Health is Also What We Wear – Interview with Celia Ingesson Founder of Greeningline

Celia Ingesson; Photography: Jörgen Brennicke

We buy and treat or clothes as A Take Out. We buy a top because it’s as cheap and then throw it away and we don’t even think twice about it. The problem is that we wear it on our skin, which is our biggest organ. If people really think about it, it’s no surprise that we have cancer, allergies and other forms of deices. Our panties are made of the same petroleum-based-materials as a take out coffee mug. And then there are several more layers of toxins added like color and anti-bacterial finishes. Every add-on, is a next layer of plastic, another hazardous chemical

Celia, you’ve had a long, successful and exciting career as a design executive and trend forecaster. What attracted you to this field in the first place?

I started as a teenager; I’ve always been attracted to beauty, creating and building something. I’ve been fortunate to have music, dance, and drawing in my life as a child. I started to create my own clothes and basic patterns at a young age. I even used natural colors; playing around with tea, coffee and vegetables. I also knitted. For me, it was all about creating something unique, since I couldn’t really find what I was looking for. I’ve always had my own style and I knew my body quite well; there were parts I wanted to cover up, and parts that I wanted to show off. I also have my parents to thank. My father was an architect; but he ended up working with industrial paint and I was surrounded by colors. Although there were a lot of artists in the family, having a solid economic background was prioritized and my parents didn’t think I couldn’t support myself if I went into fashion. I spent my-life-in-fashion proving that it can bring both independence and stability, but it’s a demanding business. Freedom has always been a huge thing for me…

What have been some of the greatest achievements and challenges in your career in fashion?

The greatest success and challenge was working for H&M when they really became the giant they are today from 1989 until 18 years later. It was a big achievement; I was a part of the restructure to gain control over the supply chain. In other words, knowing where the materials and garments were actually being produced and have direct contact with the manufacturers. It was a much smaller team back then and we travelled globally. Most designs were created on the factory floors, interacting directly with pattern makers, garment workers and owners; that was really special and something I’m very grateful for. I’ve seen and dealt with the good, bad and ugly. It made me realize how one decision you make far away in an office can affect what is really going in these countries and how much power you have as a creative over someone else’s life. Especially with a big company, how much you can actually change; that’s the really frustrating part for me today. I can only improve a small part of the supply chain as Greeningline quantities are small, but I try to share my knowledge and have an impact through raising awareness among end consumers as well as the industry with talks, what I write and with interviews.  

So what would you say was the greatest achievement in the first stage of your career?

All that I’ve learned and seen by traveling and living all over Asia, North America and Europe. I recognized that my strength is to interact and connect with “the real people” working in the industry; teaching and learning from them to create the best possible products. They are really the backbone of the industry. I’m glad my work hasn’t been like for so many designers, sitting in a beautiful office just drawing creations and selecting materials without really knowing where they end up or the workers situation, from raw material to end product – I do it! I try to create the best situation together with the people in the factories, both the textile and garment factories.  That’s where my passion lies; it’s all about collaboration.

How has having a nomad lifestyle and traveling to so many countries impacted your worldview?

It made me like a chameleon. I learned how to gather a lot of experiences and people; like a tribe of friends and like-minded people; how to be independent, street smart; sometimes it’s very dangerous, especially to be a woman traveling alone. I had to learn early on how to take care of myself; read a room or situation quickly. I also think it’s given me a much more global perspective. It bothers me how divided we’ve become. We don’t value togetherness, solidarity. And we don’t have legislation requirements on a global scale. We really need to have a much more global perspective, not an individualistic one. I see myself as a global citizen. I’ve been blessed to see the world with all the good and bad it has shown me.

What part has health and wellness played in your hectic work and traveling life? How were you able to find balance?

Enormously. It really taught me from an early age that you have to take care of both your mental and physical health. I was very fortunate to start in my twenties with breathwork and yoga. It wasn’t trendy then. I was in India at the time. But it started already with my upbringing when my family became vegetarian to cure me from allergies, and my father exercised himself back to health from a bad disease. We had a Sauna and an exercise room. I learnt that it was important to take care of yourself. At the time, it was regarded as something really strange, so I was somewhat of an outsider. I figured that I could just add to that and be more unique instead. My travels allowed me to explore the world of health and wellness; everything from Ayurveda medicine in India to Eastern medicine in China, acupuncture, astrology, etc. You name it and I’ve tried it by the time I was 25! It was something I always did when I was abroad. Never something I searched for in Sweden. Here we have a lot of norms, I think that’s why I wanted to travel. Being abroad allowed me to explore and shine my light in a way I don’t think I could have done if I’ve stayed in one place…

What lead you to transition to founding your company Greeningline, which focuses on authentic sustainability, plant based color and materials?

