Clothing in COVID-19 crisis mode

Norwegian fashion industry adapts to change in the U.S. market

Brooklyn, N.Y.

Elise By Olsen - Wallet magazine

Photo courtesy of Elise By Olsen
The panel was moderated by Elise By Olsen, 20, editor-in-chief of Wallet magazine. At 13, Olsen was nominated for a Guinness World Record as the youngest editor-in-chief in the world.

Nearly every industry has been negatively impacted, some devastated, by the COVID-19 pandemic—and the fashion industry is no exception.  

To assess the ramifications and challenges, from a Norwegian perspective, the Norwegian American Chamber of Commerce in New York hosted a Zoom webinar on June 3, entitled, “Norwegian Fashion in NY.” 

It began with an introduction by Norwegian Consul General Harriet Berg. The moderator was Elise By Olsen, editor-in-chief of Wallet magazine. Olsen is from Norway and has also worked in New York. Four key players in the fashion industry were interviewed: Kris Goojha, fashion consultant, New York; Alexander S. Adams, co-founder and managing director of Varsity Headwear, Olso; Ditte Kristensen, co-founder of Oslo Runway, Oslo; and Charlotte Fische, founder and creative director of Moiré, Oslo.

Although small in number, the panelists offered different perspectives, having worked in a variety of businesses associated with the fashion industry and encompassing a wide breadth of knowledge. They all had one thing in common: a mission to create a passion for Nordic fashion.   

The panelists spoke about the advantage of the “COVID pause,” for both consumers and creators. The former, who are mostly homebound, have been cleaning, giving time to assess their closets and wardrobes. There is more attention being paid to sustainability, feeding into the sensibility of Norwegian products. The consensus was that there is a trend toward building a wardrobe with basics and classic well-made pieces. There is also a perceived desire to be educated about products and the place they are made, known as anchoring.

One interesting comment came from Goojha, a New York City fashion consultant. Goojha held the first Norwegian fashion hub last year to explore what it takes to get Norwegian clothing brands into the New York market. He spoke of a continued quest for individuality and frivolity, using the example of his friend who wants to wear a turban as a signature piece. “There are purchases people are buying that really make [them] happy …  [that] bring … joy,” Goojha said.

Some of the Norwegian companies represented had high hopes of breaking into the U.S. market in 2020, but the coronavirus quickly put a kibosh on those plans. Yet, no one has thrown in the towel.  In fact, they are now “thinking outside the box,” a phrase often repeated. It was clearly heard from Kristensen from Oslo Runway. Kristensen comes from Denmark and lives in Oslo. She promotes Nordic designers and was one of those whose plans changed abruptly.

Kristensen talked about their scheduled “Fushion” show with a focus on sustainability, an event that had been planned for six months “We had around 45 participants. All was set to go,” she said. Then she got the news that they had to close because of COVID-19, and Kristiansen had to shift into crisis control mode. “Two weeks afterward, I got really sad. Moneywise, it’s one thing, but the time that everyone had invested in terms of passion and creativity is what was so upsetting,” she said.

When asked how they wished to see the fashion industry change, Kristensen had a funny thought about breaking down the stereotypes she confronts when people hear what she does. “You work in fashion; you must be like The Devil Wears Prada,” is the cliché. But for many in the industry, kindness and collaboration are driving forces. Goojah remarked, “that incremental change” is still a change, “as long as it’s positive.”

The core collaboration between the Scandinavian countries is to create the Nordic brand. But how does one define the Nordic brand in fashion? Kristensen provided this explanation: “Norway is very exotic. As consumers are changing worldwide toward sustainability, Norway is this beautiful Arctic country: snow, sunshine, everything surrounding you so clean. This is something we have to show: [you can] have a physical fashion show maybe at Svalbard and then livestream it. Others like sports or music, but everyone needs to wear clothes.”  

Olsen added that there are other romantic, non-tangible elements perceived in Norwegian fashion, a perceived “elusiveness and mythicality.”

The discussion then turned to the question of whether Norwegians can contribute to the fashion scene in a way that others can’t. Fische, whose company, Moiré, offers design, concepts, and full clothing production, was recently in New York for a big launch on March 12, said, “Norway is ahead with naturalness … [in] quality, and in sustainability we are much more aware in comparison” [to the New York market].

Among the panelists, there was consensus about people longing for retail as opposed to digital experiences in the future, much because of our forced isolation.

Goojah explained that “fashion went from a transactional to a human connection.”  Adams of Varsity Headwear is anxious to be with the people again. “I think the physical relationship, meeting people in person will be great,” he said. He is also concerned about helping the stores that sell his high-end caps.

The fashion industry is not immune to politics and the pulse of society, and the conversation inevitably veered to George Floyd, who died after a police officer held a knee on his neck for almost nine minutes, and the responding protests all over the world. Olsen posed the question, “How is fashion responding and what is their responsibility?”

Goojha responded: “As a person of color …  it has been very jarring to see what is going on. … One of the big things about hopefulness in 2020 is that we are coming into an election year that would help cleanse or detox this environment.

“Because of the stay-at-home order, people are seeing what’s going on, on repeat. It has amplified what is clearly in everyone’s hearts and minds. What it has pushed us to really look at is how we address everything that we do, how we are addressing our consumers, our vendors, our staff? …  Are we really, really conscious of how we’re talking to them? Are we aware of the impact we are having on people?”

Fashion is often considered frivolous, especially during times of crisis, which we now have in abundance with COVID-19, protests, and civil unrest. This webinar underlined that this industry, like many others, needs to be questioned and reimagined for a positive future.

This article originally appeared in the June 26, 2020, issue of The Norwegian American.

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Victoria Hofmo

Victoria Hofmo was born, raised, and still lives in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, the historical heart of Norwegian New York. She is 3/4 Scandinavian: 1/2 Norwegian and 1/4 Danish/Swedish. Self-employed, she runs an out-of-school-time program that articulates learning through the arts. Hofmo is an advocate for arts and culture, education, and the preservation of the built and natural environment of her hometown, with a love for most things Scandinavian.