Think of Norwegian nature. Think of the landscapes, the fjords and the mountains, forests and beaches. The urban cities sandwiched between majestic nature. Somewhere in this vision, you’ll see ILAGs philosophy. After almost 20 years working in fashion, designer Renate Nipe went back to the very basics. She carved out an idea of what clothing should be by looking at where she grew up and adapting to the nature that surrounded her. At the very same time as her brand is launched, I spoke to Nipe about Norweigan nature, Norweigan fashion and – of course – Norwegian fish.
Ilag is very new. In fact, at the time of this interview, your brand has not yet been launched, only teased on Instagram. As the newest brand being featured on this digital version of Oslo Runway, how are you feeling? Any nerves?
Ooooh! Yes, it's very exciting. We are launching in stores these days and the online store is just around the corner so what is most nerve-wracking is whether customers actually buy ILAG. When it comes to Oslo Runway, I'm surprisingly relaxed. Happy go lucky!
Tell me about your debut collection
ILAG's first collection is called "på kysten ILAG" or “on the coast ILAG”, and is inspired by Sunnhordland, the place where I grew up. I’m from a small village called Valevåg, and the only thing we did there was boat, fish and swim in the 15-degree water. Therefore, the only print I have in the collection is of the different types of fish I caught as I child. There is also a lot of wind there, so I made neck warmers that you can use all year round for everything, over a shirt, under a jacket or as a top. All the garments from the collection also have names from different places in Sunnhordland. The sea feels like home to me, so next year's collection is also inspired by the sea, but with a different approach. I think the sea will always play a big role in ILAG.
Judging from you Instagram it's clear that Ilag is thoroughly Norwegian, especially evident in the thick knits and warm organic colours. Why did you decide to embody so much of Norwegian culture in your brand?
I grew up in a place where no one would believe that anyone could live, and every holiday we drove around in our country. Norway is so nice, and it feels like a given that ILAG is inspired by just that. ILAG will focus on the real and the Norwegian. We support local Norway. The real, the sad, the happy, the inspiring, the ugly - which is actually quite nice. Norway has so much to offer, regardless of the season and regardless of the weather. ILAG will help to promote Norway as we see it.
The name you have chosen is also very Norweigan. Ilag is a Norwegian word meaning “together”. Why did you choose this name?
I wanted a warm and inclusive name, which could represent the vision of ILAG. I want it to represent that we work with our customers and listen to what they want. And since I am from Western Norway, it was important to me that it was a word from my dialect. ILAG means something to everyone in one way or another. And also, it is a nice word, both to read and to hear. I even tattooed ILAG's logo on my wrist ... oops, I go all in.
Your name is a great segue to talking about inclusion and diversity. How are you navigating these issues?
Inclusion comes very naturally to me. ILAG I supposed to be an inclusive brand, and everyone I work with is very much aware of this.
You have chosen a very clear approach to sustainability - costumers can directly recycle garments in your online store. What prompted you to create this offer?
Our concept is based on a return system, supported by Innovation Norway. This means that a customer can return an ILAG garment to ilagilag.com in exchange for a discount code on another purchase from the website. The returned garment will be cleaned, repaired or redesigned and sold again as a recycled product. After many years in the industry, this aspect was crucial. It felt wrong to launch a brand without some form of environmental awareness. I also always aim to make garments that can be used for many occasions and want to motivate people to wear clothes over and over again rather than buying new ones. It is cooler to wear a dress in many different ways than to buy a new one for every event.
Can sustainability ever be a core value for the entire fashion industry?
Yes, it must! All brands must have sustainability as one of their core values. I don't know how long it will take, but I believe we get there faster than we think. Young brands can move fast and follow the changes that are happening in the world, and hopefully live up to future consumer expectations.
How has the pandemic influenced your work?
Covid-19 stressed me out very much in the beginning, mainly before it came to Norway. Colleagues I talked to every day in Asia told me what it was like, and I was very upset. When Covid-19 came with full force to Norway, I was surprisingly calm. Luckily, I had taken some action to ensure cash flow in the time ahead as there was a risk that stores who had ordered ILAG's collection could go bankrupt due to closures. One of these efforts was to open our online store six months earlier than planned. Covid-19 was also at its worst when I set out to design the SS21 collection, and when we were not able to be with our loved ones, I got a great need to make a collection that expressed a feeling of freedom. The feeling of lying in a boat on the fjord, together with your good friends, while savouring the warm sun and enjoying life with seagulls' screaming as the only soundtrack.
You already have a long career in fashion working for Varner, but this is your first venture into the industry with your own brand. Have you learned something about working on your own you wish you knew before you started this journey?
Since I have worked in the industry for so long, I think I know both the good and the bad of the industry. If I had known everything I know now, I probably wouldn’t have dared to do it, haha. It is an extremely steep learning curve. It feels like closing your eyes and jumping from the very highest peak.
Where do you see Ilag in five years? And who do you hope to see wearing your clothes by that time?
Oh! Difficult question ... It’s almost impossible to answer. If I have to guess, I hope ILAG has gained a solid base in Scandinavia and that we have more employees who love their job. Of course, I want ILAG to be visible in the cityscape, and for everyone to have heard about it to some extent. And who knows, maybe the redesigned and recycled clothes are more popular than regular collections.
What is your best advice for young designers?
Do not rush, and follow your gut - ALWAYS!
If Norwegian fashion was a meal, what ingredient would Ilag be?
A mackerel of course. Fresh, fast and a little weird.