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House of Dagmar — the hunt for fabrics with the lowest environmental footprint

The Swedish brand House of Dagmar has been exploring scientific and technological innovation to create fabrics from cellulose, viscose, among others, all in an effort to minimize their environmental footprint. «We are honest in saying that we are not 100% there yet»

«We cannot only look at CO2 emissions as a parameter because there is a potential for there to be knock on environmental effects. We found that despite virgin polyester being well-known for being bad for the environment due to its production of micro plastics, comparatively its carbon emissions are fairly low. We have to balance the short term and long term impacts when taking into account a fabric’s environmental footprint». 

House of Dagmar was founded in 2005 by the three sisters Karin Söderlind, Kristina Tjäder, and Sofia Wallenstam, who aimed to minimize the environmental shortcomings of fast fashion.

HOUSE OF DAGMAR FOUNDERS SOFIA WALLENSTAM, KRISTINA TJAEDER, AND KARIN SOEDERLIND
HOUSE OF DAGMAR FOUNDERS SOFIA WALLENSTAM, KRISTINA TJAEDER, AND KARIN SOEDERLIND

The term ‘sustainable fashion’ is difficult to navigate; to understand what material has the lowest environmental footprint, or which company holds credible values of saving the environment. House of Dagmar, the sustainable fashion brand based in Sweden, has been trying to alleviate this confusion and align itself as truly sustainable. 

 «When we started our  brand, we knew that we wanted to stand for the concept of ‘less is more’». In our throwaway culture, 85% of textiles get sent to landfill every year. In order to combat this, Karin, Kristina and Sofia took inspiration from their mother’s wardrobe; «She had a few pieces that were made to last». House of Dagmar aims to emulate this mentality to ensure that their pieces were better for the environment.

«We set up the three sustainability pillars for our business; we wanted our fabrics to always be high-quality to have longevity. We wanted to focus on production to make sure that all our workers had a safe working environment, and have developed relationships with small factories that we believe do just that. Finally, we wanted to address our design process to make sure that each garment had a long-lasting plan».

These aims for sustainability were in antithesis to the rest of the fashion industry «sustainability wasn’t that well known in the fashion world until 2009/2010. No one talked about it, yet we wanted to. We started to look for fabrics that, in the production of their fiber, emulated a level of care for people, the environment and the animals». 

This approach to garment production is reflected in the way that Dagmar is attentive to the relationship between fabric and design. «We start with the design and develop fibers that complement our process but also emulate our values. We’ve been doing this since 2005 so we understand how the different fibers work within our designs. This makes it easier to weave these more sustainable fabrics into the process».

They are currently participating in the project ‘Skogens Tyg’ which uses scientific and technological innovation to create a textile made from Swedish cellulose. This fabric is in its early stages of development but, once finalized, it is likely that House of Dagmar will incorporate it into their clothing. However, access to these sustainable materials can be difficult to find, particularly for a smaller company. «We have found that some fabrics that we want to use are not able to meet our purchasing quantities». This mismatch of demand vs supply seems like a Catch 22 for Karin as she does not think that the larger companies (who can meet these quantities) have an interest in branching out to incorporate more sustainable fabrics in their designs. 

The sustainable market is difficult to navigate, and with consumers worldwide buying more clothes, and there being a growing market for low cost garments, it can be challenging to highlight the importance of sustainability. «I don’t think that people are prepared make the sacrifices to ensure our environment remains healthy. In order to achieve environmental change, we have to be prepared to say no to things and change our habits». As a company, Dagmar has been prepared to make changes «we have had to say no to certain garments because they do not fit with our sustainability goals». In doing this they hope that they can share the message that «in order to instigate change, you have to be prepared to change your way of living».

HOUSE OF DAGMAR'S SHILOH TROUSERS
HOUSE OF DAGMAR’S SHILOH TROUSERS

With this in mind, House of Dagmar is hoping to provide an easy-to-understand method for consumers to discover whether their clothing is really sustainable. «We give an item a Good Choice label to show that its production is more environmentally friendly than the ‘normal’ piece». Through this labelling system they are able to educate their consumer «we try to communicate, but we want to strike that balance of not boring people on the product. With the Good Choice label consumers can understand, at a glance, that this product is better than its equivalent. They can trust this certification».

House of Dagmar aim for their Good Choice products to be accessible and launched their main store in Stockholm in February. «It’s a fully sustainable fashion store where we only sell our Good Choice clothes». For Karin, this decision was «a way of making a stand to say that this issue is important».

Despite these steps, House of Dagmar understand and acknowledge that, at the moment, it is impossible to be completely sustainable yet have developed techniques and materials to take steps in the right direction. «We are honest in saying that we are not 100% there yet». However, they are developing; «If we use a fabric one year, and find a better one the following year then we make changes to reflect this. We’re constantly looking to find products to decrease our clothing’s impact».

With these aims, they decided to work alongside the European Clothing Action Plan (ECAP) to measure their fiber footprint. «This learning process made us reimagine the materials and techniques that we used. We used to use cotton because we thought that it was an environmentally friendly fiber, yet this analysis showed how conventional cotton was water-intensive and used chemicals that had the potential to cause pollution. With this in mind, we made the decision to only use organic and GOT-certified cotton».

When pressed on this topic, Karin indicated the importance of their clothing’s end-of-life. «By using a cotton-based fabric, we are able to address the full life-cycle of our product in a circular business model. We take into account the fabric and its production, but also whether it breaks down at the end of its life. We’re interested in making products that are biodegradable and cotton fulfills this».

Another fabric that House of Dagmar used that has come under scrutiny is viscose. «We thought that, because it came from trees and wood, this material would be better for the environment. However, what we didn’t realize was that the chemicals used to make the tree fiber soft caused large amounts of pollution. We recently changed to using certified LENZING™ viscose which uses organic chemicals and closed water loop systems.». This mentality translates into the way that they run their business, aiming to grow it holistically and with the environment in mind.

Recently House of Dagmar have been working with The Swedish Textile Initiative for Climate Action (STICA) with aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions beyond the warming target of 1.5°C. STICA has been working alongside other fashion companies to encourage them to measure their footprint. Karin believes that «measuring your environmental footprint should be for everyone. It’s not too expensive and is a way to be transparent and open as a company».

When discussing their plans to become Carbon Neutral by 2025, Karin acknowledges that «to be carbon neutral in the whole company is impossible», yet they are trying to make sure that their garment production meets these goals. Becoming ‘carbon neutral’ has its own complexities; Karin has found that, through researching and understanding different fibers, there are other environmental issues at play that need to be navigated.

«We cannot only look at CO2 emissions as a parameter because there is a potential for there to be knock-on environmental effects. We found that despite virgin polyester being well-known for being bad for the environment due to its production of microplastics, comparatively, its carbon emissions are fairly low. We have to balance the short term and long term impacts when taking into account a fabric’s environmental footprint». The House of Dagmar team understands that there are sometimes sacrifices that have to make in order for them to achieve good quality, long-lasting clothing. Throughout their fifteen years, they have learned to navigate these values while also mitigating environmental impacts. 

Karin’s aims for House of Dagmar go beyond their fashion house. She wants to see «change in the way that the fashion world functions; to turn it upside down and go back to the mentality of the 50s where they made one item to last. I would like for us to accept that we don’t need to have everything, rather we should use what we have». This change in behavior needs a period of transition and, with an increase in environmental awareness and consumer desire to move away from fast fashion, now might be a perfect time.

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