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Driving fashion forward

Josefin Lassbo is probably not as famous as she ought to be. A Swedish designer who rose to fashion fame for her environmentally-friendly fabrics and Fair Trade ethics, today Lassbo is pioneering a holistic approach that has rippled far beyond the fashion world.

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Lassbo calls her label Reflective Circle, and her wheel-like logo represents an integrated cycle of design that balances material values alongside ethical and esoteric ones. As Lassbo’s work swiftly sheds the stigma of the hemp-heavy garments and bulky brocades associated with eco-fashion, it also bridges the gap between environmental awareness and commercial concepts.

Lassbo is based in Gothenburg, but her career has always taken her beyond Sweden’s borders. Even before she founded Reflective Circle in 2001, Lassbo had been active in Denmark, where she received an MA degree, and in Paris, where she won a prestigious award for fashion design. Her sustainable ethos connected her to an international movement of fashion designers who follow environmentally-certified standards of fabric dyeing, printing, and producing.

But before that, Lassbo had been interested in designing technologically-enhanced clothing, which she had considered to be the future of fashion. A collaborative project with the now-defunct StarLab in Brussels resulted in a surprising new direction for Lassbo when she realized that most of those living hi-tech urban lifestyles were, for the most part, dissatisfied with them. "I visited StarLab at a time when people in Sweden were beginning to cure stress-related disorders with holistic treatments," Lassbo said. "Advances in technology demand much more from people, requiring them to work harder and faster. I was afraid that if I integrated communication technology into my garments I would be contributing to a system that causes stress disorders and burn-out syndromes." Lassbo’s design focus quickly shifted toward helping people feel better in their own skin, rather than contributing to their source of unease. "The first Reflective Circle project integrated a lo-tech system into garments which was positioned alongside acupuncture points and the body’s energy meridians," Lassbo explained. "It was intended to bring them closer to their own well-being in ways other than just through the satisfaction of wearing sustainable garments."

As Lassbo put her holistic approach into practice, unseen wheels began to turn. To her surprise, she received a call from the Swedish division of General Motors, asking her to design a clothing line for them. While those around her thought that the hi-speed aspirations of General Motors and the lo-tech approach she promoted would collide, Lassbo already knew that she and GM were moving in the same direction. "GM owns Saab, who is the leading manufacturer of bio cars," Lassbo said, "and I actually drive a BioPower Saab myself. Saab and Reflective Circle share the same respect for environmental issues, and both of us look for innovative solutions so that we can contribute to a cleaner environment." Knut Simonsson, Saab’s Executive Director, echoed Lassbo’s view, describing their collaboration as "not simply about design or fashion; it’s about having the same ambition: pushing an industry forward by innovative solutions."

Saab’s long history of engine innovation culminates in its unique turbocharging technology, which enables them to design smaller engines with greater efficiency. Today, Saab's turbo technology is powered by E85, a hi-performance, clean-burning fuel made up of 85 percent bioethanol and 15 percent gasoline. Last year, the Saab 9-3 and Saab 9-5 BioPower vehicles were the best-selling environmentally-friendly cars in Europe.

Lassbo’s fashion collection, named Pure BioPower, was inspired by the vehicles’ technology. The collection was launched in March [2008] at an automobile trade show in New York, where Saab also presented the new Saab 9-X BioHybrid and Saab 9-4X BioPower concept cars. The collection consisted of womenswear, menswear, and unisex apparel, and included T-shirts, tennis shirts, dress shirts, jerseys, blouses, and casual dresses, all made from one hundred percent organic cotton. "The Pure BioPower collection, like my main lines, was not made in a sweatshop," Lassbo said. "The collection was produced in Portugal by an ethical manufacturer. It will probably include hi-performance materials and recycled synthetics in future." The Pure BioPower clothing range is schedule to be launched commercially this month [May 2008], and future collections will include accessories such as caps, scarves, belts, and bags.

The collection and the new concept cars were well-received in the United States, opening up a new market for Lassbo. Current fashion trends in the U.S. indicate that American fashionistas will be receptive to Reflective Circle’s main lines, which mirror American Apparel’s concept in their range of ten designs produced in ten colors. Reflective Circle currently produces four fashion lines: a young, hip diffusion line based on jerseys and easy-to-wear casuals; the Icon range of woven classic jackets; a line of T-shirts featuring graphic motifs from guest designers; and, a yoga sportswear line. "I was overwhelmed by the positive response to the project and the huge wave of interest the clothing generated," she said. "I never considered Sweden to be my main market, so as the collection starts selling in the U.S., I’ll be keeping an eye on how it is received here."

Part of Lassbo’s brand is now uniquely positioned within a market of tech-savvy consumers, a client-base that ten years ago she had believed to be incompatible with her holistic thinking. The collaboration with Saab shifted sustainable design into a higher gear, and that changed everything for Lassbo. As her work literally drives fashion forward, Lassbo’s approach is outlining a unique vision for the new generation of eco-fashion to come.

Written by Bradley Quinn

Pure BioPower can be purchased online at www.saabexpressions.com

For more information on Reflective Circle, visit www.reflectivecircle.com

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