Growing up in a small town in Sweden, Rebecca Dovenryd Almberg knew she was destined for city life. She first began studying graphic design in Stockholm where she then transitioned to San Francisco to take up knitwear. Her resumé is incredible; from Acne and Proenza Schouler to Jonathan Simkhai, she's now created her own brand with the intent of building a community and valuing garments from the inception process. In choosing recycled yarn, limiting the amount of unnecessary waste, and offering her community the option to return their used pieces through Constance Circle she's injecting mindfulness into the fast-moving fashion world. The visual identity and designs of Studio Constance are strong, but the message she's pushing is even stronger.
This interview took place over the phone between Ella in Brooklyn and Rebecca Dovenryd Almberg in Los Angeles.
EJ: How did you get to where you are today?
RDA: I was born and raised in Sweden in a small town. I just felt like I never really fit in there. My goal was to move to a bigger city pretty early on. I went to study graphic design in Stockholm at Berghs School of Communication, which had a partnership with the Academy of Art University in San Francisco. And that's when I decided to go into fashion. I studied knitwear design, and after I graduated, I got a job with Proenza Schouler for about a year.
Eventually, I ended up moving to LA. I've spent a lot of time in fashion, realizing that we're producing so much at such a fast pace. And I had always had this dream of having my own company, I just never really planned that I would end up working in fashion. I couldn't really justify starting a company in the fashion industry at this time. I was thinking, how can I do my dream, but still make it in a good way for the industry? So that's how I came up with the idea of Studio Constance and Constance Circle. I think we're missing a luxury fashion brand that can build value in recycling and reselling our own pieces.
You have an amazing resumé–what did you prioritize learning when you were at these other companies?
So when I got my first job at Proenza, I was really excited because I always loved the brand and its network. The knitwear is a big part of their collection, and I got hired as a freelancer, but I was kind of helping with a little bit of everything. I saw that as an opportunity to just study the company structure. It was my first job, so I didn't really know what to expect. But I got to do a lot of the technical part of the knitwear, which is so important. And then I was also getting a view into the design process.
Since I was such a junior position, and they are very specific with their designers, I wasn't really involved in the design at all, or in the design development. But there were smaller things where I could pick up and learn, how are they thinking? Or what is it that they are trying to achieve with the design and with a fit, and all of that? So from having that kind of non-specific role, I gained an overview of everything, which I think was pretty good at that point, because I didn't really have any other experience.
When I got my second job at Jonathan Simkhai, I felt like I went there with good experience. I had the design knowledge from school, and from studying kinda what they did at Proenza, but I also had a strong technical knowledge. If you're a designer, you are not so involved in the technical parts, or talking with the factories, and you're typically more concentrated on the design. I felt like I had a broader experience. And so I carried that with me.
Then I got a job at Nyden which was a sub-brand to H&M. They're not around anymore. It was a great idea, but it just didn't end up launching because there wasn't great management. But besides that, it was a good, stable job for me to enter after being in a more high fashion role. It was good for me to see the other way of working, which is different when you're in fast fashion. It was just a different experience.
It's simultaneously amazing that you could take in both luxury and corporate fast-fashion experience, before diverging into something so different.
Yeah, I think I think it was a good learning process for me. From my experience, one thing that is the same throughout all companies is the development of samples and garments and sending things back and forth to shipping. I just always felt like we don't need this much. We don't need these many samples.
If we have all these samples, why are they just stuck in boxes or getting cut up and then thrown away? And I totally understand that and I'm aware that, for a larger company that is already established, it's difficult to come up with a way to take care of this. But as a person and where I want to enter this industry, there's an opportunity for me to build something from the beginning, where we are thoughtful of that entire process.
So to kind of transition now that we're speaking about your current role, I'm sure as a creative, every day is a bit different. But what would you say an average day is like at work for you?
Yeah, I actually don't know. I wake up and then I kind of decide what should I work on today. It's only me, but now I have an assistant who's working with me two days a week. And it's just a little bit too much work for me to structure what I need to do.