I’ve always focused on natural materials. I think it has to do with being brought up in Sweden. I am very thankful for that. We lived near nature and did a lot of outdoor activities. My parents were always very focused on quality. They never used polyester and synthetic. My father worked daily with chemicals and he knew what synthetics and plastics were and how toxic they are. He also got an aggressive form of cancer quite early, which was of course related to his work. We were not held in the dark, we were very aware.  I also had allergies and asthma as a child. For me it was important to have as clean and natural materials as possible. Even as a designer for H&M, I focused on higher-quality-garments and more natural materials. I was actually able to introduce them to fine linen from France and wools from Italy. I still had to make polyester but I always made sure I had a bigger part of the collection in natural materials. That ended up selling very well. I always wanted to prove to myself and the leadership, that the end consumer knows what’s good for her (and the earth), and is willing to pay a little bit more to feel better. I think we instinctively feel better when we wear natural materials.

Unfortunately in this industry, I’ve seen so many horrible things like child labor, horrific working conditions. Much closer than we think, even in Europe and right outside New York. It’s difficult not to be affected by it. I wanted to create change as an industry insider and sustainability changemaker. Most companies all over the world are lead by men, but the factory workers are women. I felt extremely frustrated about it from a very young age and now with decades of knowledge I’m ready to voice my frustration, and provide an alternative for people who wants to be part of the change…

Greeningline hoodie collection; Photography: Jörgen Brennicke

So the clothing industry is actually still a very patriarchal based system.

Extremely. As a woman you were always commented on your looks and they take any opportunity to touch you or dismiss your opinions.

Would you say that that was your main motivation to start Greeningline or was it a combination of everything?

It was a combination of everything. It has been about going back to my own roots, the story I want to tell and the change I want to be a part of. While working as an advisor for different fashion brands, I tried to implement more sustainable  values, especially on textiles, less hazardous chemicals and better factory conditions. I always got the same response: that its too expensive, and that they don’t have the time or resources. The thing is that these are companies with enormous margins. It really comes down to a choice. After many years of struggle with my conscious, I felt I had to be a part of the sustainable movement and overhauled my carrier. I went back to what I loved doing, creating in as clean and healthy textiles as possible, modernizing ancient technics for the modern woman and working as close as possible to the people making the clothes. Creating products that are made to last; that is part of my life purpose as well as bringing awareness to how dirty the fashion industry really is. I want to show that it’s possible to clean up the business. It’s not easy, but it’s definitely possible. I knew that with my consciousness and knowledge, I couldn’t just avoid doing it. The question was; where is my voice? Where is my personal power? Where is the collective power?

I was trying to get my voice heard in these giant patriarchal organizations. They wanted me to say nice and fluffy things about colors and agree with them. I want to be free and have a voice, if I don’t speak up for people who might not be able to, who will?

What is your main mission?

It’s not really about the clothes, it’s about education. Educating myself, and educating others. It’s about teaching and mentoring for all the people I come across. Part of that is through social media and my website. I also have a service side of the business that offers advice on sustainability. That’s where my expertise lies.

Do you have a long term goal?

Yes, Greening You; teaching people to make better choices. I hosted seminars in Yoga studios for example (pre-Corona). The idea is to talk about sustainability and what we can do. One of the most sustainable things you can do is actually to continue to wear and take better care of what you already own. Also learning how to do laundry to preserve the quality of the clothes; what to buy when you need to and where to sell things to generate income and of course recycle! It’s about the complete sustainable cycle. I love helping women feel better about them selves; I’m a multi-creative and have worked as a celebrity stylist. Helping my clients finding the right workout or health practitioner as well as the perfect wardrobe/ style. It’s amazing to see how much someone can flourish not just from an elevated look but also from a better overall health. It’s not about weight but rather preventative care. This also comes from working in an industry that would like you to be dangerously thin, something that I struggled with a lot; the image of the perfect woman.  I want to see people healthy, the best version of them. Even I struggle everyday with the pressure of staying young. Now when I’m older, suddenly you disappear. It’s very frustrating to be disregarded because of your age. People sometimes just walk straight into you; they don’t even see you. I have a lot of bells and whistles: gloves, shades, heels – it shouldn’t be hard to miss. So what happens to a woman who hasn’t been in fashion all her life? It’s like we don’t have our place once we can’t bring children into the world? It’s a privilege to grow old, when will our society start appreciating knowledge and age, (again). It should be an asset…?

 

It is estimated that clothing production has approximately tripled in the last 15 years and that a garbage truck full of clothes is burned or landfilled every second. Can you tell us what ‘’fast fashion’’ means and why the clothing industry is a threat for the future of our planet?

