RE-DRESS: Fashion at The Swedish Embassy of The Hague

Image The Pelican Studio

Although fashion and embassy affairs might come off as an oxymoron to most, the two are not far apart from one and other. As Grace Coddington once beautifully noted “Everything is fashion.” Indeed, far from a frivolous phenomenon, fashion tells the story of people, nations, their lives and culture. The Swedish Embassy of the Netherlands opened its doors Saturday for RE-DRESS, a global initiative of the embassy with the aim to celebrate fashion and raise awareness on the value of clothes and their environmental impact. The event offered a unique fashion experience where participants had the chance to come in and swap wardrobe items with fashion fans of all sorts, surrounded by the regal beauty of the Swedish residence in The Hague.

Why throw away good clothes if you can swap them with others in the community? For a first Dutch edition, the turn up for RE-DRESS is a success. The crowd is diverse, from young students interested in sustainable fashion, to stylish ‘Haguenesians’, fashion professionals and fans of Swedish and Scandinavian fashion all around. Working myself through the venue, like many, I am taken by the splendour and history of the residence, combined with the magnificent fashion around me. The vibe was excellent and a little conversation here and there proved the sentiment. “I have never experienced fashion at an embassy before,” says a student about to leave to study abroad in Sweden. “I was drawn by the idea of swapping clothes, I am very interested in the dialogue around sustainable fashion and events like this one are still very rare,” says another participant while carrying a considerable pile of neat finds.

Testament to the innovative and progressive spirit of Sweden, this is a forward thinking initiative with great potential. There is already a growing awareness on the challenges faced in fashion that is largely driven by the malpractices of fast fashion retailers. Breaking this vicious cycle involves more than only criticising the fashion industry and asks us to look at our own behaviour towards and relationship to fashion. Curious and drawn by the warmth and hospitality of the Swedish culture, as naturally exemplified by the Ambassador himself and the Embassy staff, I went in for a quick talk with  Johanna Lind and Lisa Leistra, the fierce ladies behind this event. Turns out, there is much we can learn from our European neighbours up north! 

Fashion at the embassy! How did you come up with this really awesome initiative?

Well, this year the embassy puts a special focus on Swedish fashion and we are working on different fashion related projects. To be honest, the RE-DRESS Clothes Swapping concept isn’t originally ours! In Sweden clothes swapping day has been arranged annually by the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation since 2010. In cooperation with the Swedish Institute this initiative is now also promoted by Swedish embassies all over the world. In the preparations for our event, we’ve received advice and inspiration from our colleagues in Shanghai who quite recently organised a similar event.

What does one wear in an embassy or diplomatic role? Are there any rules?

I could tell you what we wear, but a better way is showing it. Tune in to our Instagram account (@swedeninNL) and explore the hashtag #sWeWear and you can see examples of what we and our colleagues at the Embassy wear. You’ll find that we wear quite a lot of Swedish fashion brands.

What is the most awesome thing about working at the Swedish Embassy here in The Hague?

I would say the best part of my job is that it has so much variation. This week we arrange a clothes swapping event, next week we prepare a program for a visiting delegation from Sweden, we work with promotion in all kinds of fields! And I can’t help mentioning that I feel quite proud working for the Swedish Government who pursuits a feminist foreign policy! I feel very strongly for gender equality, and it’s encouraging to see that the feminist foreign policy saturates all fields of foreign policy – the feminist perspective really changes things for the better, not only for girls and women, for the society as a whole!

I think the Swedish Embassy is the first to organise such a fashion event. Why this particular (sustainable) emphasis on fashion?

The RE-DRESS Clothes Swapping event is part of a larger project. We’re working together with other Swedish organisations in the Netherlands (Business Sweden, Visit Sweden, Swedish Chamber of Commerce) on different fashion projects, such as a pop-up-store in Amsterdam later this year for instance, introducing cool new Swedish brands to a Dutch audience. We’re focusing on Swedish fashion, and sustainability is a natural part of that. Actually, I think it’s quite difficult to talk about fashion without considering sustainability. There are several Swedish fashion brands who take sustainability very serious. Filippa K, for instance, has both a rental store and a second hand store in Stockholm and the company works very closely with their customers encouraging caring for your clothes and maintaining a wardrobe that lasts over time.

And what does the Ambassador think of this event?

He was slightly hesitant when we first presented the idea, perhaps due to the fact that the event will take place in his residence, but he gave his consent and as we’ve moved along with the preparations he’s becoming more and more enthusiastic!

Do you think sharing clothes or wearing second hand clothes is a taboo in our global society?

I wouldn’t say it’s a taboo anymore, I think it’s widely embraced as a good idea.

What is Swedish fashion and what does it say about Sweden and its people?

I think you could describe much of Swedish fashion by ‘less is more’. There’s a fondness for discreet colours and a pared-down, refined look. As with so many aspects of life, Swedes tend to take a practical approach to what they wear, but this doesn’t mean there is any lack of creativity.

I have to ask: are there style similarities between the Swedes and the Dutch?

Swedes and Dutch are definitely very similar, but not when it comes to fashion! Swedes seem more sensitive to trends, I would say they are “early adapters”. If you walk the streets of Stockholm or any other large Swedish city, you see the latest fashion worn on the street. The same trends seem to hit the Netherlands months later.

What are you hoping to accomplish with Re-dress?

The aim of our event is to encourage a fun and climate-friendly way of revitalizing your wardrobe. By arranging the event in the residence of the ambassador, which is a beautiful and stylish environment, we also want to “upgrade” the concept of clothes swapping. I believe this is something that will become increasingly normal and it should indeed. Growing cotton, manufacturing fabrics and transporting clothes requires water, energy and chemicals. If you reuse one clothing item, like a pair of jeans or a top, you can save approximately 15 kilogram of carbon dioxide (CO2) equivalents, between 10.000 and 15.000 litres of water and some 2.7 kilogram of chemicals! Doesn’t that motivate you to reuse?

Will there be a follow up event? Or expanding Re-dress with collaborations between you and other embassies?

The RE-DRESS concept is used by Swedish embassies all over the world and we will be sharing our experiences from The Hague with other embassies afterwards. And we will arrange a second RE-DRESS in the autumn. Stay tuned for new dates and more information!