— Scandinavian Style Christmas, Without the Stress

I have a winning Christmas mantra this year that goes, “I refuse to stress”. There are many reasons for stress during the holiday season, and I believe that without kids, I am spared of most of them.

Hi, My name is Johanne, and I refuse to stress. I also run a blog focused on sustainable fashion called, and I am happy to share my thoughts on traditions and presents.

But the biggest stress factor for me I believe — like for many others — are my own expectations. Expectations taking the shape of homemade Christmas cookies, a clean and well-decorated house, the perfect gift for grandma and attending fabulous Christmas parties.

So this year I said ‘no’ to the alarming voice in my head, and decided only to participate in the traditions that bring me the most joy with a stress-free mindset. Totally Mari Kondo and all.

Copyright: Johanne Stenstrup,

Copyright: Johanne Stenstrup,

My Most Loved Scandinavian Christmas Traditions:

  • Finding my old Christmas decorations and scattering them all over the house. Our decorations don’t necessarily have a theme, but each piece has a history, a story to tell. These knitted Christmas balls were a gift from a friend, who learned to knit them all by herself.
Copyright: Johanne Stenstrup,

Copyright: Johanne Stenstrup,

  • Having bowls of Christmas snacks standing out. I don’t know about the rest of Scandinavia, but in Denmark we eat so many clementines in December, and I eat my fair share along with cacao covered dates, marzipan bites and nuts.
Copyright: Johanne Stenstrup,

Copyright: Johanne Stenstrup,

  • Lighting candles and just hanging out at home. I think December is best enjoyed in slow motion, and candles need paying a little attention in interior. So I light some, then find a good book (or blog) and just enjoy the cosy, dim-lit atmosphere at home. 
  • Going for an evening walk through the city centre to enjoy the lights. I make sure to go after the stores have closed and the stressful shoppers have vanished. That way I can take a good friend for a walk and just enjoy the decorations, merry atmosphere and festive lights. 
  • Contemplating the perfect present for my grandmother. This year my family decided to draw names from a hat and only buy presents for one family member. Much more stress-free! I drew my grandmother, and I am determined to get her a great sustainable present she will remember for long. 

"But the biggest stress factor for me I believe — like for many others — are my own expectations."

Copyright: Johanne Stenstrup,

Copyright: Johanne Stenstrup,

Get Creative with Stylish and Conscious Presents

When it comes to presents, I like giving a mix of practical and stylish. I have picked some of my favourite conscious presents this year. 

Soy candles are much better for your home’s air quality, so stacking up on them for you and your loved ones can make a better, cleaner and more cosy Christmas. Since I switched I haven’t looked back.

Luxurious socks are great for people who don’t want anything. I don’t believe many people would buy expensive socks for themselves, but once they try these, they might become addicted. So be aware.

Yoga pants in organic cotton for the sister or friend, who is always on the move. These from Danish The Baand are made from soft pima cotton, and look good for both workout and relaxing.

Window farm starter kit for the garden lovers who live in the city. The Urban Garden Company have made starter boxes with organic seeds which makes getting your green thumb on so easy, it’s hard not to want to start growing.

Recycled beanie. If I was gifting a guy this season, I would get this hat from Swedish brand Nudie Jeans — they have been sustainability forerunners for years, and I love how they are turning cotton waste into great hats.

#FAQ Slow Living Philosophies

Roles reversed — what if the Brand Director of Savant, Hanna-Amanda, gets to reminisce about the philosophies of slow living and about what guided her to running a slow lifestyle publication strictly at her own pace? 

Published as part of the study about the relevance of slow living philosophies amongst college students conducted by Aki Kei Maedomari, BA (Hons) Design Communications student at LASALLE College of the Arts in Singapore. 

Maison Assouline, London. Copyright: Maarika Talja. 

Maison Assouline, London. Copyright: Maarika Talja. 

Aki Kei Maedomari: My project is on slow living specifically for college and university students.

