MUSE Boutique deliver vintage leather with luxe tailoring

Deadwood, the reworked leather label, has arrived at Auckland’s Muse Boutique. And we chat with co-founder with Felix von Bahder.

Interviewed and modelled by Sabina Sysa 62 Management

Photographed by Adam Bryce

Styled by Rebe Burgess

Tell us about the concept behind Deadwood, and its shift from vintage store to clothing brand. 

Co-founder Carl Ollson and I opened a vintage store in Stockholm back in 2010. We were drawn to the idea of building our own world in miniature, where we could play with concepts and aesthetics. Having a base in the world, a place to invite your friends and hang out, that was what drew us. And our love for vintage clothing. But life is always pending between nesting and growing. We had built and tended to our vintage nest for a couple of years and it was time to try our wings.

We switched focus and launched a line of vintage crossover jackets, made from reworked old garments. The love for worn in the uniqueness of secondhand garments was the obvious upside in our eyes. But, soon, we realised the benefit this approach to manufacturing would have on the environment compared to buying garments from virgin leather. This turned everything into more of a mission, larger than just the products themselves.

Deadwood seems to redefine the idea of a ‘target demographic’ by placing less and less restrictions around things like age, gender, and class. You’re more about selling an ideology and having people identify with that. What message are you trying to communicate through your clothes and who are you trying to communicate it to?

You’re right, our vision has always been, to be fair, straight-forward and to stay as far as possible from ‘obvious’. The biker jacket is, to this day, still at the centre of our collection and I feel it is a garment that carries so much symbolic value in of itself; a sense of rebellion and going your own way. And that is a universal message. Wearing a biker jacket is like putting on an extra layer of confidence and we try to convey that feeling of integrity and confidence by working with confident, solid people, both behind the scenes and in our communication.

Your products are made from 100 per cent recycled leather, sourced from rescued deadstock skins, repurposed vintage clothing and upcycled post-production waste. This would have been relatively niche at the time of Deadwood’s inception in 2012 — were there any challenges in getting people on board with it initially? How did you get people to understand the value of sustainably made clothes? 

We were pretty early with this kind of approach and many were hesitant, at first. In Europe, people had some experience with brands like Freitag who were making bags from old vinyl billboards but it was all very niche. Most people associated words like ‘sustainability’ or ‘recycled materials’ more to jute baba pants and new-age backpackers than to something fresh that would change the industry. Man, that has changed.

Eight years on and sustainability is now the biggest talking point in fashion, with many brands trying to reduce their environmental impact after the effects of the coronavirus pandemic. Deadwood has an advantage being in the game for a while now, and with your background studying sustainable development at university. What are the things you wish everyone knew about running a sustainable clothing brand?

People should know how good it feels to do something to improve the status quo in the industry. Even if the contribution is small. That added sense of purpose, like being on a mission, is really rewarding.

People who are thinking about getting into the business, and are contemplating whether or not they are, should have a sustainability approach. It may sometimes be a bit more difficult and time-consuming and you may have to face a good dose of healthy scrutiny, as well as some unwarranted criticism for not doing everything ‘right’. Nobody’s perfect but it feels great giving it your best.

Your brand is essentially the antithesis of fast fashion. How does the pressure to push against big retail conglomerates shape the way you run your business?

It is hard to resist the pressure from the big players in terms of lead times and delivery windows as well as the never-ending hunger for ‘news’. But, I also feel the buyers and fashion directors out there, nowadays, are genuinely interested in the sustainability aspect and when we explain our vision and our way to go about things, I feel that even the big scary retailers show a fair dose of flexibility and humility. Maybe the industry is warming up a bit. Along with the planet sadly.

As amazing as your products are, you’ve managed to stay one of the fashion world’s best-kept secrets. In a media landscape where high-budget campaigns and influencer marketing strategies hold dominance, are there deliberate reasons you’ve steered away from this type of exposure? How do you keep your brand relevant with a low-profile approach? 

Deadwood is owned by Carl and me alone, no venture capital firms or boards. We try to grow organically and have to cut our coat according to our cloth, so to speak. Still, to this day, we have never paid an influencer for wearing our products, we rely on word of mouth, and the ambassadorship of our diehard fans. Building awareness by building trust and staying true to ourselves, that’s our marketing strategy.

Set against the backdrop of a capriciously changing fashion industry, how do you see Deadwood growing over the next few years? 

We feel tables are really starting to turn and we are being contacted by amazing people and companies throughout the industry who are looking to collaborate. I feel we are attracting the momentum we need to move to the next level, in terms of the products we put out and the inspiring world we are trying to create.

We are launching a plant-based vegan line shortly, which will be a much better alternative to the standard plastic ‘vegan leather’, so I’m looking forward to that. I also think we will be improving and widening our range of bags and accessories, which is an area I’ve been wanting to explore for a while.

And, along with our new Stockholm flagship store, that will hopefully open in September, we are planning on introducing a studio collection with uniquely assembled patchwork pieces, which will be an amazing creative outlet for me. What happens further down the line is impossible to say but I have a feeling it will be interesting.


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