Developing one's personal style and creating the right, quality basics around it was one of the integral parameters for Emilia Wik, forming the epitome of sustainability for her very own Scandinavian slow fashion label, BYEM. Following BYEM's debut collection coming to life from the very beginning, I couldn't emphasise more the unprecedented quality, immaculate luxe fabrics in magnified earthly hues and detailed tailoring, fitting the everyday needs of the modern 'slow fashionista'. If you haven't gotten your hands on BYEM yet, this is the ethical fashion label to watch in 2018, and beyond.
Words: Hanna-Amanda Pant
Foreword: Sometimes life is pretty unexpected: we started emailing over our shared passion for sustainable fashion and conscious living long before we became real friends (you know, those who meet up and laugh for a lifetime over another Sunday avocado toast brunch, willing to share even the most awkward and delicate details of one's life), which, by the looks of it, made me cheerleading for Emilia's first BYEM collection launch for almost a year altogether. Now sharing the passion for slow fashion is just a tiny fragment of what we have in common. I caught up with Emilia over a coffee on a particularly lazy and rainy day in Marylebone, London, to talk through the launch of her very own label, BYEM.
What were your main motives to start your own Scandinavian slow fashion label?
It all started when I realised the impact my own lifestyle was having on the planet. It got to a point where I couldn’t ignore it any longer. I started buying organic products whenever I could, and making my own when I couldn’t, like deodorants and creams. It also made me see my wardrobe for what it really was: a storage stuffed with clothing, most of it hardly worn. I started looking for more sustainable and ethical clothing, and soon realised that what I was looking for didn’t exist; the combination of ethics and aesthesis for the modern woman.
Being Swedish, I understood that if I wanted timeless Scandinavian designs, pieces with small twists to keep the eyes intrigued, I would have to create them myself. That was the start of my year and a half long journey creating BYEM from scratch. And sourcing all the components needed to complete the vision I had – people, textiles and skills - along the way.
There are a lot of slow fashion brands cropping up. How does BYEM stand out?
Our approach of incorporating aesthesis into our definition of truly sustainable and ethical slow fashion is part of what makes us stand out. Our style and fit is unique in its Scandinavian femininity, a mix of minimalism with bolder shapes and textures to compliment. With BYEM, I want to reinvent what classic pieces mean, so that every woman can step out in style, with details that keep the eye intrigued. All of our pieces are fundamentally designed as made-to-last, both in terms of style and quality. And sustainably tailored to the life of the modern woman, with all the twists and turns that come along.
"Since we are yet to fully understand what the future of fashion will look like, we have to keep innovating and improving our impact."
Tell us more about the materials you have chosen and the process of obtaining a GOTS certificate.
The textiles we have worked with are also of amazing quality, and all Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) certified. So far, all of our customers have actually taken the time to feedback on how the soft and luxe they feel, which makes me so happy to hear.
With regards to BYEM’s GOTS certification, despite this being quite a costly, difficult and time-consuming project, I’m really proud of this achievement, as the certification will further allow us to demonstrate our commitment. Yet, I don’t think certificates are enough in the least. Since we are yet to fully understand what the future of fashion will look like, we have to keep innovating and improving our impact.
"With BYEM, I want to reinvent what classic pieces mean, so that every woman can step out in style, with details that keep the eye intrigued."
What are the key influences that come into play in BYEM's aesthetics and brand direction?
My inspiration comes mostly from the life of the modern woman, and everywhere I see her around. On the street, at work, or on social media. I want to create pieces that truly fit her life, that she can wear day and night, and that don’t exist to simply overcrowd her wardrobe. I think fashion should be a conscious choice.
For BYEM, the key to creating garments that are wholly sustainable is understanding the timelessness behind a design, both in fit and textiles choices. This means that all of our pieces are evaluated on the terms of 1, 5 and 8 years. Because, if our customers don’t want to wear it then, they are too much of a trend piece to be considered truly sustainable.
I also think versatility in our garment is important; so that your wardrobe consists of pieces you can mix and match as you please. Lastly, being an avid fan of personal style, I have taken the decision to keep all of our collections limited edition. Meaning that, once we run out of a garment in a particular colour or style – it won’t be back in stock. It makes it easy to know your garment is unique, and not something everyone around you will be wearing.
Witnessing your journey with my own eyes, I can reassure the amount of passion and willpower that has gone into making your own label happen is impressive, to say the least. Share with us, what have been the main hardships along the way you had to tackle to make your label as eco-friendly as possible.
I think everyone will have different challenges entering ethical and sustainable manufacturing. For me, one of the biggest challenges was definitely my lack of experience with supply chain management, in a fashion context. This made everything take much longer. As I truly wanted to understand all the aspects behind the different types of certification, textiles and factories - to ensure that everything we make is as ethical and sustainable as it is positively possible. It required changing factories once, after already having completed two sample productions; changing the textile for each design multiple times, and many visits in person to our suppliers for proper due-diligence and reassurance.
Starting up a brand on a smaller scale is also harder with to approaching factories and finding suppliers. The challenge was finding those who share our vision on ethics and sustainability, whilst at the same time allowing for smaller production batches. After endless cold calls and emails, I approached a factory in Portugal, yet their minimum order quantity was too high for me. Out of pure luck, the woman I was speaking with at the time put me in contact with a factory close to them, who had just received their GOTS certification. That time it was so new it wasn’t even on the website yet! Luckily, they were able to work with smaller collections.
What is the change you wish to contribute to the fashion industry and its future with your brand?
