Scandi-style: how Swedish design is inspired by nature

When international people think about Sweden, great design quickly comes to mind. Whether it’s clothing or furniture, there’s a distinct Swedish style that millions of people love.

Scandi-style: how Swedish design is inspired by nature
Photos: Stockholm Fashion Week

In 2020, its global appeal may be stronger than ever given how the country’s designers embrace sustainability. But what is it that makes Sweden and its capital Stockholm such strong sources of inspiration for creative types?

The Local spoke with fashion designer Naim Josefi and Catarina Midby, Secretary General of the Swedish Fashion Association, to find out.

Fair and sustainable fashion: find out more about Swedish design from Visit Stockholm

Classical beauty

For Naim Josefi, Sweden is the perfect place to work as a designer. He was born and grew up in Iran, where his father was an entrepreneur in the fashion business. 

But when he arrived in Sweden as a teenager, he was expecting to go to medical school and train to be a doctor. “In Sweden, I found the freedom to discover and follow my passion,” he says.

He changed course to follow his interest in fashion professionally. First, he worked as a tailor in bespoke studios, before studying at Beckmans College of Design in Stockholm and then setting up his own brand. “My mother got very upset at first,” he says. “But we’ve made peace since.”

Naim Josefi at work. Photo: Tina Axelsson/

Josefi says Stockholm provides constant inspiration for his work – through the natural environment and the architecture. His memories of first arriving in the city remain vivid.

“I’d never seen such a beautiful autumn,” he says. “The leaves on the trees have different shades of colour that I’d never seen in other countries. It really gave me goosebumps.

“Stockholm also has beautiful streets and colourful old houses that look like postcard images. I absorb the sights of the city every day in a way that helps me to be creative. Stockholm has that classical, timeless beauty like Paris.” 

Breaking out of the bubble

Josefi says aspects of the culture in Sweden also enabled him to develop as a designer – and test the boundaries of his art. “I analysed how people dress and connect and I found the transparency in Stockholm very helpful to find my way,” he says. “Where I come from, ‘yes’ doesn’t always mean ‘yes’. In Sweden, the clarity is inspiring.

WATCH: how creative Stockholmers are inspired by the city’s people and values

“People here are fashionable and have a distinctive style that’s easy to understand – but nobody goes to the extreme. I like to understand that and then step out of the Swedish bubble. There’s an opportunity for me to see if I can break the rules just a little to give people a small shock.”

This signature approach to his work can be seen in the 3D-printed shoes he sells as works of art and the ‘Crowd’ face masks he’s producing in a non-profit project in response to the coronavirus pandemic.‘Crowd’ face mask and Naim Josefi at work. Photo credits: Anton Renborg (left) and Ronan Davis (right)

“I wanted to create a fashion accessory to make it more acceptable to wear a mask in Sweden,” he says. “We’ve reached the early adopters and they’re our biggest selling product right now.”

For each ‘Crowd’ mask sold, five percent of the cost will go to donating 100 masks to the elderly care system in Sweden. 

An environment of equality

Debate about the environmental impact of the fashion industry is not new. But the impact of coronavirus has added to the interest in ‘conscious fashion’ that’s concerned with ethics and sustainability.

In 2020, Stockholm Fashion Week took a leap into fashion’s ‘new normal’ and went digital for the first time, starting with an online inauguration by Crown Princess Victoria of Sweden from her home at Haga Palace.

The three-day programme included a wide range of webinars and Zoom talks focused on topics such as digitisation, climate action, circularity, and diversity.

Photos: Catarina Midby (left)/Stockholm Fashion Week

Catarina Midby says the global fashion industry needs to take a “holistic view” on these big issues and address them jointly. “I think there’s definitely a new mindset and people are making an effort,” she says.

Midby cites ‘allemansrätten’ (which grants everyone equal public access to Swedish nature) as part of the reason Swedes are inspired by nature and mindful of sustainability.

“We’re a very equal and democratic society,” she says. “In school we learn that nature belongs to everyone and we need to take care of it. The mindset is that we need to avoid creating waste for people but also for the natural environment.

“We cycle to kindergarten to pick up our kids and dry cleaning is very expensive in Sweden, so we design clothes that work for modern lives! When people talk about Scandi-style, it’s really Swedish style – clean-cut designs with great longevity. Nearly all our brands have a sustainable vision.”

The future: fashion for everyone

Midby expects to see a balance between physical and digital fashion events in the years ahead. She welcomes the fact that shows streamed online are “open for everyone not just the few.” 

