ASK Scandinavia had the pleasure to talk with Finnish model Caroline Farneman about everything from her career learnings, her thoughts on sustainable fashion, to how she stays energized during the colder and darker months.

Hi Caroline, thank you for doing this with us! You are a young fashion model with many years of experience from the international scene. You have also worked in sustainability and even wrote your master’s thesis on circular fashion. What sparked your interest in the field? 

Thank you! Yes, you are right. I was scouted for modeling eight years ago, and since then I have been working internationally, in for example New York, Milan, London, Paris and Sydney, to name a few places.

Having the opportunity to work with such interesting and creative people from various backgrounds, my interest in the fashion industry was sparked quite naturally. Models tend to be involved just in the final step of the process – when they walk the runway or take part in photoshoots. But what I find interesting is understanding what happens before the final looks are displayed. When working for Calvin Klein in New York, I got to work very closely with the design team, which taught me a great deal of the process – from the creative work of the designers, the process of choosing fabrics for the clothes, the production itself to the final look on the runway. It also opened my eyes to how non-eco-friendly the fashion industry is, as well as the city of New York is in general. I think this was the point when I started to become interested in sustainability.

Eventually, I decided to study Strategy and Creative Sustainability at Aalto University for my master’s, as it combines two of my interests – fashion and sustainability. I did my master’s thesis on sustainable business models and strategies for fashion companies to become more sustainable. Even though all companies are facing their challenges, I feel that the awareness of this issue is increasing and the discussion is becoming more transparent.

What are your key learnings from your fashion career and studies?

Working as a fashion model, I tend to think that I have been in the “school of life”, so to speak. I have been in all kinds of unexpected situations and learned how to cope with them. This has developed my patience, stress tolerance and social skills, such as getting along with people of all ages and backgrounds. Traveling and working abroad has also definitely widened my perspective of the world and made me more open-minded and independent. Building on that, my academic background has given me the ability to think more critically. It has also provided me with tools to understand the business world and the value of collaboration and effective communications. 

These experiences build the foundation for my professional career. For example, last summer I had the opportunity to combine my interest in fashion and sustainability as I pursued an internship in the sustainability team at the Danish fashion brand GANNI in Copenhagen. Having an academic background in the field, it was a very interesting experience to put theory into practice and reduce the company’s emissions.

Sustainability is often a much-debated word. What does sustainability mean to you?

That is true. Sometimes I worry that the word itself is starting to lose its meaning if it continues to be used by the media in all kinds of contexts. How can we then know when something is sustainable or if it is just greenwashing? 

To me, sustainability means the ability to sustain and to use resources efficiently. Companies play a crucial role in making our society more sustainable and can impact both regulators and consumers to drive the change. Consumers also play an active role, for example by changing their habits such as shopping less, eating eco-friendly, flying less and recycling more. But let’s face it – people tend to go with the easiest option, and that is why companies must offer easily accessible sustainable options. 

What do you think are the most critical aspect of sustainability that fashion companies should work on today?

I think that in addition to moving to more sustainable materials throughout the process – from garments to the packaging –fashion companies should pursue a more circular business model approach. Let’s walk it through.

Reduce: The fashion scene should change regarding how many collections the companies are producing. It is a simple equation. Producing more clothes lead to more emissions and more clothes that will eventually go to landfill.

Repair: It would be great if fashion companies would offer their customers the option to repair their clothes, for example by having a clothes repair station or another repair solution.

Reuse/Resell:  Old collections, unsold clothes, or clothes that customers do not use anymore could be resold either through a physical store or a website. Win-win for both companies and customers, as unsold clothes get sold and customers can buy at a cheaper price.

Rent: Fashion companies could also think of implementing a rental platform. How cool would it be if you could have rented that summer party dress instead!

Recycle: I think it is essential for companies to have a recycling scheme. However, I believe that should be the last step after repairing, reusing, or reselling. And don’t give vouchers for recycling – it only encourages more shopping.

What do you think will be the future of fashion?

Hopefully, the future of fashion will run on a circular business model that I just described.

Additionally, I wish that no more fast fashion companies are entering the scene. The technology needs to develop; at the moment, only a few percent of the clothing is recycled back into clothing today. And it would be cool for consumers to be able to track the sourcing of the material already in the shop, for example through blockchain. 

When it comes to high fashion, I think it is interesting to see what is happening now during COVID-19. When shows cannot take place, brands are getting more creative, for example by using video installations. This way of doing it is better for the environment.

What are the most important aspects for you when buying a new item?

I would say these three following aspects are the most important. First, I try to shop second-hand or in stores that focus on sustainability. As consumers, we tend to forget that we all should demand companies to direct themselves towards a more sustainable journey.

Second, I shop for quality over quantity. I tend to think whether I will wear the new item for 30 times (check out the 30 times challenge by Livia Firth). That will extend the life of the clothes and would reduce clothing emissions immensely.

For example, a study in the UK shows that wearing a garment 9 months longer would decrease emissions by 20-30%. 

Third, I also tend to look at the material. I aim at buying clothes made of mono materials, for example buying a product which is 100 % wool. This is better for the environment, as when the clothes are getting recycled, current technology is not able to separate different materials from each other.   

What is your favourite piece of clothing/item during the fall?

After summer, I just love to start wearing my warm sweaters. One of my favourites is a white wool sweater that I found in a thrift store a winter in New York when I was freezing my ass off. I prefer more neutral colours – they go together with everything and you will not grow tired of them.

Any other tips for extra motivation and mood boost to get through seasonal change?

I love the fall. The crispy air, the feeling of new beginnings. Focusing on your overall well-being will give you the energy to get through the darker times.

I enjoy reading books, listening to podcasts, cooking cozy dinners with good company and engaging in connecting discussions. I love the colors in nature at this time of the year. There is no better way to stay present than being in nature so go out there for adventures, such as hiking or bicycling – it can be done in so many sustainable ways.

I also believe in cleaning your closet – new beginnings there as well! You always find old treasures or clothes that can be repaired, resold or recycled. I have always wanted to organize a swap event with my friends, where you bring old clothes that you swap with some of your friends’ clothes, along with a nice dinner and some red wine. Get creative!

Thank you Caroline for your time and your insights into this important topic. We at ASK Scandinavia wish you a lovely fall!


Words by Alice Ahlström