Initially, when I started my research I found that Millennials are probably one of the most stressed-out generations, currently. I found that a lot of articles and books were talking about people, who are already working or more established, who have families, they don't really focus a lot on the younger generation. I wanted to see how slow living could maybe help students cope better with stress when they're in university.

Part of my research, I have done some reading and I've familiarised myself with it, but I am looking to explore some details that I don't really know about yet, or perspectives of other people who maybe know more about it.

Aki (A): Tell me more about you and your background.

Hanna-Amanda (H-A): The difficult part. I actually come from an interesting region at the border of Scandinavia and East Europe - from a tiny country called Estonia. To date, I’ve been officially away from there for four years. Initially, that’s right after graduating from high school, I moved to Paris to do some fashion networking and internships there. Soon after, I came to London to study Fashion Journalism, and my final project was about developing my current publication, Savant.

It naturally followed that I found what I really wanted to do just soon after graduating. I’m only 23 myself [laughs], such a baby! I’m planning to circulate the magazine in Scandinavia and here in UK as well, then let it spread out to different regions.

Copyright: Maarika Talja. 

What do the philosophies of slow living mean to you and how would you describe the term to someone who’s not familiar with it?

H-A: To me, slow living is all about focusing on quality rather than quantity. It is actually paying close attention to what you're doing, without losing the goal. It's all about embracing life's little moments and the process itself. I think we should all fear waking up one day when we've been working, say, for 30 years, only to realise, what's the outcome? What have I done so far? What have I achieved?

We may, by that time, have the money and security, but we should ask ourselves, did we really enjoy the process? It's actually about creating a more meaningful path for yourself and enjoying the process, whatever you might be doing.

The key to slow living philosophy is embracing the process itself rather than the end result. I have faced people, who are questioning it, and they often think that [slow living] equates to aimless floating. Actually, it has nothing to do with moving at a snail's pace; rather it is to do with knowing what your priorities are and setting a pace for yourself to reach the end result. I also think that it's a natural backlash culture that follows suit the digitalisation of life’s every aspect, and all those fancy applications that we're so keen on using. It's about slowing down this speed culture that has exhausted us all. 

That's actually is true, because when I was talking about slow living with my friends, they thought that it's about like doing everything at a slow pace. Like physically slow and being lazy.

H-A: [laughter]. Let’s just say that’s a common misconception. It's not about speeding up, it's not about slowing down, but just everyone should know what's the goal they want to reach. [It’s about] doing everything at the pace that's necessary for reaching it.

How did you become interested in slow living and when did you first come across the slow lifestyle?

H-A: Actually, I've been more interested in it from the time Kinfolk, the magazine, has been around, so roughly from 2011. But to reflect back, I also came across the concept when I used to live in Paris — the French have this term called joie de vivre, which means enjoying the cheerfulness of the everyday, taking time to enjoy life’s little moments. You see people sitting on those pavement terraces after long work hours, observing their surroundings with a hot or cold beverage, and doing absolutely nothing, like people watching. Because they really embrace absorbing these tiny little moments, rather than just running around, doing their eat-sleep-work-repeat [laughs].

Around the time, when I was researching slow living for my Final Major Project,  I was stuck because what I felt when flicking through all those glossy magazines was that - aghhh! it's just all geared forward by consumerism. I also saw more and more young creatives turning to sustainability. It was like a wave bursting out on its own. These practitioners are really standing out, I feel like they’re not overshadowed by fast fashion producers anymore, or at least they don’t allow themselves to be. I quickly connected the dots between sustainability and fashion, and also gave more thought to the overwhelming blinking, blinding speed culture that has exhausted us all. Eventually everything - my love for slow living and slow fashion - connected. Or perhaps, to summarise, [people are] in general looking to move to a more slower pace of living, because that’s, in essence, our most natural way of being.

