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Fashion talks

In Conversation with Gerda Sørhus Fuglerud of Oleana

Oslo Runway Fashion Talks, by Anna Skavlan

It doesn’t get much more Norwegian than Oleana. The traditional brand known for their beautiful knitted patterns will make anyone feel like a true Norwegian. (Perhaps even former first lady Michelle Obama felt the norther lights lurk above her head after she bought four Oleana jackets during a visit to Norway). Now the traditional brand is stepping into a new arena of fashion and presenting a collection at Oslo Runway for the very first time. How does a brand like Oleana adapt to the fast phased, contemporary fashion scene without losing their core values? I spoke to Gerda Sørhus Fuglerud to find out.

Tell me about the collection you are presenting at this year Oslo Runway

We are presenting a collection we have called “Orange Sky.” The inspiration for the collection comes from Fauvism, the avant-garde early twentieth-century art movement, where painterly qualities and colour was more important than the representation of a motif. Bold, high-keyed, vibrant colours taken directly from the tube.

You are also presenting a film that you made during the pandemic. What was that time like for you?

The time we are in right now is a time with uncertainty, change and limited resources. We needed to be hyper-creative and productive. We needed to ask for favours in our network and use what we've got. So this film is about life at Oleana, all hands on deck, our energy at home. The ultimate runway is the process of creating something Oleana takes great pride in, and quality, care and people who are a part of the process. The film will express this.

Let’s talk a bit about your history because Oleana is not a new brand at all - actually established in 1992. But this is the first time you are presenting a collection at Oslo Runway. Do you find it challenging to maintain your traditional core values while entering this new part of the fashion industry?

We define ourselves in the longer-lasting part of fashion, we are not aiming for trend. We hope we will be able to continue to be a value-driven brand and hopefully, customers will continue to look for fewer, but more exclusive pieces in their wardrobe. We hope to balance tradition and innovation, and that way we interpret the needs in the market. It is about being true to something and deliver upon quality and craftsmanship.

What do you believe you are adding to the mix of Norwegian fashion?

We hope to add uniqueness and relevance to Norwegian fashion. We believe is quite easy to be either, but to be relevant and unique at the same time is more challenging. We hope our heritage and quality production in Norway can inspire others to make their businesses more beneficial for society.

Your style can be considered quite romantic, almost nostalgic of Norwegian craftsmanship and aesthetic. Do you think there is a benefit in looking back when building a brand for the future?

We are proud of our history and see it as a challenge to preserve it right. Our mission is to take Oleana further by building on tradition and craft, but at the same time be more innovative and relevant. Yes, we believe it is a benefit in looking back. At Oleana we have written on the wall: «fashion is one of those rare areas which reflects both the cultural heritage of the past and the creativity of the present»

I love that saying. What would you deem the “creativity of the present” in Oleana?

Technical innovation, art, design, people, vibes.

You've already dressed Michelle Obama and the Queen of Norway. Who are you hoping to dress now, especially considering the brand's new approach?

It is always an honour to dress celebrities. Our customers are often women who follow their path, who can be expressive and who chooses carefully what she wears. Well, we hope to dress the women who need something soft when they are ruling the world!

While talking about who will wear your clothes, is important to discuss diversity. How are you navigating these industry-wide issues?

We want to be represented by a wide range of people. We hope that we are seen as an inclusive brand, but we also see there is a need to actively pursue diversity in representation and communication, also internally when it comes to who works for us. We have long been known for taking good care of our employees of all ages, nationalities, religions. We believe diversity makes everything better.

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The basis of Oleana is to produce high-quality locally produced knitwear - a reaction to many other Norwegian brands moving production to low-cost countries. So I would assume sustainability is a very important matter to you?

Sustainability has become a buzzword in the world's second most polluting industry, and we have to be careful and transparent. At Oleana we put great emphasis on design, materials, production and repair services. A piece of clothing needs to be made to last long. We celebrate when we see a second-hand piece being more expensive than the original, or Sigrid wearing an inherited 25-year-old Oleana cardigan. That is a step in the right direction. Loving a thing is crucial.

It’s good that you emphasize sustainability as a buzzword. I feel like some brands are prone to using it as a marketing tool, without truly considering their environmental impact and make true efforts towards actual sustainability.  What do you think is keeping people keeping brands from making more sustainable efforts?

Generally, it is very hard to make real changes when you are a brand within the current fashion system of cheap production abroad, most processes being executed by others, elsewhere and with their own economic incentives. Taking responsibility becomes kind of complex. For many brands, making true efforts would be tearing down the very foundation it has been built on. We are lucky to have control of everything that happens during the production of a garment, and it makes taking responsibility for the whole process much easier. We are extremely privileged in that sense, but it is really hard work. We try to inform, educate, and make a product that people want to invest in. We see it as a mission to create a more meaningful long-term customer experience. By doing it more sustainable than most, it can be our excuse to do something as inspiring as creating beautiful clothing for people.

Where do you think the change towards sustainability has to happen first? With the consumer or the producer?

Well, business is usually very much about making a short-time profit for owners and investors, selling as much as possible. By making clothing that lasts very long, we challenge the original business model. As mentioned before, those who produce clothing are in most cases not the same as the brand. Brands might have some power to change towards more sustainability and look for alternative business models, smarter ways of producing etc. In our view, the owners and the board need to demand responsibility and push for more sustainability.

Consumers do have the power not to buy fast fashion and take away profits, but we cannot wait for consumers to change their behaviour.

Before we sign off, I have to ask you; If the Norwegian fashion industry was a meal, what ingredient is Oleana?

Difficult question, but we hope to be the wine because it is culture, taste, craftsmanship, perfection. Humble as we are...