We want to keep minimising our environmental impact and maximising our ethical impact. To make it fairer, more timeless and sustainable. Fairer, because the people working in the fashion industry, mainly women, are often struggling by under crippling conditions and with wages that do not cover living costs. More timeless, because the current trend of constant consumption over-stretches the resources of the planet on which we rely. I feel that we have lost touch with the true sense of fashion by following weekly trends rather than personal style. Finally, sustainable, because we need to realise the negative impact our consumption has, and do what we can to reverse this and create a positive one.
With BYEM, I’m trying to tell the story, and showcase why slow fashion matters. So that people can allow themselves to fall in love with fashion again. This doesn't mean necessarily having every trend piece of the season, but curating a personal style, which is timeless and beautiful.
"Ultimately, it’s all about rediscovering what represents you, and embracing it. I think everyone should take a step back from the 52 seasons of fashion, and follow their own style."
During one of our casual meet-ups, you also mentioned rejecting clothing consumption entirely ever since the inception of your own brand. How has it gone so far without consumption for 1 year?
Yes! It started about a year ago when I realised that if I wanted to create a sustainable and ethical fashion brand, I also wanted to ‘practice what I preach’. So, I took a time-out from buying any clothing, accessory or shoes, only to rediscover myself what my personal style actually was.
Starting out, I decided on 6 months. To be frank, I didn’t think it would make much of a difference. I think I even imagined myself going on a shopping spree the day after 6 months was up. I must admit that for the first 3 months I completely avoided any store that had clothing in it, to avoid the slightest temptation. I think that once the cravings started to subside, the first thing I started realising was how visible current trends are when you can’t buy them. Suddenly, I started seeing the same pieces of clothing and accessories on everyone. And when one trend changed, I could be sure others would follow suit within the next few weeks. That took me by surprise, but it’s truly noticeable when you take a step back from the weekly shopping cycle. It was also a bit of a turn-off.
6 months passed by and July arrived, but I didn’t go shopping. By then, I had realised I didn’t need to. Ultimately, I didn’t buy anything for my wardrobe until mid-November when I bought an amazing silk dress, a beautiful knitted sweater and a cashmere turtleneck - all second-hand and pieces I’m certain I will be keeping for years.
How has it perhaps triggered a change in the way you perceive fashion?
I soon realised that, instead, it was people who had curated their own style, based not on trends but on themselves, that captured my attention. That doesn’t mean these people never wear trend pieces. They do. But they also only buy pieces they know they will use for years and not get bored of.
How has it affected the values you wish to reflect as a CEO of a newborn fashion label?
The experience made me re-think my personal style. It also helped me decide that I only want to buy my clothing and accessories from ethical and sustainable brands, or from second-hand. It definitely had an impact on the building blocks of BYEM, as the experience made me ever more committed to creating a future of fashion that’s fair and sustainable. If you’re keen to change your fashion mind-set, I would truly recommend going on a shopping ban for a few months. It does wonders.
Why do you think shopping has become such a common pastime and leisure activity, especially shopping for clothes?
I think it’s the way we are constantly bombarded with new trends. And also the fact that the low cost of garments allows us to overconsume. Overconsuming fashion has become justified to customers, whereas there is a missing expectation that the pieces need to (or even should) last, by keeping their shape or quality for particularly long. It has sped up the fashion seasons to 52 instead of 4, and caused fashion to be a top-polluting industry.
How could we change that and make people invest in quality pieces that actually last longer, and are more sustainable, too, in terms of value for money?
What helps me deal with evaluating my purchases is to consider the Price Per Wear (PPW). It is a great measure, which allows you to understand and compare the cost of any garment. You take the sales price and divide it by how many times you’ll use it, and that will be that garments PPW. That means that a cheap dress you only wear once might cost you more in PPW than a quality sweater you wear for years. Ultimately, it’s all about rediscovering what represents you, and embracing it. I think everyone should take a step back from the 52 seasons of fashion, and follow their own style.
"If you’re keen to change your fashion mind-set, I would truly recommend going on a shopping ban for a few months. It does wonders."
What are the key BYEM pieces we should look out for this season for layering?
Our first collection is a small collection: consisting of 8 pieces. In terms layering for winter, my favourite is matching our Cilla Blouse under a knitted V-neck, so that you can pop Cilla’s collar over the knit for an extra detail (and extra warmth and comfort, of course). In general, I tend to mix and match our pieces as they come, sometimes wearing our pink Astrid T-shirt over our Cilla Blouse, because I love the how they accentuate each other. Or our Nova Flare Pants with our Alma Sweater and Mina Blouse Jacket. I also mix them freely with other already existing pieces from my wardrobe, which means no one day is ever the same.
To reflect back, if you could take one lesson from the entire journey of creating your own label from scratch and share it with us, what would it be?
I think persistence is key. Creating a label from scratch takes accepting defeat and finding alternatives, more times than you had planned. And it certainly takes more mental effort than you thought you had. There will be plenty of exciting and creative moments that you get to enjoy, but through the moments that make you want to quit, the key is to persist. Because by doing so, you can work through and overcome issues, rather than be shut down by them.
How can we as consumers reconsider our values and not (!) respond to the loud consumption culture around us? Especially now, when Xmas is almost here.
I really encourage taking a step back from constant consumption. Do a 6-month clothing ban and see what changes that brings you. Give away experiences to your family and friends for Christmas, and take the time to understand what matters to you and them. I also think it helps to try to stay outside the mass consumption mentality that’s everywhere to be seen. It really does appear much less inviting, looking at it from the outside, than when you’re giving into it.
I’m always looking for new ways to stay inspired myself, so if you have any recommendations you’d like to share please pop me an email at Emilia@BYEM.com, I’d love to hear what you do to stay sustainably stylish!