Way it works
There is a new way to approach fashion and functionality. Clothes can be sturdy and stylish at the same time, argues Jonas Eriksson of WACAY.
The recent merging of outdoor and fashion can be seen from two different perspectives. On the one hand, you have traditional outdoor brands that are increasingly used in civil situations — say, a Patagonia puffer or Fjällräven parka over your everyday work outfit. On the other hand, you have the fashion brands taking inspiration from the world of sports and outdoor, like Prada adding hiking boots and workwear details to their runway extravaganza.
Then there is WACAY — short for Weekend Adventure Company — which stands out with a different approach. The idea behind the Swedish crossover brand is to create great looking clothes with the maximum amount of functionality.
— It all started with a discussion on why it was so di cult for brands to make really stylish clothes actually work when you do stuff for real, says Jonas, who co-founded the brand together with fellow designer Evelina Bryngelsson.
Both Jonas and Evelina are veterans within the Swedish fashion industry, having worked with established Swedish chains like MQ and Brothers. The idea behind WACAY was hatched back in 2014 when the then newly-in-love couple met up in California to get to know each other better.
— We traveled by car from San Francisco all the way down to Laguna Beach in Orange County. What we experienced was that we didn’t have the wardrobe that was compact enough to be functional while hiking or surfing or exploring stuff, and then good looking enough to go straight to a restaurant. We were frustrated because we always had to change clothes or buy new stuff to look right in different situations.
When the couple came back to Sweden, they started to experiment with patterns and fabrics. They made their own samples, collected vintage pieces, and tried to find out how they could introduce functionality — like warmth, ventilation, seams, and other soft technical aspects — into clothes that could be defined as urban, streetwear, or even just sophisticated, feminine and fashionable.
— We worked as consultants for fashion brands on the week- days, and just hiked around on the weekends in our own samples.
The result of this sartorial investigation became a new type of lifestyle brand, that married minimalist designs with thoughtful functionality. The first items were a pair of roomy men’s trousers and a unisex coat that doubled as a blanket.
— They both came out of this process of using as little details as possible, but to achieve a garment that has a really wide array of function so that you can wear it in completely different situations. The coat, for example, came out of this idea to have a jacket that is durable and resistant enough so you can put it on the ground and sit on it while you have your picnic. Later we learned that the Swiss Army uses the same fabric because it’s so durable. We didn’t know that from the beginning.
It seems very daring to do a lifestyle brand today. Most new brands focus on one thing: underwear, raincoats, etc. Did you ever think you would start smaller?
— Yeah, of course. We had all of those discussions. But we got so much positive feedback in the beginning, not just from fashion people, but from people within startups and ventures. Since we based the idea on values everybody understood it really quick. After a period of hesitation, we were like, ok, it’s super risky and difficult, but maybe that’s why we need to do it. Because nobody else is doing it right now. We decided to take a ”stand” and build a lifestyle brand that in its entirety communicated our core values. That became the unique selling point in our presentation.
You mentioned values. I know sustainability was very important from the get-go.
— Yes. My background is very technical, and I used to make workwear for Alaskan fishermen. So my entrance point when it comes to sustainability is to make a garment so simple and durable as possible, like they do in the workwear industry. In the fashion industry, you might not really care about the seams, as long as they look good. But within workwear, there are these constructions that make the garment really sturdy. We have both been working in the industry for a while now and got tired of the amount of short-lived products that are being produced.
I guess that’s the most sustainable thing you can do — make a garment last forever!
— Yes, but another aspect of it is doing designs that never go out of style. I spent a lot of time studying style icons, all those guys from the old movies with styles that you always see repeated. There are aspects that always come back. Also, we put a lot of effort into sourcing the right materials. We had a ridiculously long process to find the right shine of the fabric. Because a lot of the traditional outdoor fabrics are a bit… unsexy. They don’t have the right shine that makes you want to wear them in a more fashionable situation.
Doesn’t this approach put a lot of pressure onto communicating your product? I mean, If you can’t see the functionality, you have to explain it.
— Yes. That’s the most important aspect of launching our brand — how to communicate with both our retailers and then customers. What we experienced is that nobody really takes time to listen to the details. We could tell all these stories to the salespeople, and write long stories on our website, but there is such a small window to communicate to the listener. What we are working with is more of an image language, an iconic language. We want to tell the story with images.
What is your approach to retail?
—We are in the middle of a change, of course, where you’re going from traditional retail into a new world. Our ambition is to bridge e-com with retail. One example is communication. We don’t want to clutter our garments with a big hang-tag with long explanations, but if you bring it to a screen, you can get all the details, how they are produced, where the material is sourced from, et cetera. We’ve done a trial in a pop-up with this technology in Gothenburg. It’s a combination of IT and IRL and we are looking forward to launching this technique with our retailers.
How do the menswear and women wear lines differ from each other?
— The female line is more diverse because it has a few more fashion aspects. The men’s line is more based on classics: a lambswool sweater, denim shirt, over shirt…
With all these classics, is it even relevant to talk about different collections?
— The whole collection is forming itself towards being more and more season-less. We bring about 50 per cent of the collection between seasons. We just have a top-up on the base. We call it the general standards, the garments that follow us all year round. Our drive is to work more consumer-oriented. The regular person who is watching our feeds should understand what we are doing. We don’t want to show them stuff that they can’t buy for six months. It can be confusing to see a brand communicate pre-spring before Christmas. Our main idea is to keep it simple. I think the market will go in that direction.
Experience WACAY’s Fall/Winter 2019 collection at Revolver Trade Show (stand nr 286) in Copenhagen next week, January 30-February 1.