January 27, 2009 by Clare Saxon
Slouchy rosette garnished beanies, cool crochet scarves, slinky 1920s inspired ribbon-tie head pieces and sexy sailor hats for the boys. Doesn’t sounds like your typical winter and ski gear, and nor do the deep ethical priorities of Eka boardwear. Clare Saxon chats to pro snowboarder and founder of Eka, Gilly Seagrave, about sustainable ski season chic and just a little about 360 spins too.
How did it all start?
I was snowboarding and traveling a lot and a few of the other snowboarders had started crocheting to pass the time while they were traveling (sneaking a crochet hook onto a plane is easier than you think!) and I loved how easy and fast it was to make a hat, so I started making hats to order for friends. Then I think it was my boyfriend Nils that said I should try making it a business – I’m very glad he came up with the idea!
How are your gorgeous garments green?
The collection includes organic cotton and these items are dyed using plant extracts. The entire collection is made in Auroville India which is an amazing place where the proceeds from trade go towards developing the town and surrounding landscape in environmentally friendly ways. I would hate to think that I was making money while someone or something was suffering along the line of production. Also, we don’t use animal products in the collection, it’s 100% vegan.
Who rocks Eka?
This is a tough one, as people from all walks of life wear Eka. I sell at markets in Sweden and the customers really are so diverse. I think the 1920’s styling draws the girls that like to stand out in a crowd and most of the shops I sell in are fashion boutiques.
The mens ‘watchcaps’ are really popular with the skaters where I live. Snowboard fashion is usually about 1-2 years behind the street and skate crowd so I’ll be selling those items big time next winter I’m sure!
Is Eka more about practicality or style?
Style. I know that sounds trite, but the only ‘practical’ part of my hats is that there is an acrylic yarn used for the wooly hats, meaning that they wick the wet away from the skin and don’t stay wet once they get wet. The styling is what is key for Eka, as long as the collection is comfortable, I think style is the main thing that makes you stand out from the rest.
What inspires your beautiful designs?
Fashion and styling from history, I love the past when women and men had to wear a hat everyday. It’s fun to style hats made in a contempary way to wear with the same style and grace as a cloche hat from the 20’s or a peaked headband like 1920’s tennis player Suzanne Lenglen.
What snowboarding moment are you most proud of?
Winning the first ever UK Slopestyle title in 2003 when me and my friend Sonia cleaned up all of the titles apart from halfpipe. My boyfriend woke me up every morning for a week saying ‘morning champ’!
Though that is a competition high, I actually think that some of the other, non documented stuff has made me most happy, like landing my first 540, learning to do my tricks on big jumps… some days snowboarding just feels so amazingly easy and fun, I love it!
What is scarier, landing a 360 or starting up your own green fashion company?
Obviously snowboarding takes a bit more balls, because there are a lot of things that can go wrong. Making big jumps is quite a risk, but a calculated risk if you are experienced enough. Business is scary and full of chance, but the risks don’t have to be big if you don’t make it too much of a gamble. I’m not a gambler so I have let Eka grow ‘organically’ over the last 5 years, making sure I am 100% sure and proud of each item I produce. I want everyone to treasure an Eka hat for it’s timeless style.
Do you have any celeb fans?
I have plenty of pro snowboarders wearing Eka like snowboard champ Johan Olofsson and ski legend Glen Plake. When I first started, Cristal Thoreson and Rita Comi loved my Charleston Headbands so I made them my ‘Eka girls’. I’m dying to get the Cardigans singer Nina in one of my pieces because she is a regular in one of my stockists!
I love it when a friend tells me they have seen one of my hats on the tube or in the street, it never loses it’s thrill.
Which designers do you love?
I just bought a great T with River Pheonix on it from Alpha60. I also love that Stella Mcartney has a conscience and it feels like she will try to push ethical practices at the top of fashion. It must be the hardest place to be, as the competition is brutal, the customers are uneducated and she must have some hard decisions to make, especially if she has ruthless shareholders to explain herself to. I’m glad I can be smalltime and do everything my own way!
Camilla Norback is an ‘eco luxury’ brand from Sweden I love, she has some seriously lovely items in her collection each season. Also Sara Rossling and Ninii are my firm favourites for wearable things that are unique and made with care.
More than any individual brands I love second hand and vintage shops which are amazing for genuine styles from the 60’s 70’s and 80’s, and it’s great to know you probably have something no one else does!
Do you think there is a future in ethical snow gear?
I just hope that there is a shift in conscience of the customer, because the more people realise that they are responsible for the planet in every action they choose to make, the better it will be. I think the battle against the throw away fashion of Primark et al will be hard, and I hope consumers will wake up soon and realise the consequences of that type of production are simply not worth it (fingers crossed!)
What is next for Eka?
I want to expand a little into organic knitted clothing. It’s normally the best idea to stick to the things you love to wear yourself, not to just make what you think might make money, because it wont make a brand that lasts. I like to think that Eka is a little more about a passion for style than an everyday brand with a few T-shirts with logos printed onto them.
For the best prices and the complete collection visit ekawear.com
-Thanks Clare : )