Tucked away in the quiet west side suburb of Frogner is Oslo based label Avenue which is enjoying a period of steady growth coming off the back of an impressive pop up shop and a colourful new collection for Spring / Summer 2017. The once monochromatic brand was the concept of long time friends from the hardcore punk scene, Espen Follestad and Gustaf Gyllenhammar, who came together with a mutual love of music and band tees. In an attempt to bridge the two cultures and admittedly fed up with owning awesome band tees that lacked in the quality and fit department they created Avenue. The idea then was simple: To make a good quality t-shirt with a nice cut that could be used for printing. Almost five years later the brand now produces two full collections a year and steadily moved more into the realm of high fashion after adding third team member and long time friend Ingvild Abrahamsen shortly after the brands inception. Avenue continues to expand in a natural way as they "do what they feel is right" and allow themselves full freedom during the creation process as shown by there effortless move in the world of colour in 2017.
A big problem in Norway when it comes to fashion is the money and the legitimacy of the industry. There exists a number of new brands and there is extensive fragmentation throughout the industry compared to that of neighbouring nations who have more established brands, studies and support network. However, by being part of the new wave of Norwegian fashion you open up a whole new market and offer something different to local consumers that have previously flocked to foreign brands. For an independent business being located in Oslo can be challenging at times and we sat down with Avenue to get a feel of the pioneering Norwegian spirit which has found a new home in the fashion industry.
As we sat in their showroom the conversation moved onto Norwegian society and culture, something that I am particularly interested in with the changes that have occurred in recent years. The team conclude that Norway was a poor nation until the early 80's and is in a unique position where the designers today are in someway the first of their kind pushing modern Norwegian fashion. In this way, they are the pioneers and it is trial and error to get things right. Developing a brand and a fashion industry has been a constant learning process for this Northern nation and making mistakes is part of the process of establishing the business. The team at Avenue worked like you would expect from a typical start-up maintaining full time jobs on the side, pumping all profits and time back into the Avenue, something they say would not have been possible had they not been three people. Admittedly, "this takes all our free time, we are looking to grow but it is very planned" says Espen.
Having knowledge of the local music industry they draw comparisons there saying "it is the starter league" compared to the rest of Europe, things didn't really happen here and the Norwegian mentality tended to be hesitant and a bit stand off waiting to see what happens without risking too much. Since my first visit to Norway in 2012 there has been a number of changes and support for local talent is something that we agree is on the rise. There has also been definite growth in the creative scene, both with the number of brands and recognition from authoritative bodies which hopefully is a push in the right direction to establish Norwegian fashion as successful industry.
Of high importance to Avenue is quality design, that can pass through the seasons. Espen says "if you see something that is made well it will have an effortless, timeless feel too it and to incorporate that into our clothes it would be outstanding". Sitting somewhere in the middle between high end and the high street, Avenue is enjoying the possibilities of making something if it feels right and "indulging" themselves even if it means dropping an item mid season.
"I think instagram made Norwegians, especially in the big cities, more outrovert"
As we spoke about the future of Norwegian design, in comparison the neighbouring nations, the industry is fragmented and kind of go it alone whereas Espen highlights the mentality of Denmark which has room for the chain store and understanding that commerce needs that but there is room for the small individual tailors and pattern makers as well. Norway is still in a trial and error process and has little to offer for upstarts compared to the structure and support network present elsewhere. In the future they hope it will get easier for young creatives as the nation places more importance on creativity and culture in the wake of the oil industry. We continue to talk about the changes in Norwegian society and interestingly enough they cite Instagram as a strong reason why they think Norwegians have a better sense of style and design. "The average guy you meet nowadays is interested in good design" says Ingvild, and there is a lot more interest in clothing and design in general. Physically these changes can be seen as well with the number of brands that now operate out of Norway and in local dress which is slowly becoming more free as people make an effort to dress rather than conform.
For the Norwegian fashion industry to excel it is important for locals to shop Norwegian, a concept that is more common in say, Denmark. The "media there tend to support their own and love it when people do creative stuff. In Norway people are kind of insecure of their own artists and you dont get that much support from home before you make it", says Espen. This could potentially be because of the newness of the Industry here in Norway but with 75% per cent of Avenue's online sales going overseas to places as far flung as New Zealand, Australia and America as well all over Europe it is obvious to see that international community is getting behind Norwegian brands and so should the locals.
Another problem here is "there are too many franchises in Olso", says Ingvild and it is tough for small business as the big players can pay a lot and continue to drive up rent which is really ruining Norwegian small business culture. In a city as small as Oslo you do feel overrun by franchises and the realtors don't realise that what makes it nice to live in a city is a thriving local culture, not gentrification and uniformed city blocks.
"I think there should be good places to rent for small business and an understanding of what they are doing for the culture"
It is important to change the mentality and be able to leave some space for small business so there is not a faceless, dead city full of culture erasing franchises. The pioneering fashion brands in Norway know how hard it is and being able to pave the way for the next wave of creatives is a tough task that would require a mental shift from commercial property owners or with the spearhead of Norwegian design at the moment being able to co-own space(s) for the purpose of local business.
It is an exhausting but interesting time for the industry and the team at Avenue conclude "nobody before has done what is happening right now, and we are kind of trying to push the doors open a little bit to make it easier to work with Norwegian fashion".
All photography by Henrik Efskin