Unplastic Fashion: Marko Svart’s Handmade, Environmentally Friendly Design - The Reykjavik Grapevine

Unplastic Fashion: Marko Svart’s Handmade, Environmentally Friendly Design

Unplastic Fashion: Marko Svart’s Handmade, Environmentally Friendly Design

Published June 21, 2019

Josie Gaitens
Photos by
Art Bicnick

As Marko Svart and his partner, Momo Hayashi, show me around their one-month-old store, they’re like new parents—happy, nervous, tired, but immensely proud. And they have every right to be. Having worked their way up from a stand at Kólaportið and selling jewellery at pop-ups and street stalls, their new boutique is the culmination of the hard work they’ve put into their brand, SVART by Svart.

Jewellery by SVART

Making for me

The shop on Týsgata is beautiful and inviting, with a bright blue wall behind the counter and simple wooden furniture—all handmade by the owners themselves. In fact, every single item in the shop was made by Marko and Momo, from the racks of hand-stitched minimalist clothing to postcards, marine-inspired jewellery and slightly surprising stuffed whales. But even the whales represent the minimum-waste ethos of the brand: they’re made from leftover scraps of material, in the spirit of the ‘slow fashion’ movement.

“Polyester is plastic, and if you put it in the washing machine it releases microplastics.”

The path to the store’s grand opening was long. Originally from Stockholm, Marko Svart studied the arts at university, specialising in contemporary dance. It was while he was a student that he began to experiment with clothing design.

“I started making clothes for myself,” says Marko. “Because I couldn’t find the right things on the market. When I started wearing my own clothes, other people would ask, ‘Where did you get that?’ I was so proud to be able to say ‘I made this!’”

A new culture

Stockholm, however, never felt like the right environment for Marko. He found the art scene too constricting and commercial, and eventually quit his studies. When he visited Iceland in 2014, he immediately fell in love with what he feels is a more accepting artistic culture.

“Even after being here for a few days, I could see the importance of art in general,” Marko recalls. “I feel it’s more primal here to enjoy art, and something that is handmade.

“At that time, there were still a lot of ‘unique’ stores in Reykjavik with interesting designers who’d have a shop on the ground floor and live on the top floor. I was very inspired by that, and I really wanted to open a shop here someday.”

Marko SVART

Art or souvenirs?

Two years later, Marko Svart made the move to Iceland and met Momo, who’d become a key contributor to his creative and business ambitions. Together, they started a line of jewellery using items like bones and feathers they’d find on walks along the seashore. They sold these pieces at Kolaportið—but both admit that it wasn’t really their scene.

“It worked quite well for a while,” Marko says, reflectively. “But it was a market and you have to kind of adapt to that standard.” Adds Momo: “It was more like souvenirs, our jewellery. It was the main product that we sold at the market—but we want to sell clothes more than jewellery.”

After looking at a variety of spaces, none of which were quite right, Marko and Momo secured their current storefront after randomly walking past and spotting an ad in the window. It turns out their residency there is particularly fitting—the owner was once a fashion designer herself, and is delighted to be housing another creative brand in her building.

Marko SVART

Lessening impact

While Marko Svart’s creations have always been inspired by nature—especially aquatic life—living in Iceland has given him a new awareness of the fragility of the environment. Marko and Momo both love walking along the local beaches, but have been distressed by the amount of plastic waste they have encountered alongside the feathers and shells they collect for their designs.

“I saw a documentary about plastic, and it was being marketed as this great thing that happened to the world,” says Marko. “There was one line in the documentary where the narrator said, ‘plastic is great because it’s even in our clothes!’ I’d never thought of it that way, and it hit me suddenly that polyester fabrics are plastic, and when you put it in the washing machine it releases microplastics.”

Marko’s current collection is a direct response to his new understanding of the harmful impacts of man-made materials. Made entirely from sustainable fabrics and decorated with gentle botanical colours and prints, the collection is a fitting continuation of Marko’s aspirations to build sustainability into his practice. “I always need to challenge myself,” he says. “If I make something for someone then they can probably keep it for the rest of their life.”

Info: Visit SVART by Marko Svart at Týsgata 1 or online here.

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