Oskar Metsavaht is an orthopedist, UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador, and the Creative Director of Osklen, a luxury Brazilian fashion label that offers men’s and women’s ready-to-wear, footwear, accessories and swimwear. In addition to turning his native Brazil into a global fashion force, the multihyphenate is the founder of E-Institute, a nonprofit organization located in Rio de Janeiro, dedicated to the promotion of sustainable human development through ethically sourced fabrics and materials. Metsavaht is known for combining art, philosophy, cinema and design in his creative process to make a difference across various platforms, whether it’s spreading the sustainable message through his designs or spreading the word at the Ethical Fashion Show in Paris.
Do you think the average consumer understands the sustainable message and the movement’s importance?
I think the average consumer has a general understanding of the sustainable message and the movement’s importance. Consumer products and goods are much more disposable than they used to be, and there is a greater focus on global environmental issues. Through extensive research, brands like Osklen have helped educate the consumer on the importance of sustainable design.
Having been part of Amanda Hearst’s pop up shop, Maison de Mode, do you think this is an effective way to introduce sustainably-minded brands to the luxury consumer?
Yes, I think Maison de Mode is an excellent way to introduce sustainably-minded brands to the luxury consumer. Amanda’s ideas are in line with Osklen’s and mine in that she aims to raise awareness and give visibility to issues, projects and partners involved with the social, environmental, cultural and economic development, working in the spheres of education, empowerment and social mobilization.
You have had many accolades bestowed upon yourself and the brand (one of Fast Company’s most creative businesspeople in the world, Emerging Luxury Brand of the Year) — how does this affect you?
Of course their recognition of my vision and realizations is a great honor. Mostly because my company and I are based in a country outside of North America, Europe and Asia, where brands are more easily recognizable. In South America, it’s very rare and harder to develop a brand, and even more difficult to achieve luxury recognition through its innovation of fashion and sustainability.
You spend a considerable amount of time each year in Aspen—what is it about this area that is so inspiring for you?
Aspen is inspiring to me because it truly encompasses mountain culture. I use Aspen every winter to train for trips to Alaska and the Himalayas. My family and I enjoy being a part of the Aspen lifestyle.
How do you source the recycled elements you infuse into your designs?
I founded E-Institute, a non-profit organization 14 years ago with the mission to research, develop and foment sustainable projects in Brazil, from poor communities in the favelas (slums) to the native tribes in the Amazon, from the Universities to the industries. But what I believe is most interesting about our work isn’t that we just use these materials in the Osklen collection, but the fact that we really developed them, and created a criteria for the “E-fabrics” (www.institutoe.org.br) with more that 23 new materials. In the last three years we have developed, with the Italian Ministry of the Environment, the project TRACES (http://institutoe.org.br/projetos/traces/) with criteria for traceability for the fashion industry through the Osklen practices. Now TRACES is being used in the Italian fashion industry as well.
What makes your sneakers your bestselling item?
It’s interesting that they became our bestselling so fast; I began designing sneakers only seven years ago. I think their success comes from the balance between the science and art! As I’m a physician with specialization in Orthopedics and Sports Medicine and being a fashion designer, my knowledge in Biomechanics and Aesthetics helped me come up with a new concept and a new style for shoes. Not a performance one, but a cool casual look that follows the Osklen style of the balance between cool and chic. My sneakers can be worn sporty, in a more casual way, or they can be part of a more preppy, elegant look.
How much do they retail?
The sneakers retail between $200-$600.
What is the size of your team? Do you design the men’s and women’s collections?
Yes, I work closely with a design team on both then men’s and women’s collections, I mostly work on the concept of the collection and the elements of style to direct the team. But I still design some items from the ground to the catwalk. I also love photography and I art direct Osklen’s campaigns. I think it’s important and it is a pleasure for me as a designer to be involved in all these aspects of the brand.
How would you describe the Brazilian fashion culture?
We are ethnically and culturally a mix of Europeans, Africans, natives and in the last century Asians too. As any of the emergent countries we often look outside, to Europe and North America to their lifestyle, culture and fashion. But differently form the other BRICs, Brazil has always had a strong textile and shoe industry and a good sense of self in its roots and culture, so Brazilians have developed their own fashion industry. Most of the brands in Brazil looked to European sartorial and American iconography, but some designers and brands have done well at creating their own unique style and viewpoint. I would say that the Brazilian fashion culture is a mix of the world and its own fashion and is very contemporary.
Why did you decide to show Osklen is New York (in addition to Brazil)?
The goal of showing in New York is to stay true to the DNA of Osklen, while showcasing the more chic, dressed up side of the brand. With the runway show in New York, we aim to tailor the aesthetic to the US market more, and show women in NY how they can incorporate Osklen into their style.
Is your customer a citizen of the world, or do you know when putting a collection together which pieces will do well in South America, Europe, Asia, etc.?
Osklen is a global luxury, lifestyle brand. Our customer is well-traveled, sophisticated, and passionate. The collection is the same in every country.