Interview: Aoi Project
Introducing Aoi Project, a beautiful brand located in Norway.
“aoı [ao-ee] comes from the Japanese word ao (青), adjective form aoi, which is the colour word representing both blue and green in ancient Japanese.”
I’m always on the lookout for new emerging brands that offer not only amazing quality stuff but also have good brand values and a good ethos. I first discovered Aoi after following Solveig via instagram, the very talented lady who is behind it all and I couldn’t believe how beautiful her garments were. Everything is sustainably handmade in Norway where she lives. The quality is insane and everything is produced with materials that are natural and biodegradable. On the website you can also find a section all about the fabrics used, the manufacturing process and the cost of making each product, with that being said it means that Aoi are 100% transparent - something that more brands need to take note of.
I’m wearing her Linen Twill Hakama Trousers which are inspired by a traditional Japanese trouser with a tie waist (right up my street.) They have been kept in their natural undyed state which I love. What’s more they are made to order so if you have any sizing requests you can always ask. I wanted mine to fit a little wider without the taper and Solveig was more than helpful and happy to make the adjustments.
With this being the second item I now own from Aoi I thought it would be the perfect time to introduce the brand on here, so I caught up with Solveig to chat further and learn all about her ethos, her inspirations and her vision for the brand.
How Did Aoi Project start? What were the inspirations behind the brand?
Aoi got started out of a creative void. Both me and my husband are very creative and always have projects on the go. And as I at the time was in school studying programming, not getting my creative fix, I needed something to dig my hands into. I had just inherited a vintage sewing machine and learnt how to sew, and thought I could share some of the items in a web-shop, that way I also got to practice my programming skills. In the beginning the inspiration came from my own wishes, products I saw the need and purpose for in our own home, made in sustainable materials. It can be hard to come by, especially if you have a specific style in mind, and I thought someone else might be looking for the same thing as I was.
As I was fairly new at sewing, I didn't release any garments in the beginning, but the Workshop designs we have in our collection now was in the sketchbook from the very start. I have always been inspired by vintage workwear, and also Japanese style and culture, and this inspired the first Aoi designs.
Where are you finding inspiration from currently?
At the moment I love looking at old photos of farmers and workers from the 1800s from around the world. We where in our hometown this summer and I found an old book about the people of the local area from before the industrialisation, and the pictures were gems!
Have you always been interested in fashion?
I have always been experimental with fashion, and we have a thing in our family where my dad always asks me "Are you going to wear that?" in a sarcastic manner, because I always got to choose my own clothes growing up, amusing my parents.
Working as a photographer after high school got me more into art direction and styling, and a few years ago I took a small degree in fashion school here in Oslo, and worked as a Stylist Assistant and in a fashion magazine. I learnt a lot from being in the industry, and it also put me off it for a while because of the sustainability issues, but I think that is what drives me most today.
Tell us about your design process, where does it all begin?
It really varies between starting with a fabric swatch or ending with a fabric swatch! Often times I have an idea, either from something I'm inspired by at the moment, or from something I'm just really craving for myself and can't find anywhere. I then start by drawing some sketches of the initial idea on paper, and later put it into photoshop and play with colours and see how it combines with other pieces in the collection. Then comes the fabric sourcing, which very often takes the most time. I am very picky, and also want the fabric to be as sustainable as possible, so it can be quite difficult to find the perfect one. So I order swatches, and sometimes new ideas are born this way too, as I often order a couple more swatches of other interesting fabrics at the same time and some are so tempting to put to use! I then draft the pattern and make a sample or a toile, and try it out for a while before I photograph it and pop it in the shop.
Do you think the issues surrounding sustainability are changing the fashion scene?
I think we are definitely starting to move in the right direction. So many people are talking about the subject now and spreading the word, making a visible shift in the industry. More brands are changing their perspective, and there has been a boom in new ethical and sustainable brands making their way with the growing demand for better quality and production. I think there has been a big shift this year and people are now looking more at what materials are used and expecting brands to be more responsible and transparent.
It’s nice to see that you have strong brand values, why is this important to you?
Environmental issues has always been on my mind. I think it started out from my love of animals when I was little, and I carried it out in my teens as I became a member of a youth political party and did my teenage rebelling through activism. I really believe it should be on everyones mind, and I want to help spread the word. So having these values behind Aoi as a brand I find is a good way to contribute. The more brands that are transparent about sourcing, production and pricing, the more aware and engaged consumers become.
What’s next for Aoi Project?
Right now we are working on our collections for AW19 and SS20, and building Aoi one stone at a time. I currently make every piece myself, and in the future it would be great if we could provide a workplace for an extra person to help make the garments, and a studio where Aoi could have it's production and a showroom.
What has been the challenges of creating your own brand?
The first challenge was to just do it, and not being a perfectionist and caring what people might think. Then it has been to stick to a budget and to the plan. I'm a very enthusiastic person when it comes to business ventures, and not getting carried away when new ideas pop up is a challenge! Lastly the greatest challenge is to be patient and taking your time, building a brand from the ground up is not a fast process, and by giving it time to brew I think the result will be better.
Where’s your favourite place to eat in Oslo?
Izakaya! It's a Japanese style hidden gem in Oslo absolutely worth checking out
Pants: Aoi Project, shop here
Tshirt: Beams Boy
Trainers: New Balance 990 V5