Unfortunately it’s not just the fast fashion, it’s also the athleticwear. There is a direct link between the global increase of about 35-40% of athletic wear and the increase in petroleum-based-materials such as polyester, nylon, polyamide, etc.

That industry is based on over 60% only synthetic materials. Sadly this is the reality for many of the clothing giants like H&M and Zara, including the children’s clothing, which is terrifying. Ironically, we are not supposed to fly, use cars to avoid using oil but we are happy to wear it on our skin…

The most important thing you can do is to buy a guppy washbag/ a micro plastic filter for synthetics! This will make sure that the particles do not end up in your water stream, which eventually makes its way back into your body.

So how are all of these petroleum-based products in clothes affecting the health of our planet?

All these materials aren’t biodegradable; most of them can’t even be burned. They become massive landfills full on non-biodegradable clothes.  We will have particles of clothes lying around for hundreds of years. And perhaps you have heard of micro polluting? Every time we wash synthetics, up to 700 000 micro particles are released into the water. The thing is –  the older the garment, the weaker the material and the more micro plastics gets released. You can combine that with the plastic packaging. Most of the time these fabrics are colored, (dyed and treated) with a number of hazardous chemicals, which are usually released directly into the water streams in countries with no or little legislations (as soon as a country develops too many laws, big companies move away). Soon there isn’t any earth left to destroy.

Unfortunately, I have myself bought many of these kinds of athletic clothes. What can I do about it now?

The most important thing you can do is to buy a guppy washbag/ a micro plastic filter for synthetics! This will make sure that the particles do not end up in your water stream, which eventually makes its way back into your body.

We often don’t even think twice about the impact that our clothes have on the planet, yet after agriculture and big oil, the clothing industry is one of the most polluting industries in the world. What is your greatest concern if we don’t start to change our way of thinking around the clothing industry?

Climate change will propel even faster, it’s already affecting us in enormous ways all over the world. In some countries I’ve been to, I’ve seen complete cities destroyed; it’s impossible to breathe, you can’t even go outside and people have to live and go to work there. I think it’s terrifying and it’s just around the corner from where we are. I wouldn’t want others to have to experience or see what I’ve seen. I don’t want that on my conscious. The question is: what are you communicating to your loved ones and the world with the clothes you are wearing? Is your look more important than your health and the future of this planet?

Those are important questions to ask us…

I’ve come to understand that the well being of our planet is closely linked with our health. Today it’s known that half of the world’s clothing is made of polyester. How does the use of these toxic plastics and chemicals affect us directly?

It’s very clearly linked to allergies, eczema, but also to cancer. There are even several links to fertility. Much research is being done on the subject and there are so many alarming statistics. Often, the end consumer doesn’t really want to hear it and take it in, but this is affecting all of us and especially the workers.

It’s very scary but I think we need to know the truth.

Can you tell us a few types of fabrics and fibers we should we look for in our clothing?

Definitely. Tencel is regarded as one of the most sustainable materials; it’s man made out of the eucalyptus tree, which is fast growing all over the world so there is no deforestation. It has fantastic properties such as being antibacterial and wicking, (draws moisture away from the body). It’s therefore actually good for you to wear as long as you don’t add chemicals to the material in the coloring process – so to be sustainable buy plantbased colors…

Another material would be organic cotton. These crops tend to be smaller scale and they use rotation crop with other vegetables, which brings up and distributes the water. I also love linen and wool if you can get it recycled. Wool has a very long fiber, which is very good to work with and can be just as beautiful the second time around. I just started to work with bamboo, which also has the natural, antibacterial properties. It’s fast growing but I am a little hesitant towards how sustainable the material is depending on the manufacturing…  

What else can we start to do to reduce the toxic load on our bodies and planet?

Knowing how to wash is essential. If you avoid synthetics, you actually don’t have to wash as often or as warm. In fact you don’t really need to wash anything over 30 degrees. Also, using an organic liquid to wash, not powder. Never use softeners because they are very bad for the fibers and for the planet. If you buy a good quality garment and air them out after wearing, you could save a lot of energy and the garment. Often when clothing start to smell bad it’s because of the synthetics, remember its plastic.

I take care of all of my clothes the same way I would a cashmere sweater. One way to keep quality garments longer is to go for those that are a little more fluid and loose so they don’t get as much friction; I’m a big fan of layers and volume, it shows of a beautiful material…

For me sustainability is much more than the clothes – it’s a sustainable lifestyle. Yes –  I’ve done juicing, I’ve been to several life altering health retreats, and I’ve done a lot of alternative practices but for me its focusing on overall mindfulness and I trying to practice it daily. Even though it’s challenging at times, trying to have a more positive outlook and marvel at the small stuff…

As I started to read about the impact of the clothing industry on human welfare, I felt incredibly saddened, especially the impact on women and children. Around 75 million people are making our clothes today, and 80 percent of apparel is made by young women. In Bangladesh, they make only about $96 per month, which isn’t enough to meet basic needs. How can we be a part of the change?

