry.

The general topic of the seminar was to bust some of the myths that are connected to the sustainability discourse in fashion, as well as giving designers concrete focus areas in their sustainability journeys. According to Strahova, Baltic fashion is lagging in sustainability and she hopes this will push them towards more sustainable practices.

To further stress the importance of sustainable practices, prior to this edition of Riga Fashion Week, the Baltic Federation requested all participating designers to scrutinize their value chains and how they operate — or could become — sustainable.

— I can say that not all of them were quite happy about that. Because it is difficult. It requires additional time, additional resources, and additional investments to go through these checklists. It’s again, time, money or paying better wages. It’s not easy now, but I think we cannot wait any longer, explains Strahova on the decision.

During the week, the spotlight was also given to designers with an extra attentive and holistic eye to sustainability; QooQOo which produces out of textile waste, One Wolf which produces in small-scale Latvian factories. As well as Volga Vintage who staged a runway show out of curated second-hand pieces. 

The fashion presented during Riga Fashion Week had a focus on wearability and simplicity. It also exhibited the creativity coming out of the Baltics. Estonian, Diana Arno, went for timeless elegance. Designer Natalija Jansone presented a collection filled with slouchy, comfortable tailoring. Collected Story shared their interpretation of subtle luxury that focused on materials and craftsmanship. There was evoking underwear from Amoralle. The Estonian brand, Ivo Nikkolo, presented timeless, everyday classics suitable for the nordic weather. Designer Victoria Jonine, from the brand Nolo, focused on understated elegance. Since a majority of the brands are operating on a limited, regional market, it was evident that each and every designer had their own take on the regional style.

The Baltic Fashion Federation is part of the newly founded European Fashion Alliance. Strahova welcomes the alliance and as one of the smaller members, she hopes it will be giving a voice to some of the lesser established fashion industries.

— We want to be noticed [even though we’re] a small country. This is quite problematic for our designers when they are going to the international market. When they are being asked ’where are you from’ and answer Latvia it has quite a low credibility, you know? We cannot change this in one day, but at least we can rise this credibility and the impression of the people abroad that we are worthy to be noticed and be respected, Strahova explains.

”When designers are being asked ’where are you from’ and answer Latvia it has quite a low credibility, you know?”

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