Wiman is the founder and CEO of The_Wiman, a Stockholm-based circular slow fashion brand for women, built on a permanent collection expanding over time, second-hand, and upcycling. As such, the label does as so many others and offers to buy back its design from the customers to prolong the lifespan of each garment.
— The garments that are sold back to us, she says, are either sold again, second hand, online or upcycled into a completely new garment and launched in a future upcycled collection. We know the garment best and how to recycle and deconstruct it for maximum use of the fabric. There are of course many different channels today, both physical and digital, where you can buy and sell clothing but I think it is a great way to grow the brand community and gain insights from our customers to offer to take the garments back.
This mindset, Wiman continues, also forces her and the team to be super careful in the design process of developing new pieces.
— We need to pay attention to details and think about how to work with the garment in a second and third loop and for many different reasons, I have also grown very fond of working with mono materials instead of mixed composition.
For Wiman, the environmental and social values are strong — and she believes that this drives her customers too.
— Every time I talk to someone and explain what we do, not only do I always get a very positive response but oftentimes, that person supports us in some way. And when we are mentioned in a ’sustainable context’ in media, the traffic to our online shop is boosted. There are so many well-informed customers out there and they demand transparency. In the beginning, most customers I spoke to saw second-hand as something nice to add for a personal touch. Today, more and more customers only shop second-hand based on personal principles that partly or fully are based on awareness around sustainability.
The brand’s collection is partly produced by a family company in Portugal and partly in Sweden by Fugeetex, offering a circular and resource-efficient production model that counteracts overproduction and reduces the environmental footprint. The production company develops existing craftsmanship skills among newly arrived in Sweden, aiming to transform the fashion industry’s demand and needs into integration and employment.
What are the main differences between working with Swedish and Portuguese production?
— My experience is that lead times in projects are shorter in general and the costs are slightly higher in Sweden. Choosing local production has also enabled us to work with smaller volumes, which is very important. Over-production is a well-known challenge in the industry overall so it feels great partnering with someone that works with small-scale production, it helps us a great deal in our planning and mitigating risk. Another aspect is the timing and speed in the development of new pieces. Connected to us being a startup, it is always challenging not to be highly prioritised. A large-scale production company of course also serves larger customers that they need to pay close attention to — I’m sure that any smaller business can relate to this and it all comes down to building on the relationship over time, says Wiman. She continues:
— When I first travelled to Portugal to meet up with a bunch of potential suppliers, I was not sure what to expect. I spent several hours having meetings with different stakeholders over lunch, dinner, and coffee, talking to staff, and auditing the facilities and work environment. I learned a lot of course, about spinning and dyeing processes, craftsmanship, and their different capacities. But what was most important was the people and our communication. I was lucky — or maybe I had done good research — when I found one family company that understood my vision. What has been really interesting to learn is that you for sure can find partners across Europe that are truly committed to being a part of the solution in the industry. The willingness to change and find more sustainable solutions are also high in general and so is the willingness to invest in different projects, such as the implementation of solar panels, work environment improvements, and projects that benefit the local community. Another reflection is that Portugal has a really strong culture around the textile industry and lots of inherited knowledge and competence in general and in several categories. But to me, it has been a little challenging to find suppliers that are more experienced in tailoring and more demanding techniques.
What have you learned from starting your own brand?
— Like any startup, you dream big already before and when you create the company but to make any of it a reality is so many hours of hard work, low or non-existing budgets and some dead ends in different projects. Even though I have experience in product development, sourcing, and supply chain and have a valuable network of people around me, it is challenging to establish partnerships with different suppliers. I’ve for sure been tempted to go an easier way — locate production somewhere cheaper — but then I have reminded myself why the brand exists. We are still bootstrapped so the financing of different projects has for sure been the biggest challenge together with finding the right partners. There is some really interesting research available out there that clearly states what the biggest pain points on ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) issues are and when you really understand those, it is easier to choose what to do and what not to. When it comes to sourcing fabrics it is quite tricky to navigate. Knowing this is one of the most important decisions in the whole process and it for sure also adds pressure and it is for sure a challenge to get it all right — composition and transparency, method of production, quantity, price, and availability. In a sense though, it is easier when you know what you do not want…, says Wiman.