Meet By Signe
This week, in the latest installment of Brands Doing Better, we meet By Signe, a Danish womenswear label designed and produced by Signe Rødbro. The aim of this series is to get beyond the talking points on sustainable fashion to delve into the motivations and intentions of brands producing fashion with integrity.
Tell me about By Signe.
I started the brand in September 2015, with a desire to create and, at the same time, to prove that it’s possible to produce apparel exclusively in Denmark. Within two weeks, we got our first wholesale inquiry and it’s been a crazy journey ever since. We produce everything here in the studio using organic materials. We sell online and have retailers carrying our collections in sixteen countries around the world.
How did you realize you wanted to be a fashion designer?
I always had an interest in design but I never really thought of it as a career path I could go down. I went to university because it felt like the right thing to do. The safe thing. And then six months in, I realized that even though it came naturally, I didn’t see myself reading books forever, so I dropped out and enrolled in an old-fashioned tailoring school. That’s when I was sure I wanted, actually I needed, to be a fashion designer.
I’m happy I went to that school because I learned all the basics—the things they don’t always have time to teach you in fashion school. However, it was challenging at times because I wanted to make my own designs and kept veering away from the curriculum so they weren’t always too happy with me. After tailoring school, I moved to Spain and studied Fashion Design at university.
What motivates your commitment to sustainability in your work?
Two things drive me. Firstly, my conscience. I follow my passion and my heart in everything, and in order for me to sell a product to someone, I need to know that it’s something I can stand by 100%. I created the company from that completely honest and transparent place. I take that very personally. Secondly, I’m a perfectionist in everything I do so outsourcing the production from the beginning felt impossible because I need to know exactly what’s gone into every single garment.
I think most of the clothing on the market is really expensive when you consider how it’s been made and from what. How little workers are getting paid, for example. I wanted to prove that it’s possible to produce locally here in Denmark, to preserve handcrafts and produce in a safe and healthy environment. Once I chose this way of producing responsibly, using standard materials wouldn't have made any sense because they are harmful to the environment and to the workers at every stage of the manufacturing process from raw fibers to finished fabric. Every step towards doing something sustainably is better than doing nothing, but I wanted to go all in from the very beginning. It’s obviously extensive (and expensive) but I can’t imagine doing it any other way, and I hope time will show, that we were one step ahead of the industry.
One of the challenges is in defining sustainable fashion because it's such a complex topic that involves tradeoffs and competing priorities. What do you believe constitutes sustainable fashion?
There is so much to sustainable fashion, it’s hard to get to the bottom of it. Two things really mater: the overall environmental footprint and the social impact- the working conditions. So you could go to one of the fast-fashion chain-stores and buy an organic cotton garment and you are being sustainable in a way. But then you’ll have to consider that it was packaged and shipped and traveled from Asia, as well as the social aspect- were the people who made the clothes treated well?
To me sustainable fashion means being aware of those two things as much as you can. And I think it means trying to have a clear conscience- both for the designer who produces the clothes and the consumer who buys them.
You can’t always trust a label. So many of the descriptions—green, eco, sustainable, and so on—are not certified, therefore producers can use them any way they want. So you have to do your research. Ultimately, I think sustainability is personal. I think it’s the same as the decision to buy organic vegetables or to be vegan—you can only do what fits with your own conscience.
What do you perceive to be your responsibility as a sustainable designer?
My function is to offer people a conscious choice. Even though I believe in sustainability, I don’t want to preach and I also don’t necessarily wish to educate anyone. That’s not my thing. I am doing what feels right for me, which is to produce beautiful clothes in a very honest way. Our production is transparent. We don’t Photoshop any of our images. We keep it real and don’t use makeup on the models for example. We don’t do their hair or remove wrinkles from the clothing. Our environment in the studio is amazing and healthy—everyone’s having a good time and having fun with what we do. I feel good about that, and obviously I believe that that spirit reflects in the beauty of the final product.
As a sustainable company, I believe we’re adding depth and value to the brand. But as a designer, I want people to buy what I make because they like it, and not necessarily because it’s sustainable.
What is style?
Style is how you feel, not just how you look. I think you look better if you feel good. So it is really important that everything I design is comfortable because I feel that style has so much to do with being natural, moving freely, and feeling at ease in what you wear.
You know when you watch a movie, if the director is really good, the best thing about the movie is observing how the actors are moving. I think that’s a good metaphor for style. When someone has style, you almost don’t notice the clothes. You see how they walk, or move their hands, or hold a cup. I’m very inspired by that.
What should fashion do for women?
Fashion should enable women to express their personality. It should absolutely help a woman to feel stronger and feel good about who she is on the outside in the real world when she’s presenting herself to others.
What is your personal approach to getting dressed?
I dress very comfortably, mostly in black. Sometimes I’m at the studio for 16 hours, sometimes overnight, so I never want to wear anything tight because at the end of the night, everything kind of starts to feel more tight and heavy. The way I dress strongly influences my approach to design because, in general, I design pieces I would personally like to wear. I started out designing the things I had a hard time finding, like the perfect t-shirt. I wanted to perfect the really simple garments that you go to time and again; the ones that really just need to work for you. I like the idea of dressing in a way that’s comfortable but elegant enough that you can wear whatever it is to a meeting or out for the evening. That’s definitely important to me.
What do you want a woman to feel wearing By Signe? What do you want her to know about the clothes you've made for her?
I want her to know we’ve imagined her living her life and being herself in our clothes. When I design, I walk around imagining how the garment is going to move on a woman’s body and how it’s going to feel. If she sits down, is it going to stretch? Will it be tight somewhere? We think a lot about the little details that will impact whether she feels good in our clothing.
Hopefully our entire approach—our honest way of presenting our clothes and models—will help enhance natural beauty.
What is one thing you dream of a woman wearing your clothing to do?
I dream of a woman wearing By Signe to be herself, and to be happy in her skin. And I hope she will be brave enough in my clothes to do what feels right for her. To follow her gut and listen to her heart.