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Swedish fashion: How less can be more

By Jim Stenman, for CNN
updated 8:30 AM EST, Tue February 7, 2012
H&M is an affordable Swedish brand which has contributed to the country's rising export sales. H&M is an affordable Swedish brand which has contributed to the country's rising export sales.
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Sweden: Fashion uncovered
Sweden: Fashion uncovered
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Sweden is turning its flair for sleek design into a major business export
  • H&M is one well known brand from Sweden, but others are making their mark globally
  • The fashion industry is contributing to rising export sales despite the world's financial slump

Stockholm (CNN) -- Stockholm fashion may not have the clout of Parisian haute couture or the glamor of Milan's upscale brands. But the city is turning its flair for sleek design into a major business export.

"Sweden is the only country that has created a unique fashion aesthetic that's recognizable around the world," says Yvan Rodic, a fashion blogger and photographer based in London.

Along with other fashion writers such as blogger "Susie Bubble" and The Telegraph's Hilary Alexander, Rodic traveled to Stockholm to see the city's signature minimalistic designs gracing the runways during its Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Stockholm, when major labels unveiled their new collections for the press. Stockholm Fashion Week, meanwhile, runs until February 12.

Rodic points to understated fabrics and discreetly chosen colors as reasons behind the devoted following local designers have built up in the last decade. Rodic, who runs the Facehunter blog -- with over 58,000 followers on Twitter -- says Sweden offers young, affordable and cool brands for those who aren't attracted to the fashion coming out of Paris and Milan. That fashion is seen as "expensive, serious and pretentious," he says.

H&M is one affordable Swedish brand which has contributed to the country's rising exports sales. But other labels, including Cheap Monday,Tiger of Sweden and Acne Studios are all making their mark on the global stage. Celebrities spotted wearing Acne denim include Rihanna, "True Blood" star Alexander Skarsgard and Jared Leto. Other brands are also in demand, with "Gossip Girl" actor Ed Westwick spotted wearing J. Lindeberg.

High end brands are also thriving, with labels such as Mayla securing customers such as Sweden's Crown Princess Victoria. Designer and owner Marlene "Mayla" Abraham says she sold dresses to top stores in Tokyo, San Francisco and New York before branching out into other Scandinavian countries, as she was able to tap international interest in Swedish design.

The successes are showing on the country's bottom line, with Sweden's textile exports hitting SEK10 billion in 2010 ($1.5 billion), a 10% increase compared to 2009, according to Sweden's Minister for Trade, Ewa Bjorling. The numbers are "especially positive" given overall exports fell by 17% due to the financial crisis, Bjorling says.

Bjorling -- who is travelling to Shanghai this fall to promote Swedish fashion -- believes exports can be doubled by 2015, particularly if the industry can tap emerging markets.

So what is the secret formula behind the popularity of Swedish fashion? Rodic, a regular attendee of Stockholm Fashion Week, says the country's blogging culture contributed to its global success.

"Sweden is a pioneering country when it comes to blogging," he says. "In the last decade, people from around the world have started looking at Swedish blogs for inspiration -- mostly to enjoy the photos since they don't necessarily understand the language."

Readers have then been educated on the brands and how to create outfits without spending a fortune. "I think this was a perfect match for the world of blogging since it promotes individuality and helped Sweden become a mini phenomenon in fashion," Rodic says.

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