The Extra Hour by Elisabeth Stray Pedersen

Who hasn’t felt that there aren’t enough hours in the day? But what will happen when autonomous driving eventually gives us some of that time back? We play a little game of “what if” revolving around the 25th hour in Norway. Ms. Stray Pedersen, what would you do with a free extra hour in the day?

Birte Mußmann (copy) & Jan van Endert (photo & video)
Elisabeth Stray Pedersen, fashion designer, Oslo
Elisabeth Stray Pedersen, fashion designer, Oslo

Elisabeth Stray Pedersen grew up in a small Oslo suburb. Her ties to this region have always been a part of her life and career path. In 2014, she earned an Master of Arts in women’s fashion from the Oslo National Academy. A year later, she took over a small wool factory that produces garments for her own label ESP among others. Signature pieces in her collection especially include woolen coats, wide scarves and caps. In order to market her creations internationally, mobility, digitalization and networking play an important role in her day-to-day work. So far, she has already succeeded with this in Europe and Japan. Next up is the United States.

Scandinavian fashion is synonymous with pared-down elegance. This is also the hallmark of Norwegian fashion designer Elisabeth Stray Pedersen’s collection. Her preferred material is 100-percent Norwegian sheep’s wool, sourced from the animals that graze peacefully in the vast, pristine highlands. A handful of employees at a small factory about 45 minutes’ drive outside Oslo use the wool to create coats, scarves, caps and household textiles. Sewing machines clatter incessantly throughout the day. In this factory microcosm, it almost seems as if they are setting the pace for the clocks. Every now and then, there’s a loud hiss from the steamer that presses the wool smooth before it’s further processed prior to cutting. A great deal of skilled craftsmanship goes into each garment. That’s because production focuses on quality not quantity. It’s a charming approach that chimes with the times.

“On many levels, I think the role of fashion in the 21st century is the same as it has been for a long time. People still feel it’s important to stand out or show their identity as a member of a group. While fashion still plays valuable roles, I think what’s even more important today is knowing your garment’s origins—from its physical materials to its production and how it was actually made. We are seeing a shift among customers and what they focus on, which is very gratifying.”

Above all, Elisabeth Stray Pedersen is personally responsible for management and representation of the company. It’s a full-time job that often also keeps her busy in the evenings and at weekends. Her daily routine is devoted largely to updating social media channels as well as communicating with clients and new business prospects. In other words, she is not just a fashion designer but also a community manager and PR strategist. The 30-year-old is fully aware of the crucial role social media play in today’s world. She belongs to a generation at home with social networks and standard communication channels and understands the importance of reaching the widest possible audience. Thanks to globalization, digitalnetworking is no longer optional—it’s compulsory. Nowadays, it’s a way to travel distances that small, local labels would have struggled to reach in the pre-digital era. International interest in Elisabeth Stray Pedersen’s collections, which are branded with the initials ESP, is not just limited to Europe but also extends as far as Asia. Recently, one of her trademark floor-length wrap coats in bright red was even featured in the premier fashion magazine—Vogue. Which raises the question—how was it received by the readership? That’s a question easily answered these days, when Facebook and Instagram serve to swiftly measure the mood in the international arena. Call it feedback 2.0.

“Everything moves faster now. The challenge we face with digital technology is to keep pace. So yes, I feel like everything—including the fashion world—is evolving very rapidly. But I think it’s very important to try to maintain a balance and figure out ways to slow down.”

The Extra Hour is based on the Audi vision of a 25th hour in the day. The idea behind the concept is that thanks to cutting-edge technology, Audi production cars will be able to navigate road traffic autonomously in the future. This means drivers will become passengers who can use the travel time as they like—for instance, to check e-mails, play with the kids or relax while watching a movie. The Extra Hour abstracts this philosophy into a game of “what if” by asking people: Imagine you had an extra hour’s free time on your hands, what would you do? In the first episode, fashion designer Elisabeth Stray Pedersen shares her personal answer. To find out what it is, watch the video.

The young Norwegian uses tradition to counter the relentless march of multimedia. It’s also a key to her success. As a child, she was already learning the basics of garment making from her mother and grandmother. Back then, the Stray Pedersen house had cupboards full of homemade creations. While this remained a hobby for previous generations, Elisabeth was the first family member to turn this passion into a career. Another woman was also instrumental to setting her on this path: Unn Søiland Dale is Elisabeth Stray Pedersen’s role model, source of inspiration and, to a certain degree, her lucky break. In 1953, former model Søiland Dale established the label Lillunn, Design of Norway, which sparked international interest in traditional Norwegian knitting patterns. This was her billet doux to her homeland and love of nature. Søiland Dale was bold enough to not only forge ahead with her business but also to weave bright colors into her designs. At the time, both pursuing a career and such shades were unusual choices for women. Whether despite or because of these breaks with convention, the knits struck a chord in the fashion industry. Even the capital of fashion itself—Paris—sat up and took notice of her woolen creations. For her services to fashion, Søiland Dale was honored by the Norwegian royal family. When this inspiring woman died in 2002, her daughter Vigdis took responsibility for the label. During a seminar on wool that Stray Pedersen attended during her final year of study, Vigdis happened to mention almost coincidentally that she was planning on retiring and looking to sell the label her mother had established and the associated wool factory. To some it sounds like pure chance, to others it’s destiny. From that point on, it took just a handful of meetings before the former owner and the graduate of the Oslo National Academy came to an agreement. To this day, pictures of Unn Søiland Dale hang in the small factory. Thanks to the Norwegian fashion industry newcomer, Søiland Dale’s creations live on in all their traditional glory under the Lillunn label and in the new ESP brand collections with Elisabeth Stray Pedersen’s creative stamp.

“The philosophy behind my creative ideas is something I call assemblage design. It focuses mainly on taking familiar pieces and putting them together in a new way. In other words, you use existing material but try to find fresh ways to display it. The whole concept aims to turn context into content in that it highlights the importance of how you communicate your designs. You don’t always have to make something new to make something new. All you have to do is tweak things a little—by recontextualizing them in a way that’s relevant to our times.”

Next year, the young fashion designer will be embarking on the next step by opening a shop and affiliated factory in Oslo. Elisabeth Stray Pedersen’s life is not only continuing onward and upward but also characterized by change. Whether she opts to leave Oslo and travel the world promoting her label or chooses to sprint up the local ski jump’s stairs with her sister as a break from her stressful work schedule, you could say that she is setting her very own pace in life. Sometimes it’s defined by the machines in the factory, at others by the fitness tracker on her wrist. And in that regard, there are sure to be occasions when she wishes she had an extra hour in the day. For instance, when she would just like to quietly pursue her beloved craft but managing the company means that she doesn’t have a minute to spare.