Finns at the forefront of fashion’s next phase
Observations from two conversations on the future of Nordic fashion.
12 Jun 2024

It’s not always you are blessed with visiting Helsinki two weeks in a row, but that’s exactly how I started summer season here at Scandinavian MIND. First, with our Suomen edition of Transformation Conference during Fashion in Helsinki two weeks ago, and then hosting a special session on Fashion and VC funding during the tech event Arctic15 last week. 

The sessions were an interesting peek into the Finnish fashion psyche, which is rife with great talent, growing frustration about the lack of resources, and what can only be described as an identity crisis in the ecosystem.  

Let’s rewind.

Johan and I covered our impressions from the Transformation Conference in last week’s podcast episode, and this week, we will repost one of the panel sessions. As you will hear, there is a heated discussion around the future of the Finnish fashion scene, both from a designer, brand, and funding perspective. 

Young designers are lost in an identity crisis, entering a marketplace that is ridden with sustainability guilt, and a difficult crossroads between going the commercial route or venturing out on their own. As one designer put it in this storypublished ahead of the event:

“I have no idea what I want to do after graduation. I can’t name a single brand in the world that aligns with my values and I’d like to work for. You either sell your soul to the commercial fashion system or starve to death trying to swim countercurrent.”

From Transformation Conference in Helsinki: Ervin Latimer, Alice Bouleau, Jenny Hytönen, Anna Semi. This conversation will be published in our podcast this week.

My first reaction was that it is hardly an isolated Finnish problem. I hear the same challenges from young creatives across Scandinavia, with the sustainability issue becoming somewhat of a tobacco moment for the industry. There is a new generation of talent that grows up realising that fashion, while still cool, is definitely unhealthy. 

A recurring topic around the Nordics is the lack of funding for fashion startups. The Finns I meet at these events are quick to praise their Nordic cousins in Sweden and Denmark as role models for how to go to market with their ideas. While it might be true that Swedes and particularly Danes are good at creating brands and applying a strict sales-driven strategy, available funding is still lacking across the Nordics.

From Arctic15 in Helsinki: Lauri Kokkila, Partner, Inventure VC. Evie Kivi, Investor, Maki VC. Elina Holkko, Partner, Lifeline Ventures. Björn Engström, Angel Investor, BITE Studios. Onni Ikonen, CEO, Pispala Clothing. Kalle Gummerus, Founder, VIBAe. Petteri Kiuru, CEO, Wølmark Finland.

For the panel at Arctic15, I was tasked with recruiting a dedicated investor in fashion brands. It was easier said than done. There is hardly any VC company investing in consumer-focused fashion brands, and those that are focused on brands that are far along on their journey—like Altor’s recent investment in Toteme. It is widely known that if a VC is even to think about investing in a fashion brand, it needs to have reached at least 5M€ in turnover. That’s hard to bootstrap. 

What’s left are fashion-adjacent family offices and a handful of angel investors, but they are few and far between. My list tapped out at around 15 people. One of them was Björn Engström, a former marketing executive turned angel investor who has helped premium sustainability brand BITE Studios. 

Björn provided a lot of helpful insight on the panel at Arctic15, not least the sobering take that we can’t only reach a more sustainable fashion industry by investing in innovative fibres and advanced technology. We also have to support the fashion brands that want to do better! I loved that perspective and immediately invited Björn to come to one of our Transformation Conferences in August. We’ll see if he can make it. 

Spending time in what is arguably my favourite Nordic city, save for my hometown, is always inspiring and gives a bit of an outside perspective on the Scandi fashion scene. I look forward to taking these insights and fuelling my upcoming events with them later in Copenhagen (Aug 9) and Stockholm (Aug 27). 

As always, don’t hesitate to reach out if you want to participate or contribute. 

Top image courtesy of Minttu Wikberg