For example, we just had an event. So prior, I really had to get everything set for that with our collaborators, the furniture, all the props that we needed, and the invitations, and all the printed material and the graphics, and the promotion. All of those things. What I'm working on mostly right now are things that will generate something in the future. There's just a lot of building a foundation.
You just launched this year, right?
We launched in June this year.
To pick up where we left off–after I was at Nyden for about a year, I went back to work for Proenza in New York. And when I was there, I again was introduced to that very creative world, which was opposite from the role at H&M. I realized how much I missed that, and how I really wanted to get back into that. But I didn't feel like I would fit in to being a part of a company or a team. I've always had that feeling.
So I had that strong drive to have my own and make things my own way. And I had all this time because I had my husband and my family in LA. And I was in New York living with a roommate. And I started just creating things on my own after work. I went to work in the day, and I felt really inspired. And I started working on this idea at the end of 2018. I moved back to LA and started freelancing. So at the same time as I was freelancing, I was working with Constance and developing samples, starting to develop my website, my visual identity, a strong profile, and developing the idea of Constance Circle.
Initially, the plan was to launch In January 2020. I was hoping to launch in December 2019, because we're a knitwear brand and it would have been ideal to have it for Christmas. But that did not happen. And then actually in January of 2020, I sold my apartment that I had in Stockholm to be able to invest a little bit more into the company. It was just a big risk I took. And I ended up developing this collection.
We planned then to launch in March, which was when COVID happened, so it didn't work. We had everything planned out for the launch event, and we had sent out the invitations and everything. And then they shut down the same day as the event was planned to happen. It was such bad timing. I didn't really know what to do, and I kind of gave up because I was so disappointed.
And then I got some new energy and motivation and decided I'm going to do a virtual launch event. And we started planning that, and it happened. And then, unfortunately, that event happened the same day as the protests broke out in LA. So that was the second hit that we took, where it's like we launched, but then we couldn't talk about it on social media.
I just took a little break after that, and just let things float. And after the summer, I met with NORA the agency, and they really loved the brand and what we have done so far, and so I decided I'm going to work with them and kind of do a full relaunch this fall/winter, which is what we're working on right now.
Can you tell us more about the re-launch event?
So that just happened. It's was a collaboration with Soho House, and they have a sustainability club that we are joining, and we had an event at Soho Warehouse in DTLA. It was an exclusive shopping experience, is what we called it. We invited the members of Soho House, and then we had an extended guest list where they booked a time slot to come and shop the collection. We had this girl Amy Yip–she makes beautiful pastries and cake–do a dessert installation.
I really admire the visual identity of Studio Constance–from the earrings to the website. How did that come about?
On a little side note to that, I was working for Ralph Lauren (when I was around 19-20) and they have such a strong concept where they won't allow anything to show unless it's really strong, Ralph Lauren. And that was another training for me where it's like, my brand needs to be strong, and the visual identity was very important.
When I went to Berghs, I realized how much the identity of brand matters. I got introduced to so many brands and could compare what's good, what's bad, graphic design-wise; it was really good training in terms of that. And then I made a lot of friends, as we were a class of 25 and 18 of us moved to San Francisco. We were a big group of friends; all of the other people went into advertising, and five of them went into graphic design. I had one friend, Rasmus Nilsson, that was a really great graphic designer and illustrator. And when I started working on Constance, it was really important for me to build not only a fashion brand making beautiful clothes, I want it to be a full experience.
So, I reached out to Rasmus, who is based in Paris, and he was really excited to hear about my idea. And so he's been with the brand almost from the beginning. It looks very different, our very first draft of the website from what is today. So I think we did a good job together of reaching kind of where we want to go with it. And so he's kind of the one behind all the graphic material, the logo, and the illustration.
Where did the name Constance come from?
It's such a hard thing to come up with the name because it's so literal to the brand. I had a lot of ideas, and I wanted it to be as personal as it could get, but I didn't want it to be my name. And my grandmother, her middle name was Constance. And that was always something that was very different for a woman her age, living in Sweden, with no kind of foreign background. It was a special name, and I started doing research on the meaning of Constance and it was just on point to what I wanted my company to stand for. There was just no question after that. We tried it out with all the big graphic materials that we started developing, and it looked really good, the flow of the letters and the round shapes. All of it was just perfect.
