Building a fashion brand with a conscience

Eco-friendly designers Halla Hákonardóttir and Helga Kjerúlf’s on sustainable fashion, recycled Cotton Business Cards and setting up a business with a friend.

USEE at work

Halla Hákonardóttir and Helga Kjerúlf travel the world finding inspiration for their eco-friendly textiles. But how did they make their collaboration fly?

Sharing a passion for eco-friendly textiles and an urge to spread their message through design projects with a bold sense of humor, Halla and Helga decided to join forces after meeting at art school as few years earlier. Ideas flew, a firm bond was formed, and USEE was born – which is “all about good things and crazy vibes.”

Today, the pair’s fashion delivers a timely message about sustainability and boasts a uniquely Nordic feel. But what’s the inspiration behind their quirky collaboration? And how do they make sure their material-led designs stand out from the crowd? MOO caught up with Halla and Helga to find out what makes their brand tick.

How did you two meet, and what was the lightbulb moment that made you want to become creative partners?

We met at art school, I was studying architecture and Halla was studying fashion design. After finishing our art degrees we both did our own thing and traveled around for a few years. Then, at the exact same time, we both moved back to Iceland. We were hanging out together a lot over coffee, and quickly discovered many of our dreams and ideas were similar. We had a real good feeling about working together.

Where did the drive and ambition to launch USEE come from?

We have a lot in common when it comes to our aesthetics and views on sustainability. We started to visualize our concept and our studio, then one day we said, “Let’s just start this.” We’re both pretty impulsive, so that might’ve helped too!

What’s the message behind USEE’s unique designs?

Our design projects are mainly made from waste and/or second-hand materials. They’re conceptual and radical, but with a twist of humor. We use them as a way of informing people about the fashion industry and the growth of fast fashion and mass production.

We have to see changes in buyers’ behaviour, but designers also have to take responsibility. We want to show our generation that recycled and redesigned clothes can be fashionable, while making people smile. Every product we make has a message behind it, like our swimwear. You have to take a look!

Where do you source your materials from?

We visit a lot of charity stores, where we buy second-hand fabrics, zippers, threads and buttons. We’ve found some amazing fabrics, and people are surprised when we tell them where they came from.

REMIX is our streetwear clothing line – we make pants from curtain fabrics and dresses from sheets and we create rings, earrings and necklaces from discarded mirrors for our jewelry line.

What’s your biggest source of inspiration?

Sometimes ideas come from the books we’re reading, the music we’re listening to, our travels, movies or whatever grabs our attention.

From an historical point of view, we’re attracted to art, design and architecture from 1920 through 1980. We particularly love the art deco era – we recently went to Miami, where the art deco streets on South beach are amazing! We absolutely loved them.

Otherwise, we take inspiration from the everyday. Random stuff in our homes, or things that are a bit exotic to us, but normal to other people – like palm trees and fans. No one in Iceland owns a fan!

What are you doing to make sure you’re building smart working habits while building your brand?

It’s taken some time to get into a rhythm and organize our working habits and hours. It can be difficult to set limits when you work for yourself, but we’re getting better at it. It’s one of the reasons we travel a lot – we’re busy brainstorming ideas, but our computers are left at home.

You exhibit and sell your work at art galleries and pop-up stores – what are your top tips?

You need to find a way to stand out from the crowd – to be juicy and eye catching. For that, Business Cards are crucial.

When you’re selling expensive products, people tend to want to have time to think before they buy, so it helps to give them our Business Card so they can contact us if they decide to buy something later on.

It can be so easy to be forgotten in the black hole of the cyber world. We think it’s important to have something physical to give out – and of course, ours are made from recycled cotton!

What are your brand values, and how did you decide on them?

Being ethical is core to our brand, celebrating the importance of color in design, and a sense of fun. Every product has to have a meaning, a hidden message or somehow raise awareness.

We like to think of our brand as a person who’s sustainable, listens to music and loves having fun. This person we thought up helped us build up our values.

  • USEE design
  • USEE swimsuit
  • USEE clothing

How do people react to your products?

A lot of people tell us we’re fresh, colorful and have a great concept. It’s been better than we dared to hope for in the beginning. It would’ve been difficult to achieve everything we’ve done without people believing in us.

What are your tips for aspiring entrepreneurs wanting to start their own business?

Just start! Go slow, and let yourself develop and grow. Don’t overthink or be scared of making mistakes. That’s how you learn. It’s better to make wrong decisions while you’re still a small brand.

Don’t take yourself too seriously, but don’t belittle yourself. Also, trust your instincts and listen to them. When we’ve made wrong decisions, we haven’t seen them as mistakes, because everything we’ve done has brought us to where we are today.

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