We yearn to go back to natural, authentic life as it should be. It's not a utopia anymore, we are really communicating with each other too often in digital worlds. Perhaps, it loops back to the backlash culture again — it’s just that, somewhere deep inside, we feel very isolated and we're looking for human connection again. Also, there's a book called In Praise of Slow by Carl Honoré that very much inspired me. I don't know if you've heard of it, but it collects all of them, slow philosophies. It's a very interesting read as well, which I recommend to all wanting to become connoisseurs of slow living. 

"I think we should all fear waking up one day when we've been working, say, for 30 years, only to realise, what's the outcome? What have I done so far? What have I achieved?"

What does your typical day look like and what do you like to do to unwind, when you've had a particularly stressful day?

H-A: After familiarising myself with slow living principles, I'm not very receptive to stress anymore. Of course, we all experience stress, but every morning, when I wake up I just try to think about my priorities and set the direction for the day. I'm always setting it actually before I start with my day. As long as I accomplish the small things that I've set for myself in the morning, then I have no reason to feel stressed, so that's like a good tip to follow.

I'm also a very impulsive person and creative person, there are no two days that look the same for me. If I am really in London and it's my typical working day then I wake up roughly at 11:00. It may sound very late to someone, but I'm more like a night person. I do my emails for two hours from my bed and I just drink endless amounts of coffee, of course!

Then I make my way to my local coffee shop around one o’clock. I do proper research, I manage my team. I have very few people working for me, but I just give them directions, then I focus on the articles that need to be done. I can also get stressed, even from writing only. I experience some anxiety sometimes, because it's very difficult to just sit in one place and focus on writing for three hours.

When I experience this stress, I just write something on my personal blog quickly to unwind. In the evenings I usually go to some events and I finish quite late. I get home around midnight or one o'clock at night and then I actually continue on with writing until 3am, but it's a way to relax for me. I'm just writing constantly and then when things do get stressful, then I just have a nice glass of red wine. That's what you call slowing down the pace of ‘slow living.’

I would say that I'm a good example of that slow living practice, because I always make sure that I actually do enjoy what I'm doing. I don't wake up the next day and think that, “Oh, I don't like what I'm doing, I want to change,” That's why maybe also stress is not really bulking up in me as well.

"[People] often think that [slow living] equates to aimless floating. Actually, it has nothing to do with moving at a snail's pace; rather it is to do with knowing what your priorities are and setting a pace for yourself to reach the end result."

You write a lot about fashion and culture. They tend to have a stereotype of being very fast in nature in terms of trends. When you're coming up with the concept for Savant, did you find it hard to overcome the stereotypes?

H-A: Surely. I would say that at least 90% of the magazines out there are still focusing on this idea of glamour. But developing slow lifestyle principles is more oriented to the niche market, which makes marketing it more tricky. I was able to be at the right place at the right time and discovered that attitudes are changing, and there's actually hunger for a new kind of medium that celebrates the slow culture and sustainability, too.

I actually found that no slow lifestyle magazine is celebrating fashion very boldly. Perhaps, due to clichéd or outdated views that it may not be as glamorous. I would say it's always more complicated to market something that might not be as glamorous and requires a more niche audience for it. Especially when it comes to younger audiences, then they often get hooked by this term of glamour, or anything that's related to it.

I could sense that there's also this more intellectual audience growing out of this ‘bubble’, who want to familiarise themselves with the consequences of the fashion industry and what it does to our planet. I think we should always ask ourselves, is there a more meaningful way to living and what's behind the glamour?

Copyright: Maarika Talja. 

I guess that ties into my next question, who is your main target audience and do you reach out for people, who are maybe not familiar with this culture, or skeptical even, or those who are actually already interested?

H-A: My key target audience is the generation what we call ‘isolated connectivity’. Generation, who is trapped in the scrutiny global capitalism and is yearning for escape. It's a very international audience formed of creative professionals and those aspiring to engage in creative practices. The age range is 25 to 35. Of course, there are variations and its potential is to offer stories and visuals to any audience, who is perhaps not so familiar with slow lifestyle, too. It has an inspiring, aspirational role in that respect.