Another aspect is these women never even get to see their children… Usually the grandparents bring them up. They work in horrible conditions and the average age span is around 42. It’s unthinkable to us. The problem is the overall business model needs to change, and it all starts with You as consumer, we have the power to change the industry with our wallets; so educate yourselves and make better decisions as we all contribute to better or worse…

Some people might try to argue that these people would otherwise not have a job…what do you think?

I don’t know if that’s true. We could improve the workers conditions just by making clothes cost what they use to. The industry has brought it down so much by disregarding their value. Clothes are seen as something you just throw away instead of something you invest in. And we have enormous over production, things that never get sold. Overproduction one of the dirties truths about the industry…

Do you think that we the consumers can be part of the change needed?

Investment firms and we as consumers are the ones who can create change. Let’s be honest, the industry doesn’t care. What we can do is stop buying, demonstrate, stand up, educate ourselves and make green investments if you are fortunate enough to have money.

Although women (and children) are often the ones being exploited, I feel strongly that we are also the ones to initiate change towards a better world.

Most of the people trying to speak up and change the industry are women in my age group because we’ve seen “the dark side”. Women are the nurturers, whether they are mothers or not. They look for ways to look after each other, mentor and educate. Somehow we are closer to Earth. I think we are experience a shift currently towards a more feminine energy.  Covid has been a wakeup call for us all but it’s also been Mother Earth telling us that it’s enough. We can’t leave it up to each country to decide; we must have global laws and legislations towards highly dangerous and toxic methods that affect us on a global scale.

Celia Ingesson; Photography: Jörgen Brennicke.

It seems that there is a huge disconnect.

If we don’t value other humans or animals we cannot be surprised that there are terrible consequences.

It can be frustrating but when we feel that way I feel it helps to take action in whatever small way we can.

Absolutely. Just having this conversation and having one more person reading this is worth it. It’s about the domino effect and grass-root-movements.

Often I tend to think that sustainable, ethical clothes or products are for those who can afford it. How can we encourage the sustainable industry to grow?

I think most of us can buy much less and think about what you already have in your wardrobe, and take better care of your clothes, make them last. You might even have a lot of money there and have things you can sell. Nowadays there are a lot of places you can sell and generate income. It’s also about how I look at a garment; if I buy a sustainable garment and value it, I will likely take better care of it and will probably make it last much longer. In the long run, it’s about being accountable and the old saying less is more…

Every time you open your wallet, you are a making a political decision that will affect a lot of other people’s lives as well as the climate / earth.

It’s kind of an investment in your own health.

Absolutely, our skin is our biggest organ, so start with what you wear the closest and the most. Everything you wear is absorbed through the skin into the body and organs. You can start by looking at what you are sleeping in and your underwear, then your leisure and activewear. I think we’ve become more aware of what we eat, but for the clothes, we still have a way to go. For most people I speak to during my talks, they are completely chocked.

Is there anything new and exciting or on the rising for Greening Line?

I’m trying to encourage people to wear linen all-year-around, it’s really one of the healthiest, sustainable and lasting materials that gets even more beautiful over time. In the Western world, it’s something people usually wear it in the summer. However it’s one of the best leisure, meditation, soft yoga materials you can use! Look for natural linen, without chemical colors. It’s such a beautiful material that can last a lifetime…

Is there anything else you would like to communicate to the readers?

Every time you open your wallet, you are a making a political decision that will affect a lot of other people’s lives as well as the climate / earth. Try to do it in a way that is better, sustainable and conscious. Educate yourself and educate the world and make a difference with everything you buy, (or don’t buy)…

That’s very powerful.

Who is your target client and audience?

I think it’s the same consumer no matter where she is located although she is probably more concerned if she lives in Australia, Singapore, Hong Kong or LA for example. She’s probably more aware of the facts, sustainability and her own health. In Sweden, there is still a lot of progress to be made but we are headed in the right direction and we have the trailblazer Greta to be thankful for!

Thank you for your insight and your courage and for being a changemaker for sustainable clothing, in Sweden and globally.

Greeningline; Photography: Jörgen Brennicke

Learn more about What is so unique about Greeningline and what you can do to help make better choices for yourself and the planet here:

https://www.greeningline.com/plantbased
https://shop.greeningline.com/collections/all-products
https://instagram.com/greeningline?utm_medium=copy_link

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