“Soulland: Love, peace and freedom” Silas chuckles to himself after reflecting on the conceptual process behind Soulland’s 2017 ‘FRI.day’ collaboration with Nike SB that took inspiration from the Nordic Viking Goddess Freyja: The Goddess of love, war and brutality. “I’ve spent 20 years trying to find something that captures what we are about in a way,” Silas tells ATC.
Born in Copenhagen, Denmark, Soulland is preparing for its Autumn Winter 2024 showing early next year. Off the back of the recent success of their Spring 2024 collection preview in August, the label is in the midst of an evolution, bringing a premium and considered feel to their menswear and womenswear ranges. But Soulland is not shying away from their deep roots in the skate and streetwear scene. Here Soulland’s Founder and Creative Director Silas Adler and CEO Jacob Kampp Berliner talk with ATC on how they are claiming their origins, and how these deep roots and connections have forged a greener, more elevated take on the culture at large.
For our Australian customers who don't know, can you describe the ethos and the philosophy behind Soulland? What are you working towards as a brand?
SA: I think that if you look at skateboarding, which is something that we come from, it is a big part of our mental structure. That's where everything actually comes from. It's basically that freedom and mentality that we are trying to put into an elevated product. So I guess that you can take the energy and the mental state from that culture and put that on a more elevated garment. We really wanted to produce in a high quality and from high-quality fabrics, and we come from a very energetic culture, you know. So it’s the meeting of those two.
JKB: I think I can add to that. It's a lot about how can we run a company with very little boundaries, you know? If you are small then you are more sub-cultural, how can you run a company like that? So we base everything on our own beliefs and not how you should run a business. That's really our core in making decisions that are meaningful for me and Silas, and we hope that we can put that in the company also.
SA: We're really going to the essence, what you have in there, what's in the very, very centre. I had this experience not too long ago when I was coming back to the Fri.DAY project we did with Nike many years ago. It was based on one of the Viking Gods from Nordic Mythology. It's based on the Goddess called Freyja and she is the goddess of love and of war and brutality. But not war in the sense of fighting a war for the sake of aggression or conquering, but fighting the war to protect or regain peace and freedom. So then if you really boil it into them, you can say, Soulland: love peace freedom. I’ve spent 20 years trying to find something that captures what we are about in a way. Like I said, a big part of it is that we need to be able to move freely. We need to be able to change perspective.
What does the current Copenhagen fashion scene look like at the moment, and how has that changed since the brand started in 2002?
JKB: You can say in many ways that Copenhagen is a small village, so you will know everyone. For us we decided a long time ago that we want to be supportive of the scene in Denmark. It also comes again from the sub-cultural view that if you come from a small scene, you have to be proud of what people can build around you. As a brand we have never been super connected to the ‘Scandi’ vibe, it's not been kind of our gig. I think we've been inspired by a lot of inspirational cultural things that come outside of Denmark. But we both have tried to play a big role in supporting other brands in Denmark and creative talent.
SA: I agree. I also think it can easily sound like an excuse or something, but I think that it's a bit tricky for Danish brands to understand scale because Denmark is small and the Danish home market is small. It's hard to understand that as soon as you get a little bit away from Denmark, there are markets that are much bigger. I think we realised just recently that it's really hard to build something if you don't have your home market with you. You have a home market that's as tiny as Denmark, it's hard not to make something that's very commercial. It's only recently that we're seeing brands that are starting to have a bit more edge, because the next generation has a better understanding that they're part of a global scene rather than a Danish scene. That's what we really latched onto 15 years ago, that this needs to be part of a global scene, Denmark is too small to support it. I know it's counterproductive, but I can't help but wonder what would have happened if we had moved and operated out of somewhere bigger? It can feel sometimes that you're communicating very globally and your mindset is very global. But then when you walk out the door, you're still in a small village, which is fantastic, but it's also slow. It's important to basically go out in the world and remind yourself that you're part of something bigger. I think that's what I'm realising now that it's fantastic here, but it's also like the Shire in Lord of Rings.
ATC: That's how Sydney feels sometimes. It feels very much like there's a limitation because we're geographically so far away, for young people in jobs or for businesses who want to look to grow. You do have to really look internationally to kind of get there. Otherwise, if you stay within Australia or for in your case, within Denmark, you can be ingrained in it.
