Consuming Ethical Denim in Sweden
“The Swedish Denim Miracle,” Leading the Way in Future Denim?
Ph.D. student, Centre for Fashion Studies, Stockholm University
”The Swedish denim miracle” refers to a number of jeans labels that have appeared on the market over the last ten to fifteen years. The expression refers to an explosion of Swedish brands that sell very well not only in Sweden but also abroad. By now well established brands such as Acne, Cheap Monday (recently sold to H&M), J. Lindeberg and Nudie but also smaller brands like Dr. Denim, Julian Red, Pace and Uncut Version play an important role for this self-image among the Swedish population.
The expression ”The Swedish denim miracle” is commonly used by Swedish people and appears in the media. One of the latest additions to the “miracle group” is Denim Demon (http://www.denimdemon.se/), a Lappish/Sami brand operating on notions of patriotism and authenticity. Their models bear names from the Sami language, as a tribute to the indigenous people inhabiting the northern parts of Sweden, Norway, Finland and Russia. Lacking a tradition of consumption of luxury goods, Sweden takes great pride in being a good testmarket for new products; democratic and honest; a little anxious but at the same time sensitive to new trends.
Nudie Jeans (http://www.nudiejeans.com/start/), the name referring to the jeans as a second skin, was established in 2001 and is one of the largest Swedish jeans brands. The company website states that jeans are supposed to be about “passion” and deep relationships, my point of entry for a research project on the consumption of ethical denim. There are three major aspects of the website that I am likely to explore. Like many eco-companies in the food industry, Nudie is creating a whole philosophy or ideology around the brand. An integral part of this philosophy is that the jeans that Nudie sell are not to be seen only as pieces of clothing. With the passing of time they are supposed to be shaped after and eventually become one with the person wearing them. Putting emphasis on the fact that jeans lasts a long time and has the capacity to become completely individualised, the person buying a pair of Nudie jeans is advised to wait for at least six months for some of the models before the first wash in order for the denim to reach its full “potential”. This process of how to care for the denim functions as a way of vivifying the garment. The devotion in caring for the denim is also described as desirable for all relationships in life; up close and at a distance.
Apart from this, the Nudie webpage also focuses upon ethical issues addressed via different charity projects and engagement in human rights issues. In collaboration with Amnesty International, there is a sub-site with a human rights gallery and a specially designed t-shirt is available for purchase in support for Amnesty. Just like focusing on the personalisation of the individual on each pair of jeans, encouraging support of Amnesty International is a way of putting emphasis on what the individual can do. The individual is placed in a political context of what kind of citizen he or she is expected to be, interesting to compare cross-culturally when discussing the next phase in ethical trade. A third aspect worth mentioning is connections made at the Nudie website between globalization, over consumption and exploitations of human rights, common to almost all discourses on social responsibility and ethical consumption.
Considering the desire in Sweden to be ahead on the jeans market, a company like Nudie provides a good point of entry for a study of where denim is headed next. One aspect of my project will deal with local responses to denim in Sweden, and how relations are built between denim and the nation. One aspect of “The Swedish Denim Miracle” is that the jeans, impossible to separate from its American history, are filled with meaning of being authentic and typically Swedish, and are then exported to countries such as the United States. Nudie is today sold in 108 stores in the U.S. Another part will deal with how a company like Nudie invokes the jeans with meaning, as a way of establishing a particular type of relationship between the commodity and the wearer.
This project constitutes my PhD project in Fashion Studies at the Centre for Fashion Studies at Stockholm University. My project is going to research ethical consumption of fashion from a consumer perspective, an area under researched in comparison with examples such as food.
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