The Interview: Mayer Vafi, co-founder and creative director, Norden
In an ideal world, we’d wear things, they’d have a full life, and, when they were finished with, the only lasting memory would be a picture on Instagram. Pouf!
“Sustainability” is a word that needs definition and investigation, especially with its overuse, at the moment. Sticking the word “sustainable” onto things and then hoping there aren’t too many probing questions just doesn’t cut it anymore.
A brand starting to make more sense is Norden; a new Canadian outerwear brand specialising in coats made entirely from plastic bottles and fully committed to finding solutions to convert unwanted garments into the raw materials for a new one.
Born in the Middle East, Mayer Vafi, 38, from Montreal, Canada, is co-founder of Norden. Formerly the creative and sales director of Pajar Outerwear, Norden is the first product line under his “Better Narrative” parent company.
Started in 2016, Norden is currently available in Canada and the USA, with future markets including Germany, Sweden and Japan. Vafi was at the recent CIFF trade show in Copenhagen in February showcasing his brand to the European market for AW19. "I have a partner, a co-founder, his name is Michael Eliesen. Without him, this would all still be a figment of my imagination,” says Vafi.
“Norden exists to show that better business practices do exist. We fill the gap of the customer wanting to have a functional product without the cost of animal or planet. All our goods are PETA certified and made from recycled plastic,” he says.
Each Norden jacket is made from between 25 to 99 recycled plastic bottles and costs between CAN $325 and $485. According to the brand, its jacket manufacturing processes consume 45% less energy, 20% less water and 30% less green gas emissions compared to other standard outerwear. There’s even the current green accessory du jour inside each jacket; a reusable water bottle.
“The coat lining, insulation and shell fabric are made from recycled plastic. The yarn we use is from REPREVE, and completely traceable.” says Vafi.
Norden’s "U-Trust" verification program provides customers with comprehensive certification designed for a high level of transparency. While its “Fiber Print” technology validates the authenticity of its products with complete analysis of all fabrications to support its certifications. All the garments are free of fur, feathers, leather and all other animal by-products.
Norden means “Scandinavia” and in Dutch it means “North”. Vafi is the creative director. “Outerwear is a necessity, in our market [Canada], it’s not a fashion or trend. If you do not have a warm outerwear piece, you can freeze to death,” he says. “The Lead Designer is Renata Begic. She takes my doodles and makes them into a reality.”
Available for both men and women, Norden is being responsible for its products, long term. It invites the customer, after a minimum of three winter seasons, to swap their garment for an updated one. It will provide a discount code of 40% that can be applied towards a new purchase.
That being said, it isn’t entirely sure what should be done with the returned jackets. Should it donate them? Should it refurbish and sell them? Should it convert them into accessories? These are all great ideas, but its goal is to prevent anything it produces from going into a landfill. That’s why it is working on finding a solution to convert unwanted garments into new ones. Its goal is to become a closed-loop production system and work towards a better narrative.
Canadians are leaders in colder weather outerwear, but the market is crowded. “Let’s just say it’s not always travel and glam, my first years in this business were spent steaming samples!” says Vafi. “It’s a long road, but if you have the stomach for the downs, the ups are great,” he says.
Norden does feel different. It feels like a step forward. If it can close the loop and actually make new jackets out of its old ones then it has a more sustainable model that actually makes sense. At the moment, technology and economics are stopping this from happening, but it feels like we’re on the eve of a breakthrough in this area.
“We will continue to stand out by offering apparel made from recycled waste. All our products will be functional with no compromise in styling. Sustainability can and will be sexy!” he says.