Florence-based, Scandinavian fashion brand AVAVAV is no stranger to the issues of waste in the fashion industry. Indeed, the avant-garde brand has made a name for itself by confronting waste head-on. Watching as millions of feet of luxury fabric are discarded in one of the most famous cities in high-end fashion, AVAVAV made it their goal to repurpose deadstock fabric and produce shoes and clothes for the fashion-savvy and eco-conscious. In their newest collaboration with rising star designer Beate Karlsson, AVAVAV has turned the monster of the fashion industry’s waste into a collection of wild, surprising, and slimy monsters of its own.
AVAVAV’s core values state that “being truly sustainable is like walking in really big shoes.” If anyone knows about really big shoes, it’s New York-based Swedish designer Beate Karlsson. Before partnering with AVAVAV, Karlsson earned herself a large Instagram following with her critically acclaimed designs that included giant jeans that engulf the wearer like a gown. Karlsson, who also designs for Pyer Moss, received her MFA from Parson in 2019 with a highly regarded thesis titled “Babies Will be Babies,” which earned her an International Design Award. The designer soon after embarked on a monumental Guerilla self-promotion campaign by placing 1,000 toilet paper rolls with her business information on them around public bathrooms in New York. Furthering her mastery of self-marketing, Karlsson leveraged the platform of Instagram and connected with celebrities and social media influencers like Rico Nasty, Charlie and Dixie D’Amelio, Tierra Whack, and Ellen Scheidlin who took to her oversized, exaggerated designs.
Solidifying her status as a largely self-made rising star, Karlsson created further Instagram and fashion buzz with her wild, claw-like shoes and silicon, wearable shorts equipped with Kim Kardashian’s butt, the latter, a collaboration with Swedish designers Ida Jonsson and Simon Saarinen. While the shorts toe the line between fashion and performance art, the claw shoes abandon practicality and shift into the realm of objecthood. For AVAVAV, Karlsson expanded upon her exploration of clothing as wearable art and created a line of clothing and shoes called Collection 1.
Included in Karlsson’s first collection with AVAVAV are pants with wildly wide-legs, tops that state that only 21 of them were made, and the stars of the collection–bloody, gory, drippy, and slimy boots with four giant toes. Evolving from her claw shoes, the new boots have large, monster-like feet on high heels and extend over the wearer’s knee. Made in colors like Nickelodeon slime green and blood red, the boots are shocking and unexpectedly attractive at the same time.
Waste and pollution in the fashion industry are huge issues that are amplified by the increase in fast-fashion and poorly-made clothes designed to be thrown away and replaced by new products. AVAVAV acknowledges this issue and puts sustainability at the forefront of its business model. AVAVAV’s Sinem Basaran explained, “We all know the fashion industry is one of the most polluting industries in the world. That means we need to change our behavior, and the fashion industry needs to change the business models that they are currently working with if we want to continue to live on this earth.” To address this, the brand scours the city of Florence to find fabric that has been discarded as excess, damaged, or unneeded. As a production hub for some of the most famous luxury brands in the world, Florence gives AVAVAV access to high-end fabrics that would otherwise be wasted. As the brand puts it, “one woman’s trash is another woman’s treasure.”
As if Kiki Smith’s “Red Man” has come to life, Karlsson’s boots seem to have inverted the skin of the wearer to reveal the drippy, bloody, slimy surface beneath. Toying with the balance between attractive and repulsive, the highly glossy deadstock material is far enough removed from the visceral to avoid completely disgusting the wearer or viewer. It’s hard not to look at the red of the boots and think of the soles of Louboutins and glossy red nail polish, provocative symbols of wealth and luxury. Even the bright green has an element of extreme opulence and recalls the loud paint of green Lamborghinis and the neon hair of Billie Eilish. That is not to say that these are for the faint of heart. The cartoonish toes and sultry, sleek shape of the boot are surprising and confusing, like an unexpected detail inserted into a Surrealist painting. The tops of the boots end in drippy edges, as if the deadstock material is slowly moving or melting upwards. The bloody shoes are statement pieces in every sense of the word.
Regardless of whether you are bold enough to wear them, getting your hands on the toed-boots is a challenge in itself. True to their commitment to sustainability, the brand made a very limited quantity of each design, not to create cachet or exclusivity, but rather to avoid further waste and rely on the deadstock fabric removed from the waste cycle. The brand explained, “We are recycling deadstock fabrics from high-end brands and in that way we minimize waste, keep quantities low and still keep the good quality of the garment which will last longer. If clothes last longer there is no necessity to always buy more.” Karlsson added that this use of deadstock has come to dictate the designs she creates, but that’s part of her commitment to creating pieces she feels are worthy of production.
For AVAVAV, their production model is not just to be sustainable, but also to actively combat the fashion world’s waste. Working with AVAVAV presented Karlsson with an opportunity to reflect on her designs as well as on the fashion industry in general. She explained, “Today I’m at a point where I’ve doubted the fashion industry with its fast pace many times over and I’ve ended up in a place where I feel I’m more truthful to the process. I only explore the things that I’m interested in and AVAVAV is motivating because it offers a sustainable production chain as well as creative freedom.”
While you might not be able to buy these particular monster boots, Karlsson’s work with AVAVAV has just begun. Like the rest of the world addressing the climate crisis, fashion-savvy buyers can use AVAVAV’s example to understand the importance of patience and slowing down so that what we consume can both reduce and reuse waste.
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Writer, Cultbytes Annabel Keenan is a New York-based art advisor and freelance writer. While her art career began in the museum world, she has shifted to fine art sales, first as an assistant at Gagosian, and then as an associate at the legendary printmaking studio Gemini G.E.L.. As an advisor, Annabel specializes in prints and multiples, and aims to make the process of collecting art more accessible. She has held positions at the Broad Museum, the Morgan Library and Museum, the American Academy in Rome, and the Victoria and Albert Museum. She holds a B.A. in Art and Architectural History from Emory University and an M.A. in Decorative Arts, Design History, and Material Culture from the Bard Graduate Center.