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Fashion talks

In conversation with Fredrik Lund, founder of The Product

Oslo Runway Fashion Talks, by Anna Skavlan

Fashion should be dramatic, daring, new and exciting.But for Fredrik Lund and The Product, it should also be simple. After almost 20years in fashion as founder and CEO of Kaare Lund agencies, Lund saw a market for high-quality basics to balance out any wardrobe, and any outfit. So, in2015 he created The Product. But their product is not completely removed from the virtues of high fashion; a good T-shirt doesn’t need to be repurchased after one clammy flight or morning stretch. Their basics are made to last, as something to love, and something you can’t wait to put on again – and again. I spoke to Fredrik Lund about their ode to sustainability, Norwegian practicality and whether fashion can ever be too complicated.

Tell me about the beginning of The Product.What influenced the brand?

After close to 20 years in the industry, mainly working as agents or distributors for other brands, we wanted and felt the need to start building something that was our own. We wanted to offer something that challenged the stereotypical fashion mould, and constantly push new products into the market, without any consideration to the sustainability of it all, both for the environment and for the industry itself.

Why did you choose the name "The Product"?

Simply because we wanted it to be “all about the product”.

What does Oslo Runway mean to you? Why did you choose to be a part of this platform?

We have been part of several different versions of "fashion week" inOslo the last 10-15 years. Oslo Runway has for me been the most updated and relevant and as a Norwegian brand, and being part of it is a must.

You have no limited edition or seasonal collections, only one line of good quality, versatile everyday garments. When designing clothes one does not have to repurchase or change every season, what are your top priorities?

Whatever we offer must be: comfortable, long-lasting, value for money and produced in abetter, more sustainable way. 

But with only one permanent collection, what can a brand like The Product do to stay relevant?

By sticking to our core values and keep on making great products for people to discover. Quality, comfort and honesty will always be relevant. Every piece of our collection is probably part of any given persons basic wardrobe. We decided to try and make those products as good as possible and by that maintain and grow our client base. But, in a world of hype and with small marketing budgetsI can’t say it is easy.

Sustainability is an important aspect of your brand, and you are very transparent when it comes to production and textiles. Are you taking any measures to become even more sustainable? 

Transparency is very important so we do not claim to be a sustainable brand, I believe that is something to be very careful about, but every decision we make is with sustainability in mind, and we are constantly looking for ways to do better. Since we started in 2015 we have implemented GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard) production, our bamboo is now FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) approved, all workers at our main supplier's factory in China are guaranteed minimum wage and have healthcare, plus we ship 90% of our production from China by train. 

Do you think suitability can ever be a core value of the global fashion industry?

Considering the situation it should be a core value, but I think it is borderline hypocritical if we don’t acknowledge that at the moment we(the industry) are more part of the problem than the solution. Socially and for the environment. Having said that, if all brands, suppliers and consumers made an effort we would be in a much better place. The push needs to come from both regulators and consumers. There should be incentives for brands to choose more sustainable production methods, and there must be a demand for"better" products.

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TheProduct embodies a clear Norwegian identity. Not necessarily in design, but in materials and use. Your clothes are meant to be used, worn, to keep you warm, or cool. I would say that your design can be incorporated into everyday life seamlessly and effortlessly and that functionality is very Norwegian. HasNorwegian practicality always been important to you?

Yes, in terms of wearability and comfort, but we believe this to be universal.

A key term to describe your brand, one which you use yourself when promoting TheProduct, is "uncomplicated". Can fashion be too complicated?

Not really, it is a matter of taste. I believe “complicated” is linked to creativity and I have a lot of respect for that. But I do feel some are a bit pretentious. That is not really our thing.

Yes, pretension! Complications glamorous aunt. I noticed on your website, when describing your brand, you write that “You don’t need another soy fat-free caramel macchiato, you need a black coffee". With this, you place your brand as kind of the antidote to pretension. Is it important to hold on to simplicity and practicality in fashions never-ending race for innovation? You mention previously that it's not easy either, but I guess that makes it even more important?

For us this is important, but the industry also needs creativity, innovation, craziness, humour and controversy. Without all of that, there wouldn't be a need for nice basics. Our statement is obviously a bit tongue in cheek, but for us it makes sense. Less bullshit, more substance.

It’s difficult to talk about the fashion and retail industry without discussing diversity and the importance of inclusion and representation. How are you navigating these industry-wide issues? 

I think we are very lucky to be working in one of the most equal societies in the world. Equality for everyone is a must and I have zero understanding or tolerance for anything else. During my career, I have employed and worked with a wonderful mix of people, and I have never experienced any issues. I know that is a very privileged thing to say, so I can only hope I have not been blind.

With your 20-year career in the Norwegian fashion industry as the CEO of Kaare Lund agencies, what are the most prominent changes you’ve seen in our local industry during your years in the business?

First of all, we can now call it an industry! The number of relevant Norwegian brands emerging the last 10 years is really impressive, we have a long list to be proud of. Apart from that, I would say the social media revolution.

I haven’t thought about the privilege of actually being able to call ourselves an industry. I’ve been throwing that word around during these interviews but neglected to consider its meaning and weight. With your experience in this world, do you think you can pinpoint exactly what brought us to industry-status? The number of brands entering the market is for me proof in itself. Livid, Holzweiler, Cathrine Hammel, Tom Wood, ByTimo, ESP, Kastell Shoes and several more are all brands I respect. I know the people behind these brands as hard-working, competent, creative, dedicated and with a clear vision. Also, the support from Norwegian Fashion Hub has been important.

And you mention the social media revolution. Has that been difficult to adapt to, or has it become a natural progression of the brand?

As a miniature brand, even an Instagram account with only a couple of thousand followers is a great asset. You will obviously not gain a lot of attention, but you can communicate your values and esthetic's consistently and slowly build your following. 

What do you think are the biggest challenges for the Norwegian industry in the future?

Ido not think we as Norwegians have any particular challenges apart from the fact that we are outside the EU which makes the handling of logistics fromNorway very hard.

How about our greatest assets?

We are still the new kid on the block and are yet to be discovered by many asScandinavia’s little sister/brother. We understand, implement and take sustainability and equality seriously.

What is one thing you wish you knew about the industry before you started working in fashion?

That it is a never-ending rollercoaster ride. You will experience many highs, but you should brace yourself for the lows. We have a saying in our company: It might be good or it might be bad, but never a dull moment. It is a great mix of hard work and fun.