Linda Karlsson had her sights on art. What she wanted to become was an artist. In a way that was what she did become, though not in the way she might have imagined. She dropped out of the Swedish art school of Nykarleby in Finland after having a revelation while watching TV. When she saw the Ellegalan on TV, it came to her in a flash: I’m going to become a clothes designer.
She swapped art college for courses in dressmaking and tailoring in Jakobstad in Finland and then went on to the Istituto Marangoni fashion school in London. She also did a traineeship in London at Alexander McQueen, McQ Menswear and Puma for Hussein Chalayan.
“There was a company called Junky Styling near my college that did this particular thing of recycling clothes. Except there were a few more crazy things, like you tend to get in East London.”
Could this idea work in little Åland? It would turn out that it could. Today you will find Linda in her own studio/boutique Labelled in the centre of Mariehamn.
“I started out with a show in a multistorey car park. I like doing things that nobody’s expecting. People don’t expect you to hold a fashion show in a garage. Another thing is that nobody stands and talks at my fashion shows – there are no comperes standing there explaining who’s coming out now and what they’re wearing. I simply get to it with music and possibly some projection somewhere. An awful lot of people came and then I sold half of the whole collection the next day. Since then it’s just come along nicely.
If you go into the shop today, you’ll have a series of aha-experiences one after the other. Everything you’ll find here is based on the idea of re-using things. Colourful summer clothes can be made from kitchen curtains or ties, handbags from seatbelts and bicycle tubes, cut-glass chandeliers from buttons, etc.”
At first many of the materials came from Linda’s mum. She had been collecting materials and fabrics for a long time. Linda also bought clothes and fabrics at flea markets but these days a lot of people donate fabric remainders and clothes to Linda.
“There are often carrier bags filled with exciting materials and fabrics outside the door when I get in in the morning. It makes things a bit interactive with the customers. They can say, when they come in, ‘Hey, look! I recognise this, it used to be mine!’ … It’s fun.”
In addition to making clothes for the shop, Linda also takes sewing commissions. The difficulty is making time to do both. Both have the same aim: to recycle materials. That is why she would like to keep going with both the shop and the customer commissions.
“It’s actually quite difficult to fit in everything you want to do. I have so many ideas. But it’s important for me to do customer commissions because they provide guaranteed money, which of course I need. It’s important to keep doors open.”
For Linda thinking about the environment is just as important as the design side itself.
“The whole of the fashion industry is rather the wrong way round. Things have to go so quickly, and everything has to be new, new, new the whole time. It feels as though nobody has put the brakes on and said stop – after all, this is just insane. There are plenty of excellent materials and fabrics in these clothes and yet they’re being taken from shelves and shops and thrown on to some rubbish tip or other or being incinerated – even though they are perfectly functional clothes.”
She got the idea for the name “Labelled” in London. She thought about how important the brand is for many people. She recycles clothes of one brand and puts her own brand – her own “label” – on them.
The logo is hand-drawn. It has since been adjusted on the computer but at the outset it was done by hand. It emphasises the fact that every piece of clothing Linda sells is hand-made and unique.
“I want my customers to appreciate the craft involved and the fact that each of my products is unique. There is no-one else in the whole world that has one like it. The customer’s experience should be that they are completely on their own with what they buy here. There is no mass production whatsoever.”
Linda even manages to find good raw products in a scrapyard. The scrap metal merchants Jägerströms Bilskrot are Linda’s source of seatbelts. She clambers around between car wrecks in scrapyards and cuts away the seatbelts. She cleans and sorts the belts according to colour and then makes hardwearing bags out of them.
“Every material that is produced should be used to the full.”
What is the most fun part of your job?
“The design side is the most fun part – it’s more hands-on. But it wouldn’t be as much fun to do the design part if you didn’t get to meet the customers in the shop and see how they look at your stuff with wonder and amazement. It’s most fun when I find colourful curtains and things that become like brightly coloured sweets. They are incredibly beautiful but are not as easy to wear as more muted things. Patterns and colour are the most fun. Otherwise I’m inspired by the 60s, and even the 50s. They had really stylistically pure cuts and elegant shapes and silhouettes. What customers like above all else is that they’re imaginative. They get inspired when they see that you really can make beautiful things out of old stuff. The products are marked with tags that show what the product was before. People often leave here inspired and thinking about what they can do with their own stuff at home. The other thing is the environmental aspect, namely that it’s such a good thing to be able to recycle.
Linda’s clothes were seen in the crowds at the Presidential Ball in Finland in 2011, 2012 and 2013. It’s a fun thought: to wear a dress made of an old curtain to the grandest party in Finland! It says quite a lot about Linda’s ability to create something new from what was old.