"It's always more complicated to market something that might not be as glamorous and requires a more niche audience for it. Especially when it comes to younger audiences, then they often get hooked by this term of glamour, or anything that's related to it."

It aims to get more people interested, even those who are skeptical or would perhaps not consider learning anything about ethical fashion, slow art or slowing down the pace of life. Otherwise I would say, most readers come from the Scandinavian region, and also Central Europe, but they're still a bit behind. 

I also wanted to say it's a very engaging platform. Those, who benefit the most from it, are the ones actually very interested in slow living practices. I encourage more people to come and see what's happening in this sphere. 

Copyright: Maarika Talja. 

Copyright: Maarika Talja. 

Do you actually have people who give you active feedback from within your audience? Do they actually tell you what they enjoy about your magazine?

H-A: I think I've gotten a lot of positive feedback and people saying that it's something very unique to the market. Also, they always say they learn something new, so it has kind of a educative value to it as well. There are a few artists, who follow the stories actively and write me e-mails to be featured. They are interested in publicity, but I still say that it’s a very personal project. I'm trying to select very carefully, who I actually want to feature on Savant. But they seem to [enjoy the fact that] there’s an educative value to it.

"Often we set very high goals for ourselves and then we wonder why we aren't reaching them. If we break them down to smaller pieces and even tinier pieces, then it's easier to find the way out and actually achieve the larger goal. By completing all the small steps."

Since you've embraced slow living, do you find that there have been many differences in the way that you approach your work and daily life? Any positive or negative?

H-A:  I'd say the overall quality of my life and work-life balance has improved. A fun fact is that I actually used to be a perfectionist all my life. I always took a lot of time to do things. Of course, there's this external pressure coming from your teachers, mentors, and then you just have to kind of work at a very speedy pace. I think I've never actually been a big fan of speed culture and I always questioned it. Even when I was studying myself, because I'm a very impulsive person, I get carried away easily.

I always felt that they should be more focused on the individual qualities we students have and we should be allowed to work on that skill-set rather than assuming that there are some kind of ‘universal’ qualities, and thus we can all maintain the same pressure and pace. I feel that when I started taking things easier or slower, then there's this — the negative side maybe — that you actually detach yourself from the understanding of pressure entirely.

Although in my industry, if I focus on the end result, if I focus on quality rather than quantity, it can be beneficial. I understand that in universities, there's so much external pressure that otherwise you just can't live up to it. I would say that everyone should choose the right pace for progressing with their own work rather than necessarily speeding up. Negative is that this is tricky in an environment when someone is pushing you for better results in a very tight timeframe and expecting certain (mostly high) results from you.

Would you say that it's easier for you to maintain your slow living lifestyle because you're your own boss?

H-A: Yes, of course [laughter]. But then again, there are still situations, when I am not my own boss, so I have to know how to handle both ways. 

What would you say is the most striking quality in the artists you've interviewed or met or who have developed the slower approach to their work?

H-A: One word that comes to my mind, it's passion. They all share a very fiery passion. I feel that there's always like a force beyond money and success that gears them forward. They're actually all looking for improvement that could help many generations. For example, avoiding environmental harm, or helping to establish jobs in recycling.

They all have this deeper or more altruistic quality to them that they are actually looking to do things better for future generations as well. And they all show that it's possible to be productive without compromising the quality and the story of what they actually want to produce. I feel that mass production, digitalisation, and speed culture have had a somewhat negative impact on them. They are in search of improvement and they're working towards a larger social goal that's bigger than themselves.

My project is actually geared very much toward students. As you were recently a student, I assume you know maybe more about slow living now than when you were starting up the magazine. How do you think it would've helped you when you were a student?

