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Fashion talks

In Conversation with Rebeca Høien of Rebeca Rebeca

Oslo Runway Fashion Talks by Anna Skavlan

For Rebecca Høien, fashion should ask questions, not give answers. By sending tea bags, plastic wrapping, and even dirty underwear down the catwalk in Japan and Paris, she wants the audience to think. Think about production, sustainability and the future. In our interview, Rebecca and I spoke about the dirty underwear – both the one on the runway and the ones the fashion industry is trying to sweep under the bed.

How would you describe your brand?

As I work from an artistic approach, many of the pieces are formed to tell a story. I would say my brand is a hybrid between fashion and art. I hope to also represent the core values of my brand, like sustainability. How we are overusing our resources to the point of exhausting our environment. I try to communicate this matter through my collection by using materials that are not natural for clothing. This is because our exploitation of nature and environment are equally unnatural and the industry should be held accountable.

You have brought your designs all over the world, most recently to Tokyo Fashion Week and Paris Fashion Week. What made you return to Norway?

To get to showcase in Norway is always fun. It allows me to test the waters. I'm under the impression that Norwegians are down to earth kind of people, and that the response you get here is more straight forward. If they don't get it, they'll let you know. If they love it, they'll do the same. We're not extravagant like that, although we might want to be.

Did you learn anything from the industry in Japan or Paris that you think the Norwegian fashion Industry should take notes on?

It is okay to try new things and be playful. We tend to stick to a certain type of look. But on the positive side, we may have slightly more focus on being ecofriendly in this country than elsewhere.

Your recent collections have been commentaries on how the fashion industry is one of the most environmentally degrading industries in the world. Do you believe sustainability can ever be a core value for the entire industry? Can we defeat greenwashing?

As long as we have something called industry we can never be 100% sustainable. But we can decrease the production of clothing that never enter shops or someones home. We can decrease the usage of toxic chemicals and water in textile production. We can colour the textiles with natural colours. If we demand a more transparent industry there's also a good chance to defeat greenwashing, or at least reduce it. This responsibility for transparency lies in the hands of the production factories. Let people know what kind of toxins are in their clothing. Make it law-bound to list all the ingredients used in the making of your new sweater. Perhaps through a public searchable database? Get environmental certificates in order.

Tell me about the Postpartum collection you recently presented with the brand Mama Jules in Paris. There was something about a dress with dirty underwear hanging from the back, right?

Yes, the dirty underwear. That was quite fun. The reason behind the somewhat disgusting accessories was to comment greenwashing, and how we as consumers are fooled to believe we are supporting an environmentally friendly production. Many brands try to be as eco friendly as they can with what the industry has to offer. And then, there are big fashion houses, big corporations that claim they have discovered gold when they are in fact offering us rubbish. That is damaging for the brands that push for an eco-friendly production, but who can't compete with the big brands when it comes to price for example. As consumers, er are easily misled because of the lack of proper information.

How are you navigating these industry-wide issues of diversity and inclusion?

I am very aware that this exists, and always use models from all around the world. It is a shame that we even today need to address this matter, in any industry.

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Yes, I agree. I also find it daunting to talk about and comes with a constant worry of stepping wrong or not doing enough. As individuals, we can do everything in our power to promote diversity, but we are still part of a systemically un-diverse and discriminating industry, something I have become more aware of in the past months. Have you seen yourself become more educated in the light of Black Lives Matter?

Yes, I think this BLM pretests have gotten most people to think. What I do not support in this matter, are the people who cause riots, destroying statues and loot. That is damaging to the cause and sidetracks what people are trying to express with this movement. To demolish historic statues, no matter how cruel that person might have been, is, in fact, an action to wipe out history. When it comes to our industry I witness a lot of diversity, but this is not always visible to the public eye.

How has the pandemic influenced your work?

It has allowed me to be more creative. All this free time has provoked new thoughts and ideas. As I use my clothing as statements, Covid-19 has caused little to no stress in that matter, as there was no deadline to uphold or shipments that needed to be returned. The fashion shows got delayed, so I got to use the time to puzzle with new and better ideas.

Have you learned anything from this uncertain time that you will bring with you for the remainder of your career?
I've learned that it is always smart to have back-up plans, be innovative and sit still in a rocking boat.

Your designs are often made from unexpected materials. Notably, the collection you presented in Tokyo was based on an idea of a post-apocalyptic world where we have run out of textile and are forced to use everything from tea bags to old rugs to dress ourselves in. With this approach, there is a significant challenge when it comes to commercial appeal. Is retail the right platform for Rebeca Rebeca or do you have other plans for the brand?
I consider the collections I make as sort of art statements, rather than fashion statements. What I express on the runway is supposed to give the audience a feel of what I'm trying to communicate. Get them to question the industry.

So would you say that to you fashion is more political than commercial?
Yes, I guess you could say that. It is important to me that I have a story to tell.

Where do you see your brand in the Norwegian market?
At the museum, art galleries. Or sold as showpieces to art collectors and such. Maybe weird art movies. I'd love that.

What is your best advice to young designers reading this?

Believe in what you are creating, your ideas. Go for the opportunities handed to you, you might not get a second chance. Be brave. The only thing that stands in the way of success is yourself, so dare to follow through with your goals.

Finally, if Norwegian fashion was a meal, what ingredient is RebecaRebeca?

I would like to believe that Rebeca Rebeca is somewhat like wasabi, but I think the plastic wrapping around your fast food is probably more spot on.