JKB: I have the same feeling with the retailers we work with in Australia over the years that we have the same strong local scene, with some good brains and a lot of creativity. I think you have that a lot. But then at the same time, there's also some kind of thing where you need to get out, to kind of test what you're doing against the rest of the world.
I want to pivot now that we are talking about international growth. Soulland has such strong roots in skateboarding and the hip-hop scene, but as of AW23, you are moving toward a higher-end, luxury feel to your collections and product. What caused this change and what elements of the brand are you looking to elevate?
JKB: For me, it's about extending our boundaries away from the stigma of skate and streetwear. It's streetwear, but why would it have to be shitty quality, you know? You can put chaos details into a product that is connected to a culture. I feel that's where we're testing something that's a bit ‘nothing new’, but it's at least we’re fighting a bit with the stigma.
SA: We tried to do it when we just put out products that we thought ‘we need to put this in because this can sell’. When you're in the business for so many years, you will get lost more than once. That's just the fact, you know. But we need to make products where we can really put our love and attention into the products. We also are more focused now from all the years of researching what's the future of garments. What's the future of products?
When we started working with responsibility on the practical level, then we changed to organic cotton, we changed to recycled fibres, all these things. But the more you work on it, you realise that for the world, we need to change. People need to make real change. We still feel that we have a hard, long time to go. We're spending so much energy putting effort into products that we make in high quality so they last longer, not only that the garment lasts longer in terms of what it's made of but also something that, from a philanthropic point, can stand the test of time a little bit longer. Something that can stay in the wardrobe a little bit longer. Something that you can wear in a lot of different settings. Something that you can grow with as a person. There is no one owning the rights to make stuff based on skateboarding, that has to look a certain way or has to speak a certain language. For me and Jacob, we're very interested in other brands but we're wearing Soulland from head to toe now, almost every day. Because we love the product. And we feel comfortable in the product.
You've mentioned now that you're choosing different fabrics that are of a certain quality and now starting your production in Florence, Italy. What was it about Italy that made you look there?
JKB: Just as a starter, what I think is interesting is that it comes out from a guy that we know from skateboarding. I just think it's an interesting thing that it's always working with where we started.
SA: It’s a little bit like I talked about before, like trying to make more responsible products and working that route. All of a sudden you go from just a pace of pushing forward to a pace of actually having to show things at the same time that we are designing and producing. We have to figure out new ways of doing things, and one of the things that we started working on was deadstock. We realised how much fabric is available out there that is beautiful, but it's just other people's leftovers. And we started doing that. First we tried to work with our own dead stock but there wasn't that much of that. So when we used all of that, we were like, okay, what do our factories have?
And then as Jacob said, one of our friends, who is a skateboarder from Florence, he invited us down and all of a sudden we realised there's this whole world of textiles that are the highest quality in the world and it's just sitting in warehouses. It takes a lot of energy to find those warehouses, build trust with the warehouses and start working with them. It's very back to basics. You really have to go there, you have to travel around, you have to eat lunch with them, which is fine because it's probably the best lunch you can have in the world. But it takes a lot of time.
JKB: I actually think that when you look at our Reseller Program, judging from the name's buying it, it's a younger generation. They actually search for knowledge in a different way. I think that's also super exciting. It's really fantastic to see a product that moved from someone that gets returned to you and it moves to someone else in another part of the world. It's not like we are solving a big problem, but it's an interesting business case. We produce a little less newness, but we learn more about our own history at the same time. It's not an issue that's followed up the first time you wear it, it's actually possible to keep it in the loop for a long time. And then some products increase in price and some are lower. It's also the mindset of the quality, both in the history of the collection.
The younger kids here are so much more aware of that. Depop exists for a reason, and people are looking for it. They're buying second hand, because the quality is going to be absolutely fine.
SA: Sometimes I just use Depop as Instagram, you know. Just to look at cool things.
How do you keep skateboarding relevant within your process?
