Anna Blomquist and how courage can be an important piece of inspiration

interview by Romanita Oprea

K-OURAGE is a new fashion brand in Stockholm with focus on how to make fashion while clearly taking a stand for equality on all levels: gender, ethnicity, social class, religion etc. and how to challenge society’s viewpoint of beauty and appearance. The brand believes that the fashion world needs to take a stand, to question and clearly stand up for its values, and that everything starts with courage. I had the chance to meet Anna Blomquist and discuss more about the K-OURAGE and its input in the world fashion scene, but also about Anna’s designer background, trends in the business and inspiration.  

How did you decide to become a fashion designer?

At the beginning, when I was in school, I wanted to do music. I went to Paris to study music and become a singer, but then I decided I wasn’t good enough. But since I moved there and I was interested in fashion, I did a lot of sewing and finding vintage things, I was thinking that maybe I can do something in fashion. I knew it was difficult, but then I entered the school in Paris and I became a good student and liked the environment, therefore I decided to stay.

I lived in Paris for 15 years and I even had my kids there.

I thought it was a profession you had to specialize in when you are 16 or 17, going into the right schools. I thought I was too late for it, but I discovered that you can start whenever you want to, if you are good enough.  In the ‘80s I was experimenting things with fashion at home, therefore it came natural to me.

How do you see right now the difference between the countries you worked in, in terms of fashion design?

I moved back to Sweden in 2002. I am glad I worked in Paris, because they take it seriously. I think in Sweden it has been an idea of something commercial, a bit shallow, but in France is really about craftsmanship and smaller places where people are working on toile making and everything like that.

In France I had the chance to work for a big house, where we were doing luxury goods, working in haute couture. I am happy I have the broader experience of both sides.

Do you believe that everyone should have the French experience at the beginning?

No, not today. I was speaking today to a Swedish girl who is studying in Romania and I think that today when everything is much more global you can experience and try a lot of things, no matter where you are. I don’t think you have to be in Paris or Milan anymore if you can work. I think you can start fashion in any other country and that aspect is very interesting.

Every country has a tradition in clothes. Fashion is really global now.

So you believe there will be a moment, or is it here already, when you wouldn’t know where the clothes are coming from? Will it be totally global or would it still be a spirit of each country?

I think and I hope there will be a spirit of each country. I don’t want the whole world to look the same. I like to see different countries, different places, reflecting in people’s clothes.

Since the boom of the internet and Instagram people think that in creative jobs everybody can do a collection, a fashion piece, etc.  But I believe it’s extremely important to have education, to really discover what you are good at and learn about it, whether is photography, writing, fashion, etc. I don’t think you can jump over the educational stage.

Based on your whole experience prior to starting your own brand, what were the main pieces of knowledge and learnings that you gathered and that helped you?

First I worked in luxury production in France, than as a dancer, I was teaching for a while in a fashion school, I worked with a trend consultant in illustrations, I came back to Sweden and I started working in a completely different setting at H&M where I felt I was landing in a different land, and now I am working as a freelance with a Swedish brand, therefore I have a really broad experience.

I know the commerciality, I know the craftsmanship, and I think that has helped me do a lot of things. And that’s why, for me, I wouldn’t have dared to open a brand when I was younger, but now I know that I know suppliers, I have a good networking in Sweden with press and people in the fashion media and industry, therefore I am ready for this challenge. Now, even if I’m 52, is the right time for me. I think is good for everybody that is working in the artistic industry to collaborate with others, to do different other things in order to keep themselves creative and engaged.

We had an opportunity to work in a space at the University of Arts & Design in Sweden where they have a co-working space. The person next to me is doing film and I can learn things from her, there are all types of branches of creative fields present there and that helps boost your creativity. It’s also good to have people that are not working in the fashion industry taking a look at what you are doing, because they have another perspective.

It’s great to see that in all of those creative fields the process is the same, the excitement is the same, the happiness is the same and we can actually learn from each other. I love it.

How do you find inspiration?

I think that there is a cycle when you do a collection: you start at the beginning when you are very, very excited about something, you look at things, you watch people in the streets, you go to exhibitions, etc. When you have different ideas and you don’t know how to coordinate them, I found that it helps to do research and they come together.

And even I have times when I am afraid that inspiration might not come again, I discovered that it does. And I think that if you don’t take the time to do research, the collection is going to be much harder to work, therefore I really take time to do research.

I am very visual, so for me is really important to take pictures. I take lots of pictures myself and I use Pinterest that is also working really well for me. Even when I am here I am taking photos on details. That is how inspiration is coming to me. And when the collection is done you have all the doubts in the world and believe that you should leave and change everything. It’s like a wave of self-doubt and happiness and grand thoughts and excitement.

People that work in the creative fields have developed some antennas that feel and see things and that is something you learn to develop in time.

Did it ever happen to you to get stuck? Earlier in your career when you were working for other companies you had to produce something, to come up with certain designs and the inspiration didn’t come? What did you do?

I think there is an idea in general that inspiration just comes to you, like a gift from God. But I think that you can learn to be creative, almost on demand. You are forced to.

Of course that when you work in an office you sometimes have the impression that the time is really short, but even in a time restraint you can learn to be creative almost on the spot. Because this is not really artistic work, this is work that has to be produced in a certain rhythm.

Right now that I am working with K-OURAGE, is different because there is a concept that you can find in people, in situations, in places. Now I have a direction and I try to keep that frame. Sometimes is even easier to be creative in a frame instead of thinking that everything is possible.

