We had a chat with Kine and Hedda behind the conscious clothing brand KONTRAST Project about how it all started, the response the brand has had, the focus on sustainability and their top three tips for becoming more sustainable consumers. It all started with a desire to help out the Nepalese after the devastating earthquake in 2015 and has developed to become a popular, slow-fashion clothing brand with a focus on high-quality materials.
How did you start this initiative, and why?
Kontrast is more or less an outcome of our friendship backed up by shared philosophy, values and interests. Back in 2013 when we were both studying at Copenhagen Business School (CBS), Hedda spent time at the CBS library and shorter periods in China to study Chinese, while Kine went to Nepal to learn about the culture and to do hikes in the Himalayas. Throughout her stays, Kine met and befriended local Nepalese people, which was the beginning of a long-term relationship with the country. The love story between Kine and Nepal is really the base for KONTRAST Project, and where it all began, but what really pushed the initiative into action was the earthquake in Nepal, April 2015. Thousands of people died, and there was a severe need for resources such as food, water, tents, medicines, sleeping bags, etc. In a crisis situation like this, what we could do to help was to collect money. We got the idea to design jewelry, and within a few days, a jewelry collection made out of re-melted silver and recycled inner tubes from trucks and bikes was in place. Friends, family and even strangers were buying the jewelry, and we gathered around 15.000 kroner within two weeks, which were forwarded to the Norwegian NGO Mountain People.
People responded well to the jewelry and we figured; “we are two young minds, with lots of opinions about how things should be run and done: let’s make it a business”.
“we are two young minds, with lots of opinions about how things should be run and done: let’s make it a business”
A social one, however, with the aim of positive environmental and social ripple effects for communities in Nepal. Half a year later we established KONTRAST Project – a sustainable and transparent business. As Kine was studying textile design and has a passion for slow clothing, it was only a matter of time before she ventured into designing and getting ideas for a KONTRAST clothing collection being both sustainable in its design and material.
We do not follow seasonal trends changing our collection. Instead, we have one basic collection for everyday wear and one collection where Kine mixes hand embroidery and print to create more playful expressions. We want to show that there are alternative methods for how clothing can be produced without harming the environment, and where the production activities can lead to a more sustainable future for all the involved parties.
How do you focus on sustainability in your production?
We think about sustainability both in terms of production and design. When it comes to production it is very important for us to manage the supply chain as locally as possible. This way it is easier to control activities, information, and resources being used. We collaborate with one small factory that sews the collection and one workshop that dyes the textile fabric with natural colors. Both are located in Kathmandu. We work very closely with our producers and often visit them. That is how we make sure the working conditions are good and the workers are getting a decent salary. Our collection is made of hemp, a natural fiber grown and weaved in China. The optimum would have been to use hemp from Nepal, but at the moment this is not possible. In order to abstract the fiber from the hemp plant and later weave it into fabric, we are dependent on a type of technology and machines, which are currently not available in Nepal. The neighbor country China is the nearest supplier. This is a classic example showing how difficult it is to organize a supply chain completely locally.
When it comes to our design we seek a timeless expression. As an aesthetic term, timelessness tells us something about how we sense, feel, and connect to certain objects over time.
For us, timeless design is not just related to what is simple and minimalistic – as is often portrayed in Scandinavia. Timelessness can be interpreted in a variety of ways and is dependent on taste and preferences. What opened up our imagination for how timelessness can be expressed as the Japanese aesthetic philosophy Wabi Sabi. Rooted in Zen Buddhist, beauty is to be found in the imperfect and incomplete. The imperfect is a contrast to western perfection and our unachievable beauty ideals. It is only in the imperfect you find true beauty. Perfection is commonly attributed to what is new, sterile, and flawless. Wabi Sabi, on the other hand, is about accepting and valuing change and the natural process of aging. Aging becomes timeless for the reason that the aging process is being valued and appreciated all the way. Time is the core in creating a long-lasting emotional relationship between the person and the design object. How we interpret and design accordingly to Wabi Sabi is that we chose natural materials, such as hemp and natural dye, which will over time change their character to a more irregular expression stimulating mental activity.
“How we interpret and design accordingly to Wabi Sabi is that we chose natural materials, such as hemp and natural dye, which will over time change their character to a more irregular expression stimulating mental activity.”
It has been important to think about what materials do not only are robust against aging, but also even become more beautiful. For example natural coloring, which gradually changes its tone when being exposed to water and sunlight. Trying to understand timelessness through Wabi Sabi has in many ways enabled us to be more aware and sensible to our surroundings.
Can you tell us more about the products you sell?
It’s no secret we love hemp. All KONTRAST clothes are made with hemp, and there are many reasons as to why we have chosen this material. Hemp has served mankind for thousands of years, either as a textile, furniture or food. We value hemp for its durability, strength, and sustainability. Hemp as a natural fiber requires no pesticides, GMO seeds or synthetic fertilizers in order to grow, and it is resistant to mildew. Cultivating hemp is not hard on the soil and leaves the soil in good condition for following crops. Hemp breathes and feels airy in the summer and has isolating properties (a little bit like wool), which makes it warm in colder conditions. It is, therefore, a really nice material in places like Scandinavia where we have four seasons. The more a hemp textile is worn, the softer and more comfortable it gets. As we often say; hemp does not wear out, it ‘wears in’.
What about the dye?
Regarding our choice of using natural dye, we are driven by the handcraft of natural dye and the environmental aspect in avoiding chemical based colors. The ancient craft of using colorants derived from vegetables, roots, fruits, and minerals to dye textiles demands years of experience and days of patience. In our collection, we use vibrant shades of indigo and green, which originate from the indigo plant and the black myrobalan plant. Like the plants and minerals the dye is extracted from, the clothes have a life of its own. The play of the color with the sun rays and water makes each piece mold its own unique character.
Who or what inspires your work, and why?
We find inspiration in different ways, but as for most people, we have a need to create and express ourselves. That being said, in our neo-liberal globalized world it can be quite difficult for individuals to be both creative and economically independent without harming nature and society. We are therefore motivated to try out new models or ways to create objects being functional, emotionally giving and less harmful. Time will show if we are on to something sustainable or if it is just a big dose of idealism. Another motivational trigger is the unfairness we see in the world driving what we believe in and do.
What are your top three tips for becoming a more sustainable consumer?
Since we are cheering the slow clothing movement we will give three tips on how to consume clothing in a more sustainable way:
- Buy LESS.
- If you have to, buy clothing not being mass-produced or choose second-hand clothing. Think about how it is made and where. The more local the better in terms of less pollution from transportation. Also, stay away from clothing made out of synthetic materials. We don’t want more plastic on this earth.
- Avoid trends and choose clothing you think you will love for the years to come.
Follow the inspiring and amazing Kontrast project on Instagram, and check out their website!
At the moment you can find our products (clothing and jewelry) at our webshop and in a few shops in Oslo such as Studio Bazar, Nasjonalmuseets museum shop, and Botanisk Hage.