SA: I'm holding up the skateboard mentality by skating three times a week. So that's one part of it. But then we're working on an internal project with instrumental people. That's not like a collaboration, something that's a bit more ongoing. I think it comes down to, kind of like with skateboarding, if you really want to work with it, then you need to also be ready to get your hands dirty and have a hands-on experience. For me, I can't fully get that without being out skateboarding myself. That's it. I love skateboarding, you know. It's not like I'm forcing myself to go out, but I realise that meeting the kids, seeing what's going on at a small local level, just gives you understanding of where the energy of skateboarding is and then you can bring that back to the table. I think that before we were not really fully in tune and the energy of the scene. It feels really good to actually be out there and skateboarding and it's fun.
Well, bring back another Nike SB please!
SA: Please call them and tell them to open the floodgates. We're skating every Friday morning with my old friends that I grew up skating with. We are doing a little video actually that we're gonna put out in a couple of weeks. So, it's exciting.
On doing collaborations, you launched your first Hello Kitty collaboration in April and there is another collection on the way. How do you choose a brand like Hello Kitty and make it Soulland?
JKB: For all collaborations, we look at the previous stories of the brands collaborating with them. We won’t do it if we could feel like we'll just do another pink bag with a Hello Kitty logo on it or a phone cover or something. So it goes everywhere starting from when we did Playboy. We search for what is the nerve of the brand that hasn't really been exposed, especially with these kinds of collaborations where there's very little quality products in the market. There's a lot of cheap stuff. So I think it's really about how can you find the quality both in the history of the collaboration, but also in the product outcome, and make it relevant for a new audience. Hello Kitty is not about volume, and I think that's what is super special for them, you know, when you do this kind of licence collaboration, they’re used to be volume collaborations, and what we do is maybe offer a change.
Let’s talk about our partnership that we are launching soon! We’re super excited to highlight the diverse global environments that represent Soulland and bring an Australian touch to Soulland. What was your thought process behind the ‘Soulland Postcard’?
SA: I think that the idea is that sometimes we’re forgetting how small things can say a lot. When you look at the small details that make Sydney look different from Singapore or Singapore looks different from Munich or from Paris and so on and so on. You don't need a lot to see that this is a different place that I'm normally seeing this product. I think that from a logistics point of view it was like, why don't we hang the products and then let the surroundings do the talking? It's interesting to see the products in different urban environments. We also like not doing anything else than just hanging it. To emphasise like the power of a hanger, that’s the house of a garment, you know, you can put it on anything. I think that's where that came from. We also like when we are letting go. The concept is simple, but how do you go about it? Are you trying to say okay, how can we find the most weird or extreme place to hang it? Or you're going to be like, this is where the street looks nice and or we're going to put it somewhere that internally for us has meaning, but for other people is just a street corner. I hope at least that it forces you or whoever we're collaborating with, forces them to show and give a little bit of themselves. You can make it in a polished way. It has to be lo-fi and it has to be honest. People are forced to do something that's local and honest and say something a little bit about them. I'm super excited to see it. I love just letting go of things.
Take some responsibility off!
SA: Yeah, and also see how can we grow our relationship together, the business relationship. If we're not willing to also let go and say, the product is also yours, you're part of the product that could be within this concept, how do you see it?
JKB: There was also trusting letting go, I think that's also a big part of it.
What are some young brands that you are noticing coming out of Denmark and Scandinavia? Who is on your radar?
SA: I was just a part on the jury of the Danish fashion prize Wessel & Vett. The three ones that were there were Heliot Emil, Saks Pots and also Forza Collective. They’re very different brands, but they're all doing a tremendous job and also connected, which is a new women's well line. It was also pretty fantastic. Dancer, which is also fantastic, also comes out of skateboarding, with a great whole visual language. They do a lot of low-fi animations to sort of tell the story about the brand and it's fantastic.
JKB: Then I even think like, they’re not designers in that way, but Post Isolation is like a record company. I think if it's not coming down to really designing products, it has to be very clear that it's based on energy. They definitely have that.
SA: Yeah, Poetic Collective from Malmö is also really nice. There's another skate brand from Stockholm called Eva, which is also a great energy.
Thank you to the Soulland team, Silas Adler and Jacob Kampp Berliner for the chat.
You can shop Soulland online here and discover our Postcard to Soulland via the Soulland and Above The Clouds Instagram.