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High-end fashion with a DIY touch

TEXT: LINNEA DUNNE | PHOTOS © 5PREVIEW

An artist by nature, told by a fashion tutor to leave the classroom and stroll the streets with a scrap book, Emeli Mårtensson founded 5PREVIEW almost by accident in a move to reject Italian bling. Today, her fashion brand is available in 500 shops globally – but her passion for DIY remains intact.

“It was all very punk – lying on the floor printing T-shirts with loud music on in the background,” says Emeli Mårtensson, founder and creative director of 5PREVIEW. She is reminiscing about the start of her fashion brand, just over ten years ago now, which has since grown into a very healthy, respected business on the Swedish fashion scene. “But that hands-on, DIY vibe is still very much a part of the brand DNA,” she adds.

Back then, in 2008, she was living in Italy and working as a print designer and illustrator for one of the big fashion brands – but she was getting tired of being told what to do. “It was all bling-bling and rhinestone embellishments. I wanted to make minimalist Scandinavian designs,” she says. At the same time, she had a monthly trend column in an Italian teenage magazine, and, one day, she decided to produce a DIY guide on how to print your own T-shirt. “This was at the very early days of social media, so in a way, advertising was being democratised, if temporarily. I made a T-shirt inspired by Chanel’s logotype, wore it on MySpace, and people started asking where you could buy it.”

Things happened quickly. With five simple, black-and-white T-shirt designs, her new brand, 5PREVIEW, was suddenly in great demand, selling at quality fashion boutiques at premium prices. And she may not have had a plan – but after five years in the industry, she had picked up the unwritten rules for how to work with sales periods and agents. Tired of Italy, she headed for New York, and eventually she landed back in her native Sweden.

Transparency and sustainability

“A lot happens in ten years,” she smiles. She has just been on the phone to Hong Kong, where a potential partner is keen to open up a 5PREVIEW branded boutique. “When I returned to Sweden, things were getting very real: we had to find a studio, set up a business, get an accountant. The challenges are very different today, with things like sustainability on the agenda.”

The latter is a challenge 5PREVIEW has embraced with gusto, and many of the designs are made of LYOCELL and TENCEL®, materials made from cellulose fibre from the pulp of fast-growing trees. But 5PREVIEW’s sustainability policy goes further: sustainability is integral to the entire culture at the studio headquarters. “Do we really have to go to Japan, or could we just as well have a Skype meeting? Perhaps we can get the train to that trade fair in Copenhagen? These are questions we ask ourselves on a daily basis,” says Mårtensson. “But equally, we’re a small business with short decision paths, complete transparency and small-scale production. We work with small factories whom we’re in constant dialogue with, and we produce nothing but what’s already been bought by our wholesale customers. We don’t keep stock; we have an empty warehouse. To be clear, that’s us producing about 80,000 garments a year, compared to about 500 million for a big high-street chain. There is no waste – leftover garments go to sample sales and charity projects for women in need.”

Playful high-end fashion with a street feel

But despite the up-scaling and international success, Mårtensson’s punk attitude has remained intact. “Whenever I feel bored, I go back to that core – I get the fabrics and work with my hands,” she says. And that is exactly what she did when the SS20 collection was born, subsequently named Just-Do-It-Yourself, complete with instructions for how to create your own garments. This summer’s collection, meanwhile – the first developed alongside designer Josephine Norris – uses that same playfulness to respond to what Mårtensson describes as a move away from black simplicity. “It got so warm last summer, and that impacts on material choices. We’re using a lot of natural materials and bigger, more interesting volumes,” she explains. “When Josephine joined us as head designer, our collections became more feminine – like two women designing clothes for other women.”

She describes the 5PREVIEW style as “high-end fashion with a street feel”, and the typical customer as “a conscious person who walks her own way”. A bit like the designer herself, perhaps – an artist who refuses to get caught up in commercial strategising. Her motivation for wanting to open up branded 5PREVIEW boutiques makes sense, thus: “It’s taken a while to build up a strong team and distribution network, but we’re ready to grow. Our own shops would allow us to display the collections together, in full.” Like a body of work, you can almost hear her say.

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