H-A: I also mentioned earlier there are external circumstances that put us under pressure, regardless of what we ourselves want to do. Even though I perhaps knew about practices and principles of slow living, but our education system is built on getting the most out of us within a minimum amount of time. It's a quite a ruthless system that focuses on the end result. We don't really care about the process and the thinking process itself.

This external pressure often leads to losing focus, and interest, and motivation. I think it would be more beneficial if the overall education system would also cherish slow lifestyle principles and let us develop our skills in our own pace, but sadly, that's a utopia for now. Of course, I do understand why it functions the way it does, because there are still people higher up, who find that stress is a great motivator and maybe otherwise, we wouldn't do any work at all, because there's no external pressure.

"[These artists] are in search of improvement and they're working towards a larger social goal that's bigger than themselves."

The principle of self-motivation and self-development according to your own individual personality traits, or skill-sets should be definitely more encouraged, but it's fairly alien now to the education system. I think I also experienced often this external and internal conflict, because I was told to do so many things. There was this multitasking going on and, of course, I wanted to be good at absolutely everything, which is impossible. 

I was often very, very stressed and I had to push myself in a very cruel way. I wasn't capable of doing absolutely everything perfectly. I often even collapsed or stayed up till late or did all-nighters. We should ask, if it's really what we want actually, for the students to push their limits to that extent? And it's not the answer.

Copyright: Maarika Talja. 

Copyright: Maarika Talja. 

Do you think that maybe it's perhaps not possible for students — because we're both from a creative background, would you say that it's maybe not possible at all for us to adopt philosophies from slow living or that it would be just harder as students compared to working individuals?

H-A: That's a tricky question. No, I think we all have to realise that we can't, humanly, be good at absolutely everything. We just can't. As soon as we selectively figure out what are the skills that need to be improved and what are our general priorities. We accept those, and that these are the important things, and these are perhaps not important things, and we only work towards the top priority things. Then, I think that's already a good starting point, a more balanced lifestyle.

Also, it's very good to just selectively choose the key areas that are good for you and improve them. Set the pace for your own work and also, set smaller goals for yourself. Often we set very high goals for ourselves and then we wonder why we aren't reaching them. If we break it down to smaller pieces and even tinier pieces, then it's easier to find the way out and actually achieve the larger goal. By completing all the small steps.

What advice would you give to a college student who is keen on adopting the philosophies of slow living and what would you say are the fundamental areas in their lifestyle that would need to change? 

H-A: I would say that their way of thinking perhaps in terms of priorities and non-priorities and also letting go of this culture that celebrates, even idealises, achievement. Also, good understanding of your own personal skills that need improving — clear focus on those areas. It's useful to ask from yourself whatever you're doing, is it meaningful and how am I progressing? Is there actually a larger goal I'm working to or it's all meaningless or someone else is telling me what to do and I actually don't want to do it at all? Maybe there's a conflict going on so you should actually reconsider if it has a meaning at all to you and your personal development.

Also, letting go of any digital distractions can reduce stress. This helps to avoid procrastination. That's maybe pulling you down, that you're not progressing as fast as possible. It's crucial to understand that stress is often what kills creativity and your real progress. 

I was going through your magazine and your articles and I find them all very interesting. The one that I found the most interesting was the one about the tapestry (Alex Keha). Which one do you think was your favourite artist that you met or the one that you found that maybe sparked your interest in any way?

H-A: The tapestry one is really good, but from the recent ones I would like to highlight this Danish brand called Aiayu. They are very unique because they have from beginning incorporated a social mission layer into their brand. They have put a lot of consideration into their values and principles. They're actually creating new jobs in Nepal, India and Bolivia.

They’re using the oldest artisanal techniques that have been established [in those regions] and all the clothes are still made by those old women, who really have the traditional skills. And then, all the production is actually brought into Europe. I would say that combining something very modern with traditional skills in a way that you’re actually helping to make this world better. This is a very altruistic, high-thinking prospect.