Vagabond- The Future of Sustainable Fashion?

Marta Malinka Ruminski
6 min readDec 6, 2015

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By: Marta Ruminski

Having always been interested in fashion, working part-time in retail for the past few years has been really enlightening for me. Being a sales representative is not something I want to pursue, but being part of the culture and fashion atmosphere got me thinking more and more about trends.. specifically.. where they are going in the future.

Studying environmental courses in my undergrad, and being born into this environmental crisis embedded into my collective experience, has all together shaped and heightened my curiosity and passion to create change. I believe there are so many questions behind the ethics and production of a fashion brand, specifically, one that represents itself as “sustainable.”

So, working with one brand in particular, Vagabond, a Swedish shoe and accessory company that casts itself as having a strong stance on critical sustainability, I wanted to conduct an interview to find out more. Transparency and accountability are key, especially for eco-friendly fashion brands. It is important to translate to consumers whether or not there are enough regulatory parameters around what it means to be transparent. What is true? What is marketing?

I got in contact with Ulrika Simonsson, CSR Manager of Vagabond Shoemakers in Sweden, and asked her a few questions. Alongside, you will see photos from a shoot I did for Capezio Shoes, a women’s retail shoe store I work for, featuring Vagabond shoes and Matt & Nat bags (vegan brand designed in Montreal).

Tyra by Vagabond

Me: In a quick summary, what is the story behind Vagabond?

Ulrika: Vagabond is a Swedish shoe fashion company, dedicated to style and inspired by our many users around the world. All from the start it has been important to build the brand by knowing all about how to make great shoes, all the way from the design idea to the consumer communication. Independence and being professional in all we do is also a driving force. What’s unique is our inhouse design studio combined workshop at the head office in Sweden: every day new prototypes of shoes and accessories are carefully designed and crafted here in our “mini factory”. In our own administration, 2.5 million Vagabond products then reach 42 countries each year through about 2000 stores. Among these are department stores, shop-in-shop concepts and our own Vagabond Stores in cities like Stockholm, Copenhagen, Moscow, Warsaw and Berlin.

Me: What are the key elements to the Vagabond brand?

Ulrika: We are shoemakers and we know about shoemaking and fashion. We believe that great design does not have to cost a fortune, and we care about the quality and the details in our shoemaking. In your urban weekend getaway, the only shoe you’ll need are Vagabond: comfy enough to take you through a day downtown, stylish enough to take you to dinner or a concert in the evening.

Kenova by Vagabond

Me: On your website, you state that every new prototype of shoes and accessories are carefully designed and crafted in your workshop in Sweden. What does this bring to your brand, how does it make it stand out from different companies, and how, if at all, does it contribute to the sustainability of the products?

Ulrika: By keeping the complete Design and Product Development process in-house, we make all choices on materials and constructions ourselves. With all details set and all material suppliers picked and approved, we then transfer the ready-package to the production units. All suppliers are chosen by Vagabond and committed to our requirements on quality, chemical restrictions, environment and working conditions.

Me: On your website, it is stated that “As a true vagabond we want to leave as light footprints as possible on our path and influence our surroundings in a positive way.” Why was the name “Vagabond” chosen and could you please expand on this statement some more?

Ulrika: The name Vagabond tells the story of an individual who follows his or her own path. We are passionate Designers and we are dedicated to bringing our customers a really good experience with our shoes. We are also responsible Designers. For us the meaning of this is that we take great care for both products and the production. We work progressively and continuously to make a positive impact throughout the production chain.

Kenova by Vagabond

Me: Under the Corporate Social Responsibility and Sustainability section of the website, it is written that Vagabond is “proud to take responsibility for our products.” Could you please expand on this briefly with regard to components such as management and environmental care ?

Ulrika: At Vagabond, the Top Management and Owners are very active in driving the Sustainability agenda. We are proud shoemakers and we are engaged to take full responsibility for our products and production. Every detail in every Vagabond shoe is carefully selected by our Design and Production teams and we rely on long-term commitments and co-operations with our supplying partners. Responsibility for us is also about having insight in the whole supply chain. Therefore our people are continuously present during the production at our supplying partners.

Saida by Vagabond

Me: Where do you see the future of Vagabond going with regards to sustainability 5–10 years down the road? The future of sustainable fashion in general? Do you think people will grow to embrace or start to care more about eco-conscious fashion? Will leather be eventually replaced with other eco-friendly materials?

Ulrika: We see a stable and progressive Sustainability agenda as one of the key factors for long-term business. Companies need to be aware of the impact business has on both the planet and people. We also need to consider future limited resources and focus on a conscious and clever use of materials. This also includes leather as production material. (We are about to release our first non-animal collection with leather-like materials. Our future intention is to develop and extend the collection to offer alternatives to leather). Our customers are not only interested in fashion and quality but also conscious and we experience a growing interest in more sustainable products and business solutions.

Tyra by Vagabond, Lawrence by Matt & Nat
Daisy by Vagabond, Brave by Matt & Nat
Marja by Vagabond, Lawrence by Matt & Nat

I believe these answers provide me with some insight into how Vagabond operates. I am interested to see what their first non-animal collection looks like and how it will be received by consumers. From first-hand experience working in retail, I know that customers love leather. If something is synthetic, it is plastic, therefore not up to certain quality standards. That being said, Matt & Nat uses a non-plastic, non-harmful vegan material for their products and 100% recycled plastic bottles for all their linings. There is a difference between vegan synthetic and plastic. I hope to see more brands in the near future using vegan materials or even recycled or organic materials as a way to provide consumers with sustainable fashion, something that will in turn mitigate our environmental crisis from at least one industry in our society.

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