This time, for example, since we received the awards and we got a lot of attention during the show and after, from the press. I got stuck a little bit because I felt a little bit of pressure. That can be paralyzing sometimes if you have the impression that people are expecting something from you. But you just have to be confident that the inspiration is coming, every time.

Coming back to K-OURAGE, how important is sustainability in your work and what do you do in that sense?

Sustainability, like in terms of environment, is something we always think about. You cannot be blind about it. When I see fabric, of course I try to take the ecological cotton, but I cannot do it all the time now, at the beginning, because the prices are higher and customers talk about it, but they are still not ready to buy them. Maybe in H&M there are, but not from smaller brands. We are focusing on the human rights, that the people in the factories are treated right.

You can look at sustainability in different angles. You can think about recycling and protecting the nature as well.

Remaining in the category of “being aware”. You talked in your presentation about social awareness. Can you tell us more about it and how do you see it at K-OURAGE?

We have tried to charge this brand with social awareness, to have the courage to stand for what you are believing in, and that represents a lot of aspects. It’s not only feminism and antiracism. It’s a lot of things. Maybe for some people or big brands it can be just a trend to have written feminism on a t-shirt, but we would like people to understand that this is what we like to work with. A part of our savings is always going to go to a human rights organization. We try more and more to work with this kind of things – to convince our followers on Instagram to donate to a certain cause, for example, we slowly develop these actions and initiatives. It’s such a big issue, you can do so much to raise awareness about homophobia, racism, sexism. There is so much intolerance and hate right now in the world, fake news, etc.

We are showing our followers that we are taking a stand and that we are trying to protest.

How did you choose the colors you are using in your collections? Because I saw the first one was more uni-color, while right now you are developing and bringing new colors.

The color combinations are really important for me. I love when there is a collision – whey you would usually say that those colors don’t work, but they actually do. I look for colors everywhere I go.

To make the first collection only in black and white and beige, it needed a lot of restrained from me. It all started from the materials as I wanted to keep them in their real form. At the next collection, after working with the producers before and having them known what we can do, they started to tell us that some of the materials they were able to dye them in some colors that we wanted. Therefore is a mixture of what you can realistically do and what you want from that collection.

About courage, do you believe that people are more courageous today or is that we are more aware of the importance of being courageous?

I do believe that people are more courageous these days. I don’t think that the #MeToo campaign would have happened five years ago. I think that people have so much to say, so much to protest against, but they were not even aware that there was a problem. We’re not critical enough, but little by little, especially the young generation, is amazing how much they take a stand. In the ‘90s I remember young people didn’t want to have anything with politics, they were not interested, but today people know the importance of being aware and civic. The importance of being empowered. You have to be involved, you cannot stay on the sidelines anymore. In a world full of theorist attacks, people feel they need to take a stand.

At the same time we have to see that there is another trend of people being more traditional, being against abortion and feminism, etc. We live in a world full of contradictions.

You said that you are creating clothes for women, but can also be worn by men. How has the men reaction been so far, are they buying women’s clothes?

Even we still have a long way ahead of us, in Sweden we have arrived in a good place about feminism and genders. It is deep, even for the most aware person, to go to a store and look at the women department for clothes. But women have been doing these for ages. Coco Chanel has been the first one to put on a pair of pants and we have always been wearing masculine clothes in a way.

Young people are becoming to be more and more interested in different types of clothes. Men wearing skirts and dresses – that is something that will happen in the future, we are just taking baby steps now.

I used to work with kids’ wear in the 2000s for H&M and it was clear that for girls it was pink and glitter and for the boys blue, but things are changing and more and more brands are always giving the options that girls would be dressed in blue or green, in other countries boys can wear pink. So it’s happening, but it’s going to take a little bit of time and it’s going to depend on how the retailers are going to present them. It takes a lot of courage. It has to be a chain of people wanting the same thing from the designers, the buyers to the shops, etc.

What do you believe that are the trends in fashion at the moment and the ones that you see going forward for the next 3-4 years?

I don’t like trends. It’s either you are a follower or you try to do something different.

But there are periods of fashion trends that are coming back, like the 70s and the 80s. Do you see that still happening in the future?

Yes, they tend to come back after 20 years. More and more people are wearing vintage clothes and that is very interesting. I think that ever since it has been a big awakening on how men see women the clothes are becoming more over-sized that we have seen ever before, as you don’t have to be sexy in a traditional way anymore. This is not a trend, but it has more to do with values and awareness. What has changed more is the way to wear the clothes than the clothes themselves. It is much more about individuality these days.

At K-ourage have you been influenced by technology and the way the shows are combined with visual arts and do you intend to do something like that in the future?

I would love that instead of doing a fashion show on a podium, on a catwalk, to do something with a visual installation, an artist, work with a musician, be inspired by sounds. We would love to do that in the future, but right now we are still at the beginning and don’t have so much funds.

But if we talk about technology there is a lot changing in the materials, the way they are produced, antibacterian, the 3D printing, etc.

What is your goal for K-OURAGE? Where do you want it to be in the next years?

I don’t want it to be a big brand, wore by everybody, in every country. I don’t want it to fit into a system. I don’t want it to be commercial. We still want to have a meaning, maybe one day give prizes to everyday heroes. I believe there are so many collaborations to do and not only with fashion. I want it to remain socially aware and active and something that I believe is limitless.