Sustainable Fashion Review: Gårdendal

Hello everyone! I hope your week is going well so far.

In this post, I had the pleasure to interview Andreas, the founder of Gårdendal and learned about his experience behind his eponymous Swedish leather goods label, a story that interconnects Sweden with Romania.

What does Gårdendal mean?

“Gårdendal is a Swedish name that could be translated into ‘the garden in the valley’. Choosing my own surname as the brand name came naturally, but was certainly not easy as it gets so close to me as a person.”

What made you start your leather goods label – Gårdendal?

“In mid 2014, a friend of mine took me around to several garment, shoe and leather goods factories in Romania. What really struck me was the amount of luxury brands being made there and the fact that the shoes and bags were often a time stamped with ‘Made in Italy’ despite being made in Romania. One Italian factory owner even laughed at my remark and said: ’Has it ever been done in another way?’”

After the Romanian Revolution in 1990, the country undertook an economic downturn. The currency was drastically devalued and the unemployment rate shot up.

“Many Italian brands moved part of their production to Romania after the [Romanian] revolution to exploit the cheap cost of labor, however they continued labeling their products with ‘Made in Italy’. Those visits made me realize that the fashion industry is built around perceptions… We tend to think that a country, price point or brand gives quality or value to a product, when in fact it is the people and their craftsmanship that matter more. In that sense I have started to judge each product for what it is in terms of quality and give value based on each brands notion to social responsibilities and materials used.”

”But unfortunately there is little to no difference between the global players of today, be it a cheap or luxurious label, they are in large made the same way. They all tend to use their CSR as a mere excuse to the actual change of bettering working conditions and make radical sustainability improvements on the material side. This is why I believe that new emerging brands will slowly disrupt the market into smaller entities of specialized players where each give true responsibility to their niche, not driven by investment portfolios, but of actual passion and care for their cause.”

”So I wanted to take part and become a generator in this change, that we use to call the fashion revolution. I wanted to create a fashion label that pays fair wages to Romanian artisans and gives them credit for their unknowingly widespread work while using materials that stand the test of time.”

Since then, Andreas began his fashion journey and founded his eponymous label – Gårdendal, a minimalist leather goods brand that sources leather from Sweden and manufactures in Romania.

But why bags?

“I wanted to choose an industry that was historically well rooted to Romania and so leather craft came naturally. Besides that I didn’t want to make a fashion product that needed to be done in ten different sizes to fit various people, but a product that could fit anyone no matter gender or size, which made me choose bags. And neither do we want to expand beyond bags, we want to pertain our niche and become the choice for sustainable leather bags.

Why do you source your leather from Sweden?”

“We source our leather from a small tannery called Tärnsjö Garveri, in the heart of Sweden. This tannery sources from locally grown milk cows and has been in the industry since the late 1800s. Their leather is fully vegetable tanned, a process slowly disappearing due to the faster but more polluting way of chrome tanning used by the world players. Tärnsjö has for long made the world’s most organic cow hides, hides that stand the test of time like no other material and develop a unique natural patina. I was inspired by their story and the high quality leather they produce. Being from Sweden and sharing the same sustainable values as Gårdendal they were the obvious choice. As exclusive as they are, I don’t think we could be more proud than having them as the foundation of our business.”

How did you start Gårdendal?

“Being an architect design has become an aspect of everything in my life. Besides that, my mother is a tailor and so the needle and thread were sat in my hands as soon as I could walk. These two facets have been the best fashion school I ever attended and I so I started to sketch hundreds of bags and patterns and make prototypes with a sewing machine I borrowed from my parents. In the spring of 2015 I set up a company and developed my business plan and branding. So the summer came and I took of for a flight to Romania to visit one of the bag manufacturers from back in 2014. The owner recognized me and told me in private that he wanted to retire but had none that wanted to take over his business. He saw no other option than to close his business and let his employees on the foot. But then I told him about my plan on developing a new bag brand with a great company culture and sustainable production. We talked for a while and so he said to me, ”Well young man, if you are so full of passion for your cause and understand the market the way you do, why don’t you take over and continue my business?”. His proposal really struck me, at first I thought it was a joke, but I realized he was dead serious. He offered to sell his entire business to me.”

“I originally wanted to contract out the production at one of the local shops and pay my workers more than they would normally get. His business had been running since 1991 with a team of skillful artisans. No doubt did I want to own it. But was I really prepared to take on such a feat? After many thought I came to the conclusion that this really would be the needed foundation for my new leather label – Gårdendal. Fortunately I had some good advisors at my side and could really think this through. With their help and some financial support I was finally able to buy the business. Two small clients wanted to remain and keep their production. Thanks to their trust in me, I am able to maintain the business.

What are the challenges you have encountered with Gårdendal?

Initially, the hardest part would be making high quality products itself. However, after a year of running it, the hardest part is actually managing and maintaining a good company culture, because creating high quality products requires meticulous attention, and it can get quite tiresome. That’s when a great company culture where people feel valued, understood and taken care of really matters so that everyone can remain productive even at hard times.”

What is your take on the production?

“Besides using the most organic real leather there is to find we prioritize minimalistic design, custom made hardware and a fun production process. We are not trying to commercialize our products in a sense of volume but only make our bags on demand. Because of these exclusive aspects we currently need to have a delivery time of up to four weeks. In this generation, we are used to getting new things fast and for every occasion, and so we end up having too many things. But if we only bought what we need, then we could afford a little bit more and buy the transparent brands that make sure the workers will really get their shares and being paid fairly, while often getting quality materials on the buy.

Having our very own in-house production with an expertise from 1991 there are very few brands that completely own and take care of their production the way we do. This care together with our exclusive materials wouldn’t make it fare to compare our pieces to any well known brand out there. Our philosophy and business model is just something unique.”

What are your goals with Gårdendal?

“We believe in slow fashion and making good designer bags that withstand the test of time and that both our artisans and clients could be proud of on more levels than just status. We want to educate people that every time you buy something you vote with your money and affect someones life. We want to encourage you to look for responsible companies to buy from, to look beyond the label and price point. We need to rethink our values of brands worth wearing and so Gårdendal wants to become the ”go-to” ethical bag label.”

I really enjoyed speaking to Andreas and learning about his story behind his company.  And I hope you enjoy this post too.

Smile and style on~


Outfit Info

Bag :: Gårdendal, I adore their backpack here

Dress :: Reformation , another linen dress I love from them

Shoes :: JCrew

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