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Swedish Hasbeens - Better Shoes, for a Better World | An Interview With Founder Emy Blixt

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I must confess; I am not a fan of the cuspate, six-incher heel. Yes, they look very fetching and yes, they can add a prominent elegance and sometimes a commanding authority to a woman's silhouette (so I've been told), but I am not keen on the concept of 'suffering for fashion' and value the health of my feet and spine too much to wear them. Which is, just one of the reasons I love Swedish Hasbeens; they are friends of my feet.

Not only do they feel amazing, Swedish Hasbeens look attractive too - a characteristic that is often rare in comfortable shoes. They have a wonderfully quirky, fun and nostalgic aesthetic, making them a delight to wear. Inspired by the original Clogs from the '70's, the brand holds dear the retro design and feel of their vintage inspired footwear, keeping the range simple, intimate and stylish.

If you aren't convinced, I implore you to try them on for yourselves at the Swedish Hasbeens pop-up shop in Selfridges (Oxford Street). You'll find the SS12 collection, as well as styles exclusive to Selfridges in the Shoe Galleries, located on the second floor of the store.

For images from the Swedish Hasbeens' pop-up shop press launch and the SS12 campaign, visit my blog, Head in the Clouds.

I am always keen to hear interesting stories behind products and ventures and to learn more about the ethos behind products that I love, so I was very pleased to interview one of the founders of Swedish Hasbeens, Emmy Blixt. Here, she tells me about the inspirations behind her designs, the values that are synonymous with her brand and about her future aspirations for Swedish Hasbeens.

As a writer of fiction, the discovery of interesting stories tend to evoke vivid and curious images in my mind - I am fascinated with the little I know, about how you came to creating Swedish Hasbeens. Could you tell my readers and I, about the story behind Swedish Hasbeens?

I grew up surrounded by strong, wild-haired and beautiful women who all wore these colorful high-heeled clogs looking really smashing and since then I just knew I had to have them. In 2006 I went to the closed-down clog factory close to my childhood village in southern of Sweden and bought their old stock of 300 clogs from the 70's.

My friends went crazy for more so I started to recreate the old designs. I started Swedish Hasbeens in 2007 together with my colleague and childhood friend Cilla Wingård Neuman* when we realized that modern shoes lack the colors, the natural craftsmanship and quality that the traditional shoes once had.

I used to work as a teacher in Swedish as a Second language when I decided to start a fashion company totally without any earlier experiences from the industry.

In 2008 we started to develop new product categories like boots, bags, belts and children's shoes, all based on retro-inspired fashion with high demands on organic materials and sustainable production.

Swedish Hasbeens' products are now sold in more than 22 countries with US being the largest one. The brand has been built without any marketing budgets thanks to influential bloggers and several great people like Sarah Jessica Parker, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Kristen Wiig and of course Dolly Parton.

(*Note: Cilla, the co-founder of Swedish Hasbeens, passed away in March 2011 after a long battle with cancer. Her contribution to the growth of the company during its first four years was immense. Her legacy within the company remains. )

What are your values and your ethos behind your brand and why do you think these are important?

Swedish Hasbeens belief is that fashion used to be more fun, people-friendly and colourful and that is something we want to happen again. Swedish Hasbeens' design is inspired by fashion worn by epic Hasbeens throughout the ages. We find inspiration in the quality of the 40's, the style of the 50's, the freedom of the 60's, the consciousness of the 70's and the humour of the 80's.

We aim to make our products in materials as natural and environmentally friendly as possible. For example vegetable tanned leather, wood, real cork and natural rubber. Materials that are not only friendlier to people and nature but also has a lot higher quality making it a lot more sustainable than cheaper materials.

Today, 95% of the shoes in the world are made in China. Less then 1% are made in Italy! In a world of mass production and cheaper and faster fashion we want to create an alternative world; Better Shoes For A Better World.

Do you think the world of fashion, in general, is doing enough, in terms of sustainability and the environment? How can the fashion industry be doing more to encourage ethical and environmentally friendly design and production?

I think bloggers and media are doing a great work but in the end it is we as consumers that are the force that can make this happen. We can see that people around the world more and more are demanding improved quality, sustainability and that they are more willing to pay for it not only due to their conscience but also since it lasts longer. It is more clear now than ever that fast-fashion with it's mass production to lower and lower prices, cheap materials and bad work environments are taking it's toll on people and nature.

Your new SS12 collection celebrates freedom, sports and wellbeing. What/whom has been the inspiration behind the collection and these concepts?

We must never forget what sport has meant for the equality of women and men and how it still makes us stronger in body and mind. The Collection is inspired by old sport shoes from the 40's and 50's when natural materials and great quality still ruled the world.

The sport heroine Wilma Rudolf has also inspired this campaign. Wilma grew up paralyzed from polio as the 20:th of 22 children in a poor family. In the 1960 Rome Olympic Games she kicked ass by setting amazing world records and winning three gold medals, thus showing a new generation that anything is possible regardless of race, gender or background.

How would you describe the Swedish Hasbeens' woman?

Our Hasbeen woman enjoys balance in both life and in a product, she is equal, retro and genuine but still feminine and modern. She loves quality, cares for production methods and she wants to look good while doing it.

Which design from the SS12 collection, is your favourite and why?

The three-toned Bowling Shoe, since I love that it is based on an old child shoe from the 40's, the colors and it's not possible to find this style anywhere else.

Do you have a favourite vintage era? If so, which is it and why?

I find inspiration in the quality from the 40's, the style from the 50's, the freedom of the 60's, the consciousness from the 70's and the humour of the 80's. For this summer collection I found the inspiration in old 40's sport shoes. During the 40's genuine materials like vegetable tanned leather and natural rubber was still quite common and shoes lasted longer.

Who is your style icon?

My style icons are all these great Hasbeens in their gorgeous shoes and I have always looked at innovative and daring designers that actually want to change something with their fashion, like UK designer Vivienne Westwood, who always had strong messages and of course also wore no knickers when she met the queen.

I love the range of bags and belts, as well as the Tennis Trousers that Swedish Hasbeens has introduced. Will you be introducing any other retro inspired clothing and accessories in future collections?

The world needs better shoes right now. Therefore we need to focus on shoes, bags and other accessories made in natural materials like vegetable tanned leather, natural rubber and real cork. However sometimes there is great Hasbeens fashion that just begs to come alive again.

Since the introduction of Swedish Hasbeens, we have seen a number of imitation brands popping up. Why is Swedish Hasbeens the better brand?

Maybe copying is the best form of flattery. The difference is that we do not compromise on our concept or values. Many companies who copy us do so with only quick profits in mind without using our materials or methods and then move on to copying the next brand. We will always make our products in materials as natural and environmentally friendly as possible. For example vegetable tanned leather, wood, real cork and natural rubber. Materials that are not only friendlier to people and nature but also has a lot higher quality.

Remember that 95% of the shoes in the world are made in China using mass production methods with cheap material and under-paid labour. To counter that fast-fashion we want to create an alternative world; Better Shoes For A Better World.

Are there any particular designers you would especially love to collaborate with?

Off course I'm always open for great ideas but it is more interesting if the result of the collaboration feels unique and relevant. We would not mind working with someone more unexpected where cross-pollination would create something quite unique. When the opportunities come and if they are interesting I'm sure we will take it.

What are your future aspirations for Swedish Hasbeens?

Swedish Hasbeens will keep on making retro-inspired, natural and colourful shoes, bags and belts with handicraft methods in the old factories. Better Shoes For A Better World.