Behind the scenes #17

Hi! Jorunn typing! In August I had my first day as Northern Playground's lead product designer. I may be new, but out of all of my colleagues I am still the one with the most experience from the clothing industry. After 30 years as a designer and design manager for some of the largest Norwegian fashion brands, I thought I had seen and experienced pretty much everything. I guess I was wrong, because Northern Playground isn't like any other company I have worked with...

So how did I end up here? As the years went by, I started to feel that my job was lacking purpose. Creating good designs was rewarding in many ways, but when I looked at the bigger picture I realised that the goal of my job was in fact to sell as much as possible and make rich shareholders even richer. Everything was focused around pumping out large quantities of products to the people, at as low prices and high margins as possible. Discount campaigns and the price of a product were often decided long before the garment was even developed. This resulted in many compromises in product development, as one was pressured into choosing cheaper solutions instead of quality and good design. I could receive questions from the board like, "Can we make the arms a little shorter, or the fit a bit slimmer, to achieve an even better margin?"

The price of mass produced clothing is in general far too low in comparison to the costs of development, material, production, transportation, etc. When a t-shirt is cheaper than a latte, it should be obvious that something is wrong.

Luckily, there have been changes in the industry throughout the past years, also amongst the most commercial brands, as most companies are devoting more time and energy to sustainability. But would this have happened if market studies didn't show that consumers want sustainable products? Sorry, but I have my doubts.

It isn't easy for people to understand what a sustainable product really is. What a product is made of and where it is produced only plays a small role in its sustainability. The biggest issue is consumption and volume, and in that case the will for sustainable choices must come from a different place than staying up to date on consumer behaviour. If we ever want to even get close to true sustainability, we need to prioritise reducing consumption instead of higher volumes and profits in the board room.

I applied to this job at Northern Playground to be able to use my knowledge and abilities for something that gives me a bigger purpose. It was a choice based on values, and I haven't regretted it for a single second. Here, we set our prices after choosing materials and finding out what decent production really costs. We don't have a celebrity that has pretended to design our products – we include our customers in the design process instead. We develop garments one by one instead of collections, and work on the products, receive feedback and test until we are completely satisfied. Sure, the products may cost a little bit more, but if you take good care of the garment and use it for many years, it will still be cheaper than buying 20 so-so latte t-shirts.

I am very proud of working with this group and can't wait to continue this journey together!

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