#meet Martin Gustafsson, the Vertical Denim Consultant

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This interview was posted on The Spin Off previously.

After working with various global brands for several years and for over 20 years in the denim industry, at Acne Studios among others, Martin Gustafsson decided to start his own consultancy. His company Weft focuses on product, branding and design in denim development. But he also creates concepts for brands to build the right supply chain with a sustainable strategy. Here, he is interviewed by another denim expert, Sinem Celik–who works as a sustainability change agent and lecturer at her platform BluProjects–to talk about the sustainable approach within the denim industry.

Martin, can you tell us about your professional background and education?

I started working with jeans in a store in the late ’90s, which was in the textile capital of Sweden, Borås. So I ended up study at the university there. I did an internship at Acne Jeans in 2002; at that time there were only 12 people working at the office and it was a very small brand.

I loved the creative atmosphere working in the same office with their advertisement and film company. It was energy which you could feel that Acne want to go their own way which I liked and impressed me. I got big responsibility from the start and ended up in the denim department. We were a very small team that went to the garment makers, literally lived at the factory, and developed all styles from scratch in the laundry. This was the best education of all about denim that anyone could get.

I also was amazed how much creativity we got when looking back today, something I think Johnny [Johansson, Acne’s cofounder] regretted at some points.

After Acne, I went to Norway to work for Varner Group in various positions, mainly setting up the whole process for the new denim brands, such as Never Denim and Karve.

So now that you are a freelancer, welcome to the club. Please tell us more about Weft and your plans of creating a positive impact for the denim design and sourcing fields.

Thank you! Yes, I think creating a value and impact is very important.

I believe we all have a responsibility when taking on projects to deliver the most responsible product and constantly educate and search for new, better techniques.

I know you for so many years and as far as i remember, we met in the year 2006, when you were at Acne. Over all these years, now looking back, how do you think the denim industry has changed?

A lot! I mean it almost was another sport at that time. If we start with the fabrics, the collections and variation of fabric types, techniques and no sustainability focus. Stretch fabrics were not very big when I started 20 years ago and fabric selection was more limited, which was actually nice. 

I really believe change is relevant as final product, but enormous fabric collections and the number of fabric fairs per year have gone through the roof for what we need.

If you look at retail, it has completely different conditions. Digital vs. brick-and-mortar store, and the more selected and curated jeans stores you could find in most cities back then don't exist anymore.

Coming to the famous buzzword and our core topic, sustainability. How do you define it from a fashion designer's point of view?

I think the main problem is that the “S” word usage has lead to an inflation of the true meaning. Many mills, GMs and brands have been using this as marketing and greenwashing. Lately I see this separated into the serious ones. The ones who don't really know what they are doing or can’t succeed since the product’s price segment doesn't allow. I believe in pushing yourself to become more responsible each season and setting reasonable goals that you share. Refer to useful data and be clear in your communication.

Knowing waste is the central issue of fashion, globally, seven out of 10 garments end their life cycle at the end of the same year of production.I believe the industry has to focus on the core of the problem and look for ways to design products with the end in mind. Do you have any experiences and examples of this approach?

At some point, we will need to realize that we need to match the supply and demand better and that we can't increase the buying budget each year. We are in this together, so brands and customers need to take responsibility for clothes’ lifespan. Wash less, repair, adjust or give away some simple ways.

I think a lot is happening in the last years and we need to bring the discussion into the media and people also need to realize that what you pay for the products has something to say.

Besides design, you also have significant experience in global fabric and garment sourcing from different countries and worked for different brand segments. How do you think conscious sourcing is possible in such a system full of complexity and greenwashing?

We need to look at it as a resource. Use as many local ingredients as you can. It saves not only resources but also gives you shorter lead times and helps you get more flexible. Look at the whole supply chain components, use fewer core articles in more significant variation, be creative. You can use the same foundation for lunch and the set menu at night; it's the presentation and what you add that separates them. My Italian friends will be very proud when they see I use a metaphor to answer this question!

No doubt, Covid-19 has a massive impact on the fashion industry and shopping habits. Currently, the main discussions are around digitalism and resetting the fashion cycle. How do you foresee the post-Covid environment and consumer?

I don't think that it will be very different. People will fall back to old habits in some areas but when it comes to the way we travel, meet and shop it will change. I really hope we have learned from this period.

And let’s get personal. What was the design/work which made you the most proud?

I'm not proud of any products; I appreciate when people use a garment and understand that there’s more behind it than just an item.

What is your favorite piece of denim and why?

I really appreciate how both Helmut Lang back in the days and APC introduced their raw jeans in the perspective of denim and design.

It was not because I'm a big fan of raw jeans anymore but because it was the first stage of the product and they both made fashion versions of traditional jeans in a very nice way and with fantastic fabrics. I also personally love Rick Owens and was wearing his jeans for some years.

Any final words?

I’m currently working on a new project; exciting things are coming soon.