In this insightful interview, Salla Sandberg, a dedicated mother and a leader in sustainable fashion, shares her journey from a Finnish fashion brand to an MBA graduate and sustainability expert at Spinnova. She discusses the evolving challenges and opportunities in the fashion industry, emphasizing the need for sustainability and innovation. Salla also reflects on the balance between motherhood and career, advocating for a sustainable lifestyle and offering wisdom on embracing sustainability in fashion and personal life. This interview is a must-read for anyone interested in sustainable fashion, personal growth, and the integration of family and professional ambitions.

Tell us a bit about yourself and your background

My journey started at one of the most iconic Finnish fashion brand in 2005. I never thought I would enjoy my time there for almost two decades. However, my personal growth required lots of support from my lovely colleagues. The best moments were when we faced new challenges and sought new ways of doing things, together. I wouldn’t be here without them. Still, it’s rather rare for anyone to spend that much time in the same company and keep oneself entertained the whole time. I was just lucky to have such wonderful people around me to work with, and above all, to learn from.


From the pandemic era of 2020 to this day, I was blessed with two healthy and amazing children and graduated as  MBA with honors. Pleasantly, my MBA studies were the first time Aalto University included a sustainability theme as a core module. It was eye-opening for me to realize how much knowledge there is about sustainability I never thought of outside my expertise. I also joined Spinnova’s commercial team in 2022 to lead partnerships with comprehensive global brands. It was a notable contrast between a traditional textile company and a technology company on the verge of commercialization, but I didn’t have a second thought as Spinnova matched all my values, especially in sustainability matters. Spinnova is one of the forerunners in innovative solutions.


Your expertise and genuine passion for sustainability in textiles at SPINNOVA are impressive! Was sustainability always one of your guiding lights, or can you share your sustainability aha moment?

I am afraid to admit that it took time to realize the concept of sustainability. The extensiveness of the topic feels like infinity. There is so much to learn and to be curious about. Most of the time, I enjoy learning. However, I think travelling around the world and meeting suppliers was a harsh awakening to the hardships of life. The great purpose shouldn’t only be protecting the environment but simultaneously creating equal and decent working conditions.


I believe we can make the best sustainability impact by including every party instead of leaving ineffectual ones behind. We need to grow together on this sustainability journey and educate both parties, the consumers and suppliers who work with us.


What are some of the challenges that the fashion industry is facing today, and what are the opportunities you see?

As I take a look back, the development in the fashion industry has increased rapidly over the past few years and continues to make huge progress. On the one hand, consumers are more aware and demanding in their everyday decision-making.  The products need to be transparent, traceable, ethical and responsibly produced. On the other hand, these behavior changes push companies to find more sustainable and responsible options. I believe we all share the same concern – how to manage these factors in the most sustainable way environmentally, socially and economically.


I’d say the most significant challenge is overconsumption and overproduction. It is estimated that the whole industry is responsible for 10% of global carbon emissions. Surprisingly, as consumers demand more sustainable products, textile sale rates keep increasing every year, which has led us to normalize the idea of brands overproducing products to meet our always-growing need for new items. This behavioral change has already affected our raw material resources and created environmental issues. The first action we need to take is to break the consumption model based on this disposable economy. Brands burning last season’s stocks instead of making good of it is something against my values.


Additionally, in the future, when we review projects and innovations, we should not only focus on climate but also on toxic pollution and biodiversity. It is clear that when we invest on more sustainable raw materials and innovations, we can focus on achieving closed-loop material cycles. With close-looped cycles, we can impact resource efficiency and product life cycles, which will benefit us all. The key element and opportunity is innovations that support circular economy.


Why do you believe sustainability in fashion is something everyone should strive to learn about?

We all have the power of influence to change the direction of what brands produce and how much. As mentioned earlier, brands should consider this change of requiring more innovative solutions as a business practice. New innovative solutions can also bring the required revenue streams and grow the business potential. Hence, we will see even more collaborations between global brands and industries to gain more sustainability and to support the availability and access to innovations for brands.


Secondly, instead of just focusing on minimizing the quantity, one of the most significant steps toward a more sustainable world, we should seek more permanent solutions that cover product longevity, repair service, upcycling, pre-loved products and rental services. We need to demand and invest in new solutions that consume and burden fewer natural resources. On a personal level, it doesn’t need to be extensive changes, but it needs to be part of our lifestyle. One step is to educate future generations from early years and normalize the mindset of the circular economy.


What are three ingredients that make up the woman and mother that you are?

My well-being is based on my relationships, thus I love to cherish them. A strong bond with my children, sharing their fleeting moments with my husband, and spending more time with my ageing parents is a blend of feelings I haven’t experienced before.


It’s funny how much motherhood has in common with work life. I have to choose my battles wisely every day and be able to be flexible in implementing different strategies as the situation demands. Changing sock colors constantly in the morning is alright, but going out without ones is not! Every season requires new skills and techniques to parent our children well. I believe flexibility and adaptation to changes are the keys to a healthy relationship. For example, in the name of enforcing rules and demanding sustainability, we might jeopardize the relationship or otherwise good intentions.


Being a mother has taught me a lot of humility. Parenting has confronted my shortcomings and doubts. More critical than handling sometimes chaotic situations is the ability to swallow our pride and be willing to learn from it, and not to be afraid of making mistakes especially if you are more of a doer like me.


As a woman, I wish to see more supporting organizational diversity in executive roles. I believe women should support each other more. As a mother, I want to build opportunities for my children and teach them to reach out to their dreams.


Who is one woman who inspires you and why?

During my journey, I have had the privilege to meet people who have greatly inspired me in many ways, regardless of industries and positions. I get most inspired by persons who are driven toward their passion and take action for their values. Thus, I want to mention a person I recently met in my studies, Ira Lang. She is a marvelous coach, a strong fighter with a heart-touching story. Her coaching challenged me and brought new aspects to my thoughts.


Could you share some cherished insights from your journey as a new mom, while offering some wisdom on leading a sustainable life while embracing motherhood?

I wish I had learned earlier that motherhood doesn’t exclude your career or any other part of your life. The only important thing is to understand your core values. What or who do you value the most in life? Because those values and those decisions define how you spend your time. You don’t need a clear life mission but focus on the journey.


When it comes to a sustainable lifestyle, instead of following trends, try to find your style, focus on a few stable pieces and take care of them to increase longevity. I love and support the pre-loved concept.


If you had one sustainability wish granted in the fashion realm, what would it be?

The only way is to stay positive and trust the process for a better tomorrow. I like to think that we have a consensus regarding the limitation of our global resources by now, and emphasizing quality over quantity is the only path to success in the long run. Otherwise, it’ll be a dead end. Tech companies and fashion brands are responsible for finding sustainable materials and innovations. Nevertheless, the EU and its members must also lead the way, for example, by supporting long-term R&D.


To round up, tell us something that excites you about the future of Salla!

Fashion is known as a traditional industry when it comes to digitalization. The most exciting thing will be digitizing the industry beyond e-commerce. We need new ways to connect brands, lead suppliers, and store and collect data. We also need to focus on how digitalization could support companies better in their sustainability targets and demands in the future.


Digitizing the industry will also be crucial to stay up to date with upcoming legislation from the EU. Compliance starts as early as 2026, and we should have been prepared for it already. It will be interesting to see how this change will support and connect companies to a circular economy.


Salla Sandberg
Photograph by Anton Sucksdorff