After a long stint abroad in London and Bali, Pernille has been back to the ‘calmness’ of Oslo for close to two years, developing Søster Studio from a minimalist loft apartment, that doubles as her studio.
We were shown the first full range, more of a ‘capsule collection’ says Pernille that really came together after visiting factories and suppliers, becoming influenced by the materials available. ‘This is the first proper collection and I wanted to show that it is possible, what you can do and what materials exist. There are a lot of new innovations happening and even though I had the sketches, it was the suppliers and the research into the fabrics that brought this collection together.’ She notes that most of the places she works with are small businesses as well and they support each other and work together. The initial research was a good starting point for her to meet the people she wants to work with and discover what is actually possible, before making a more ‘conceptual’ second collection.
Living in London changed her a lot. ‘It is so cliche’ laughs Pernille ‘but I feel like London was the place that I found myself in some way. It is so multicultural, you just do what you want and nobody cares. When I moved from Oslo, I wasn’t really that happy and I just found it there in some way.’ Living in a studio/workspace located in a huge old factory building which was home to a number of creative offices that provided ample inspiration.
Having grown up travelling the world and spending time in different countries Pernille was inspired by the different cultures. All the things you learn and see and the realisation that working in the creative field is one of her passions. London certainly surrounded Pernille with a number of influences and creative freedoms that weren’t possible at the time in Norway. ‘I studied styling, freelanced as a stylist, freelanced as a make up artist and worked for a few magazines as well as painted a bit. The goal was to make clothes and I had interviews with St Martins and some other schools, but I was not ready to go to school full-time so opted to freelance and learn from doing. There is two ways of learning and I feel that practical, hands on approach worked best for me.’
‘Things were steady for a little while, I was about to sign with an agency, but that became uncomfortable as well’ says Pernille. ‘I thought “This isn’t what I want to do” I had my goal and I should just do that.’ After struggling super hard in London the offer of a steady job became a pinnacle motivator for packing up and continuing to follow her dream. ‘It was either go back home to Norway…or go to Bali and focus on what to do next.
Being in Bali was a constant contradiction of paradise and pollution embodied by large walls of trash that washed up on the coast during the wet season. Bali pushed the brand to the point of no return. Being broke, on an island, really tested her commitment and dedication. The daily struggle and constant challenges are, however, what is needed to sort out whether the life of a small business owner in the creative field is something that she was cut out for.
‘I had my dream and I had worked hard on the brand. I had my business plan and my sketches and we decided that if we use what we have and buy some fabric somebody will help us out’. The self belief to make that decision paid off and they were taken in by an American writer and art professor who believed in the early days of Søster Studio. ‘I showed her the business plan, my sketches and everything which she believed in. It is really nice when you meet people who believe in what you are doing and I believe it is always going to work out…In someway. If you work hard and really believe in what you are doing, it will work out...’
Moving back to Oslo, things have been organically developing with the brand. The feedback has been positive and the philosophy behind the label is something that is really needed in the industry right now. The strength of the brands philosophy is also a ‘hot topic’ in the fashion world, picked up by every interviewer or critic looking for an easy angle or critique. The industry, as it stands, is overrun with lacklustre high street brands and those who don’t believe in interrupting the fast fashion system which lines their pockets. The mention of the word 'sustainable' in any format immediately shifts the focus away from the clothing to nit picking aspects of production and distribution. ‘This is strange for me' says Pernille. 'It is so weird that the brands who focus on minimising their impact get asked about it all the time, whereas it is the brands that don’t that should be getting asked the questions.’
Having such a turbulent time abroad being back in Oslo has provided a safety net and calmness. 'Admittedly I miss London', she says and 'Being somewhere more creative friendly.' But having both the studio there and the factory where the Søster Studio clothes are made allows her to go back and forth which, she says, helps a lot.
Here you have to find your own drive and your own inspirations as it doesn’t come as easy as in larger fashion cities. The scene here is growing and ‘There are now so many talented designers and things happening which makes it exciting. I would love to bring the production to Norway eventually, that is a goal as well and that could become a reality. It is slowly becoming an industry here and we need to continue to support places like F5 Concept Store that put Norwegian products in store. If we don’t support Norwegian made and Norwegian design, it will die.’
For now the focus has been on how to prioritise producing items while remaining true to the brands ethos. What has made the most sense is to offer the brand as made to order and through a luxury clothing rental partner in London. ‘It is super expensive to make pieces in London, but it is the best way to do it now. I know the city and the people, it is close to home and they are so talented. In order to be totally transparent about pricing and communicate how we do things on the website working with those in London makes sense. It is about the whole process, not just the materials, it is so much more and really a focus for the brand to communicate that.’
This way of working is much more difficult, takes a longer time, however, is something that is so much more rewarding. ‘Any other way doesn’t make sense, doing a mass production is not what I want to do and not what I believe in. It is so exciting to do it right now, the whole industry is changing, so it is so good to be a small brand and start with this from scratch. It makes it so much easier to create a sustainable business.’
To develop your own brand is something that requires a lot of stubbornness and holding on the dream while being in a constant state of learning. People will try and put you down, challenge your plan and push you far beyond your threshold…It can be easy to lose motivation over setbacks, or when people don’t believe in your idea, but straight away those setbacks create a new source of motivation…You have to keep going…Things will work out.
All photography by Ida Gøytil