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Helsinki Fashion Week ‘22 sees sustainability, digital fashion and war collide

By Rachel Douglass


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Image: Chereshnivska - photo by Kristian Presnal

Helsinki Fashion Week (HFW), held between August 5 to 7, returned in the physical format this year and once again set out hoping to spark conversations around important societal issues both in and outside of the fashion industry.

A total of eight designers and brands showed during the event in the Finnish capital, each of which were chosen based on their sustainability practices and future goals. “HFW has always focused on sustainability, but throughout the years the meaning behind the word has expanded,” said HFW’s executive producer, Saga Weissmann, in conversation with FashionUnited. “This year the focus was on social and cultural sustainability, and mental health in the form of digital sustainability.”

Weissmann continued: “This season our focus was also on slow fashion and craftsmanship. The pandemic has slowed a lot of things down, and our consumption is one of the things that should stay that way. We see craftsmanship as the future of physical fashion, as people are starting to see the value behind clothing, supply chains and being more aware about where their garments come from.”

Ukrainian designers at the forefront

Another mission HFW strived for during this edition was the support of Ukrainian designers, with the majority of the brands on the schedule originating from the country. The ongoing situation in Ukraine, which is currently in the depths of a Russian invasion, was the spark of inspiration for many of the fashion week participants, who dedicated either their entire collections or shows to highlighting the war.

Image: Jean Gritsfeldt

This rang true for HFW’s Designer of the Year, revealed to be Jean Gritsfeldt who celebrated the 10 year anniversary of his brand during the show. Gritsfeldt presented a collection reminiscent of his past work in what he described as a “bridge to the future”. He rounded the display out with a rally that saw people donning posters referencing the war in Ukraine, flashing quotes like “United in love, united in fight” and “Free people must stand together”. Alongside the garments, Gritsfeldt also offered up a capsule collection of shopping bags printed with similar slogans, from which 50 percent of sales will go towards the Fedor Shpyg Foundation, supporting its efforts of restoring children’s cultural institutions which have been destroyed throughout Ukraine.

Exploring a similar message, Anastasiya Rozava, designer of the Ukrainian brand Chereshnivska, said in the description of her collection: “First of all, I wanted to support everyone who is currently experiencing [fighting for a normal life] and remind them that they are not alone in this ‘journey’. At the same time, we want to once again draw attention to the war in Ukraine. After all, art is also a weapon.” The brand’s sustainable collection, ‘2402’, mirrored the different stages of war through the use of colour, material and repurposed secondhand items, and featured collaborations with Ukrainian textile artists.

An animal-friendly future

On the event’s first day, HFW’s keynote speaker, senior PR coordinator of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), Sascha Camilli, took to the floor to speak on another societal issue that she believes needs drastic change. During her speech, Camilli touched on the organisation’s work within the fashion industry and how it is hoping to shift fashion’s view towards a more animal-friendly future. PETA’s presence at the event builds on its long-standing relationship with HFW, which began in 2018 when the fashion week agreed to PETA’s request to stop showing leather on its runways.

Image: Boie&Bill

Camilli noted that while leather, which contributes widely to environmental issues and is often produced using toxic substances, mostly derives from cows and other farm animals, studies by PETA have found that a proportion of it can also come from cats and dogs, originally manufactured in Asia and proven to cross into the European market too. Continuing to detail other negative aspects of using leather and similar animal-based materials, Camilli went on to urge the industry to reconsider the use of these production methods and adopt animal-friendly alternatives.

“This biggest takeaway I want the fashion industry to have is, if we want to truly call ourselves ethical, sustainable or humane, we need to move away from animal skins, overproduction and using as much as we are,” Camilli concluded.

Sustainable innovation

Continuing HFW’s focus on sustainability, other designers included on the schedule also offered up their own take on what eco-fashion is, many of which put a particular emphasis on upcycling. While 7585’s SS23 collection, ‘Middle Voices’, explored recycling through avant-garde designs, Ghana’s Boie&Bill by Ellisha Boie showed a collection that utilised plastic waste and secondhand clothing collected from the markets of Accra for the brand’s line.

Image: 7585

In contrast, virtual reality (VR) focused Only One On Planets’ (OOOPS) took on the topic of sustainability by exploring the use of digital advancements. As part of its collection, OOOPS offered up one-of-a-kind vintage items as both physical and digital garments, using non-fungible token (NFT) technology to add value to the pieces.

The idea of merging the physical with the digital is something HFW has previously explored, with past editions of the event involving collaborations with digital worlds and VR designers. On the topic, executive producer Weissmann said: “The digitalisation of the fashion industry is definitely having an impact on physical fashion. It’s making fashion more inclusive which we at HFW see as a priority. Digital and physical fashion should go hand in hand, rather than being seen as separate opposites. Handmade has never been this valued and attractive, and we see that as something to really shine a light on.”

As HFW continues to develop, its organisers hope to further drive its mission home and incorporate more statements into its overarching message. When asked about plans for next season, Weissmann said: “We are already thinking about how to make next year even more sustainable, by focusing both on material innovation, as well as social sustainability and inclusivity. You can expect diversity on the catwalk, phygital collections and more amazing sustainable designers.”

Image: Kris Marán - photo by Kristian Presnal
Helsinki Fashion Week
Sustainable Fashion