Josefi is equally emphatic on the topic of fashion and the environment. “The future demands sustainability,” he says. “At the moment it’s one of the biggest challenges for fashion but things are starting to change.”

One thing seems sure to remain the same: a Swedish design style often inspired by the natural environment it seeks to protect.

Naim Josefi is one of the creative Stockholmers who reveal how the city inspires them in a series of new videos from Visit Sweden and Visit Stockholm. Watch the short video with Josefi below and click here to see videos of more creative Stockholmers sharing their stories. 



Denmark’s ‘freetown’ Christiania hangs onto soul, 50 years on

A refuge for anarchists, hippies and artists, Denmark's 'freetown' Christiania turns 50 on Sunday, and though it hasn't completely avoided the encroachment of modernity and capitalism, its free-wheeling soul remains intact.

Denmark's 'freetown' Christiania hangs onto soul, 50 years on
Christiania, one of Copenhagen's major tourist attractions, celebrates its 50th anniversary on Sunday. JENS NOERGAARD LARSEN / SCANPIX / AFP

Nestled in the heart of Copenhagen, Christiania is seen by some as a progressive social experiment, while others simply see it as a den of drugs.

On September 26th, 1971, a band of guitar-laden hippies transformed an abandoned army barracks in central Copenhagen into their home. They raised their “freedom flag” and named their new home “Christiania, Freetown” after the part of the city where it is located.

They wanted to establish an alternative society, guided by the principles of peace and love, where decisions were made collectively and laws were not enforced.

Soft drugs were freely available, and repurposing, salvaging and sharing was favoured over buying new.

It was a community “that belonged to everybody and to no one”, said Ole Lykke, who moved into the 34-hectare (84-acre) enclave in the 1970s.

These principles remain well-rooted today, but the area has changed in many ways: tourists weave through its cobblestone roads, and the once-reviled market economy is in full swing.

Perhaps most importantly, it is no longer a squat. Residents became legal landowners when they bought some of the land from the Danish state in 2012.

Now it is home to some 900 people, many artists and activists, along with restaurants, cafes and shops, popular among the half a million tourists that visit annually.

“The site is more ‘normal’,” says a smiling Lykke, a slender 75-year-old with ruffled silver hair, who passionately promotes Christiania, its independence and thriving cultural scene.

Legislation has been enforced since 2013 — though a tongue-in-cheek sign above the exit points out that those leaving the area will be entering the European Union.

‘Embrace change’
It is Christiania’s ability to adapt with the times that has allowed it to survive, says Helen Jarvis, a University of Newcastle professor of social geography engagement.

“Christiania is unique,” says Jarvis, who lived in Christiania in 2010.

“(It) endures because it continues to evolve and embrace change”.

Some of those changes would have been unthinkable at the start.

Residents secured a bank loan for several million euros to be able to buy the land, and now Christiania is run independently through a foundation.

They also now pay wages to the around 40 people employed by Christiania, including trash collectors and daycare workers.

“Money is now very important,” admits Lykke, who is an archivist and is currently exhibiting 100 posters chronicling Christiania’s history at a Copenhagen museum.

But it hasn’t forgotten its roots.

“Socially and culturally, Christiania hasn’t changed very much,” he says, noting that the community’s needs still come first.

‘Judged a little’
Christiania has remained a cultural hub — before the pandemic almost two dozen concerts were held every week and its theatres were packed.

But it is still beset by its reputations as a drugs hub.

Though parts of Christiania are tranquil, lush and green with few buildings, others are bustling, with a post office, mini-market, healthcare centre, and Pusher Street, the notorious drug market.

Lykke says it’s a side of Christiania most could do without.

“Most of us would like to get rid of it. But as long as (marijuana use) is prohibited, as long as Denmark doesn’t want to decriminalise or legalise, we will have this problem,” says Lykke.

While still officially illegal, soft drugs like marijuana and hash are tolerated — though not in excess.

Since early 2020, Copenhagen police have seized more than one tonne of cannabis and more than a million euros.

“Sometimes I don’t tell people that I live here because you get judged a little bit. Like, ‘Oh, you must be into marijuana and you must be a smoker’,” says Anemone, a 34-year-old photographer.

For others, Christiania’s relaxed nature is part of the appeal.

“It’s different from what I know, I really want to see it,” laughs Mirka, a Czech teacher who’s come to have a look around.