Chill Fashion From Iceland to Jamaica

Made From … Seaweed?

“I wanted to show that beautiful fashion could be good for the planet, that we can create beautiful things without harm,” said Áslaug Magnúsdóttir, founder of Katla, a sustainable loungewear company based in the United States but with roots in Iceland. Katla was launched in 2020 with the goal of curtailing damage to the environment and providing consumers with clothing that isn’t limited to time of year or by fast-moving trends.

“We are not a disposable fashion brand and we are not a seasonable brand,” Magnúsdóttir told OZY in a phone interview from Portugal, where she was attending Web Summit Lisbon.

The company focuses on sustainability by producing clothes on demand and using organic cotton, vegan silk and innovative materials like seaweed. Katla also employs “zero waste” design practices which reduce fabric waste when the patterns are cut, Magnúsdóttir said. “We have accomplished that with a mix of small-batch and on-demand manufacturing.” Customers order online and articles of clothing are produced within three to five days and sent out right after that, she explained. “Unfortunately, the industry has been stuck in this model of ordering everything months in advance, then they end up with 30% to 40% excess inventory.”

“What is beautiful about [on-demand ordering], if you can reduce waste in the industry, you can create more profitable businesses and pay the workers more,” said Magnúsdóttir. Items range from sweatsuits to dresses to baby clothes and have a price point from under $100 to around $500. That means some pieces are simply out of the price range of many consumers. Yet this also represents a conscious decision to encourage a segment of consumers who think about their purchases, she explained. “It’s really a message to people to think about these as investment pieces,” said Magnúsdóttir.

She also noted that green business practices can be good for a fashion company’s bottom line. “If you are able to remove 30% to 40% of your production and sell still the same number of items, you could argue that your margin doesn’t have to be as high — and you can have more flexibility in pricing,” she explained.

Katla is also developing technology to use seaweed sourced from the isolated Sleepy Islands off the western coast of Magnúsdóttir’s native Iceland. Some items now contain a seaweed blend, but the goal is to incorporate the material into all of the brand’s garments.

Katla’s focus on sustainability has also extended to the virtual space, with the launch of a non-fungible token (NFT) of handpainted images by Icelandic artist Hendrikka Waage. Fifteen percent of the NFT proceeds will be donated to ocean regeneration efforts.

‘We Have Been Working
Sustainably for a Long Time’

In Jamaica, fashion designer Keneea Linton-George has incorporated sustainability into her clothing designs almost from day one. Her company offers samples for customers to view online, and, when they purchase an item, it is manufactured and available within days. Linton-George sells classic, casual and businesswear, as well as swimwear and formalwear for women in airy, bright-colored fabrics and patterns from $40 to around $500. Some pieces are even available for rent.

“We can have [the garment] done in three days and shipped — it is so much more sustainable,” she told OZY during an interview at a cafe in Kingston. “Every time I have tried to shift away to a more mass-produced model, something just keeps pulling me back to the more sustainable, made-to-order, small-batch, more demand-driven model. And people are leaning more toward that model as they are thinking about where their clothes are made and who is making [them], whether the fabric is sustainable, whether the working conditions are good,” said Linton-George.

Consumers are also shifting away from fast fashion and toward sustainability, as they wonder about the source of their clothing, Linton-George added. “Because of the low cost, people will gravitate to it, but people have a conscience. I have customers say to me, ‘I feel guilty, because when I buy this stuff, I can tell it is too cheap to make sense.’”

Robert Hall, a lecturer and fashion officer with the Jamaica Business Development Corporation, agrees that Jamaica, by necessity, has been operating in a relatively sustainable manner. “Because of where we sit in the wider fashion [world] and the economy, a lot of the raw material that has been coming into Jamaica has not been your first-quality goods that are coming off of a mill,” said Hall. Fashion in Jamaica has been built on a supply of waste fabric: the end of a roll and end-of-the-line end of collections, he said. “What we have not realized is we have been working sustainably for a long time.”

Whether in Jamaica, Iceland or the United States, sustainable fashion must catch up for the benefit of the environment, as well as to forge a more profitable industry, says Magnúsdóttir, where less is wasted, wages are higher and products last longer than for one outing.

Fashion and Planet:
What Can Consumers Do?

The U.N. Alliance for Sustainable Fashion calculates that the clothing and textile industry is responsible for 2% to 8% of global greenhouse emissions; the annual use of 215 trillion liters of water; the loss of $100 billion in unused materials; and 9% of the microplastics that end up in our oceans.

Overproduction has become the norm, as companies move to both spark and satisfy demand, take advantage of cheap labor — and even cheaper materials — and respond to lightning-fast trends. A report from McKinsey found that the amount of clothing produced doubled from 2000 to 2014, while the number of garments purchased per capita increased by about 60%.

To incorporate sustainable fashion into your purchasing habits, there are many things you can do. Look for natural and organic fabrics, shop secondhand (yes, thrifting is great!), buy less clothing and buy only what you need and genuinely like, shop locally, find brands that say they are sustainable, buy higher-quality garments, ask designers if they will do repairs and who will recycle clothing when you are finished with it, hold clothing swaps and donate your old clothes.


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