That's so serendipitous. It's like it was planned out before you were even born. Can we go over your design process?
In the design process, I want to be mindful of the shape, the fit, the details so that it is a classic shape and that it's something that you feel like you can keep in your closet, and you can pair it with many things that you already have. It's a timeless design, but at the same time, it feels fresh and new and obviously trendy because I still want to be a high fashion brand. So that's kind of where I start.
The next step or (and sometimes the first step) I pick the yarn that I will use, and we have a lot of new alternatives coming up right now on sustainable and recycled yarn. We worked with a sustainability consultant to kind of help navigate in the right direction to make things more sustainable and choose the right yarn, the right materials, and the right way to distribute it. Next, I refine the design and send it to a factory. I haven't even developed the second collection yet; we only have this first collection launched, but this process, I'm hoping to be slightly different than the first collection I developed.
We need to care about how we ship the sample, how many sample rounds we are going to make. What is necessary? And, at the same time, I kind of want to introduce the collection as early on, to the market, where I need to work with a PR agency. And the other thing that I'm really trying to build, is a strong community, where you kind of feel like, you're a part of Constance, that we're creating this world. And, also because of Constance Circle, your garment will always be welcomed back, and we will follow how it's doing. It's important that each garment is not just a garment.
It's an investment.
Yeah, and it's supposed to be with you for a long time. And with Constance Circle, if you feel like you don't want it anymore, you give it back to us that we can pass it along to another owner.
What's the most exciting piece you've made?
We have this sweater is called Edelweiss. It's almost an extension of something I worked on when I was in school. I was always in love with the yoke construction of sweaters, and how it's so beautiful when you shape it. It's really easy to wear and fits anyone.
And the earrings–that was just some little thought that we had. Rasmus had a dream that we made these crazy earrings out of our logo. Last-minute, we were able to develop these earrings and find someone locally in LA who could make them using recycled metal and deliver on time for our first photoshoot. And then the process changed along the way, but we were able to get them–just the very first sample–for the shoot. And then I decided we're gonna produce them too. I wear them all the time!
What do you like about the industry today?
People are just getting much more aware and knowledgeable about the fashion industry. And I think one thing that COVID brought–that is on the positive side of it–is just to slow things down. And to just realize we don't need to make this much; we don't need to make things this quickly. Just slow things down.
Now it's so obvious that things need to change, and we see so many new companies with innovative business models and ways of producing. There's a lot of locally produced garments, especially if you're in LA. So, I think there are good things happening in the fashion industry.
What advice do you have for someone that's not only emerging and new in their field but someone that, like you said, kind of doesn't really feel like they fit in?
Just try it out. Be brave, and trust yourself that you can do it. But I'm also aware that it's not that easy.
Another really important for me and for the brand is to represent is mental health. For me, that feeling of not fitting in, not feeling like this is the right thing for me, not really knowing how to make a change or make things better or different comes from a background of a lot of struggles.
I have suffered from mental illness and severe depression. And I think as a creative person, it's easier to fall into that. Even if you're not struggling with mental health, you can still be in that position. I think the biggest advice I would say is to talk about it, to be open about how you feel and what you want to do. I was just telling everyone that I'm doing my own company, and I don't think anyone really believed that it's gonna be a real company, or that I'm actually going to sell my apartment to put all my money into this. But I just told everyone about it. So then it was real. And then that's what I was going to do. And of course, it puts a lot of pressure on you, but it also holds you accountable. And you know, you realize that most people are excited for you, and most people will support you. And it's much better to just be honest and open about how you feel, instead of trying to fit in and trying to make a living the way you should or the easy way. There are just so many other ways of doing things.
Wondering what Rebecca listens to while she designs? Us too.
This interview was edited and condensed for clarity.
Images Courtesy of Tate VanderPoel Smith and Rebecca Donvenryd Almberg
Special thanks to Polaroid