She has extensive background in brand and product development and calls herself a serial entrepreneur. With AWAN (As We Are Now) Anette has found her calling and created her dream brand of comfy and chic dresses in Tencel, designed to be worn around the clock.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your journey?
I would say I am a creative and an entrepreneur who always strives to be and do better. I love new people and new experiences, and as a mother of two, a girlfriend and a business founder, I have constant FOMO. Although I am working at getting better with prioritisation, I also know that sometimes the best opportunities come from random and unexpected situations. So I try to fit those in too.
I spent my twenties pursuing a singing career in London before relocating to Oslo and becoming a full-time entrepreneur (and a mother, at the same time). Before I launched AWAN (As We Are Now) in 2018 I was a partner in a design and manufacturing agency called Square. After working for several years with brand and product development for other clients I started to feel a growing need to use my skills for something that held more meaning for me – as an entrepreneur and as a woman. I wanted to create a brand concept for women that would not only meet a real need, but also have sustainability at its core.
What made you decide to start a sustainable brand?
While developing a line of outdoor and activewear for a client I discovered these newer lyocell fabrics that were produced in a much more sustainable way than regular fabrics. It hit me that these would be perfect for the type of sleepwear and comfy clothes that I dreamt of hanging around the house in but could not find anywhere. When I started diving deeper, I was shocked by how outdated this market actually was for women. Everything on offer was either embarrassingly sexualised, extremely boring and unflattering – or sportswear. It was almost impossible to find comfy clothes that you wanted to be seen in, that were also sustainably produced. I got excited about this opportunity and the idea of AWAN started to take shape.
AWAN (As We Are Now) is a direct-to-consumer fashion brand and start-up on a mission to create a new dressing experience and the next level of leisurewear for women. Perhaps best known for our 24-hour dresses, we want to design pieces that you feel completely free in, no matter the occasion.
What does a day in your life look like?
One of the things I love about start-up life is the wide spectrum of activities and the type of people that I interact with. Never a boring moment! Since COVID-19 my working days have become less physically social, but without the travel time I probably ‘see’ more people than before. Some days I have back-to-back remote meetings until it’s time to pick up my daughter from childcare. Other days I try to block time in my calendar for stuff that demands deep focus and concentration. In addition to CEO, I’m also the creative director and designer, which means I have periods when I need to get into a completely different mindset than the everyday business of running a company. Luckily, I have an amazing co-founder and COO to share this journey with, Lisen Follin, who is based in Stockholm. Before the pandemic we would see each other every other week, but for the last six months we have been operating as a 100% remote team. While I am a fast-paced starter and an activator, Lisen makes sure our projects are anchored in methodical planning and strategy.
You call yourself a ‘serial entrepreneur’. What do you love so much about the entrepreneurial way of living and working?
I love that I have had the freedom to test out and trust my own abilities while creating my own journey. I want my work and my life to be the same in the sense that I want to spend my working hours doing things that matter deeply to me. This is why I have always chosen to work with my passions. People have this idea that being an entrepreneur is risky and difficult. And they are of course right. But to me it feels even more risky and difficult to put my energy and passion into the hands of someone else who might not even care about my development and growth. We only have one life, right?
What measures do you take to ensure that AWAN products are sustainable?
On our journey to create a circular brand, we consider sustainability in every part of our supply chain and continuously take new measures to improve. Our dresses are designed with circular principles in mind and most of them are made in Tencel lyocell, one of the most sustainable fabrics on the market, and are optimized for wellness and versatility. We produce our permanent collection in Portugal and leverage retail technology to bridge the gap between supply and demand.
Most importantly – we create garments that are so comfortable and versatile that they can be worn every day.
With over 80% of a garment’s footprint coming from the production phase, the single most impactful measure we can do is to design and produce clothes that will be worn again and again.
Having just completed an extensive customer survey we learned that 1/3 of our customers wear their AWAN items several times a week or every single day. I believe this is a really good start on our sustainability journey.
But perhaps the most important measure I took to ensure AWAN is at the forefront of sustainability was last year when I onboarded a sustainability strategist as my co-founder and COO. Lisen spent three years at McKinsey & Company Stockholm, where she was part of the company's global sustainability team that developed a perspective for the State of Fashion 2018 on future of apparel production and circularity.
What is your advice for someone wanting to start a sustainable brand?
Learn about circularity and focus on improving the areas that matter to your business model and where you can make a positive change. Understand that although sustainability has to be part of your foundation it cannot be your main competitive advantage. In the near future all brands will be expected to be based on sustainable principles.
What do you find most challenging about running a brand that is socially and environmentally aware?
We live in a time of rapid change so of course you worry that you might sometimes miss the bigger picture or unintentionally act in an insensitive way. But I believe most people will be understanding and even forgiving ¬– as long as you are transparent about your journey and shortcomings as a start-up brand who is learning on the job.
Name your favorite sustainable brand
One brand that has been instrumental in our own journey and a game changer for the fashion industry, defining a new standard for sustainability and comfort, is the textile brand TENCELTM. Produced in a certified closed-loop system with reduced water consumption and non-toxic chemicals this fabric brand has quickly become a true global contender and a much more sustainable alternative to cotton – paving the way for other innovative lyocell brands made from natural sources, or even recycled cotton. When we started using Tencel in our dresses in 2018 almost no one had heard of it, but now more and more large fashion and interior brands are using this fabric. I believe AWAN is still pretty unique in producing almost our entire collection in Tencel.
The Coronavirus has affected every person around the globe in some way. And while we would never say that a pandemic is positive, we have seen some changes in the way businesses and individuals live. How do you think the world will change once things go ‘back to normal’?
Our vision with AWAN has always been that (in the not so distant future) people – spurred on by fabric innovation and our changing lifestyle – will demand more from their clothes. Back in 2018 I was arguing the case for more versatile and upgraded home wear because the home is changing and becoming more public due to social media, digitalization and more people working from home. The AWAN mission is to create a new dressing experience and a wardrobe that meets our growing need for comfort, versatility and sustainability. In many ways this pandemic has merely brought the future to the present.
It is hard to predict what the new normal will be but what COVID has done is force us to slow down, look inwards and live more consciously. More people have come to realize that we can easily do with less and that downsizing our lives might not be as hard as we thought it would be.
How do you envision the buying behaviour of millennials in 5 years in terms of how they value sustainable products over price?
Lisen and I talk a lot about the fashion industry becoming divided into two groups. We think we will still seek unique, trending or seasonal pieces, but they will be part of a rotating wardrobe of clothes that we rent, buy and sell, like Fjong. The core will be our everyday basics that we love to wear until they are worn out and can be upcycled, like your AWAN wardrobe.