Dörte Lange


Dörte Lange


Dörte is the Founder and Creative Director of the Lissome. Prior to launching the Lissome, she worked as an Art Director at ELLE Magazine.


You have worked in fashion for almost a decade, notably at ELLE Magazine; what did you learn during this time and what led you to explore the social and environmental impact of this industry?

I’ve always embraced fashion for its magical ability to elevate the everyday and turn life into a form of art. Aesthetics and good design are important to me, and I believe they shouldn’t be seen as a trivial matter. They give meaning to our lives by connecting us with our own creativity and the creative power of all beings—and great craftsmanship can teach us so much about paying attention, being mindful and cultivating skills over time.

Fashion is an important tool for cultural expression and, as with all iconography, it is incredibly useful to be able to decipher its social and cultural meanings. Fashion can talk as much to status and power as it can act as a harbinger of new ideas and social changes.

And, of course, fashion and fashion photography have great seductive powers. They can create desire and make us dream, which is something that can certainly be used for both good and bad causes alike. While working at ELLE, I began to feel a stronger sense of responsibility when working with fashion imagery and media. I became hesitant to help create a desire for products and values that I didn’t deem healthy for our wellbeing or our future.

How have your personal values and life experience shaped your work?

I’ve always been drawn both to working creatively with fashion and to following a higher purpose, helping create positive change in the world. Since I was a teenager, I’ve had a strong interest in politics. This might have stemmed from growing up in Germany and learning about the human rights atrocities of the Holocaust from a young age. I joined Amnesty International when I was 14 and turned vegetarian a year later. There was always a strong sense of responsibility and earnestness guiding me. But at the same time, there was also a curiosity and love for everything artistic, poetic and playful. Lissome is a platform that allows me to explore the two things I am most interest in: beauty and truth.

What does the term ‘ethical fashion’ mean to you?

The term ‘ethical fashion’ implies that there is a moral responsibility connected to the production and consumption of clothing. So what makes our relationship with fashion ‘ethical’?

When we look at the production and consumption of clothes, we can see that fashion impacts both environmental and human wellbeing at all stages of its lifecycle. The growing and production of raw materials; the processing; the cut and sew stages; global transportation; right through to a garment’s afterlife. Those offering ‘ethical fashion’ are paying fair wages and providing safe working conditions, producing in an environmentally-friendly way, and creating well-made clothes that are not only beautiful, functional and comfortable, but can also be repaired and recycled.

My personal approach to ‘ethical fashion’ is constantly evolving but, in general, I aim to dress in a way that reflects my values. I enjoy the process of developing my style and curating a wardrobe that suits my personality and way of life. These days I buy very little, and what I do buy I choose carefully. This allows me to invest in high-quality and long-lasting items, at a higher price.

When I buy a new item of clothing, I want to know where and how it was made, and about the materials used. I look at the quality of the garment; the seams, and the touch and feel of the fabric. I always want a new piece to become a valuable addition to my existing wardrobe, so I think about what I could style it with and how often I will be able to wear it.

About three years ago, I stopped shopping on the high street because I prefer to support independent designers over global mega brands. I like to wear secondhand—I am a flea market hunter as much as a vintage boutique lover, and I love the concept of clothes-swapping parties.

Dörte Lange

“Sustainability starts at the design stage, and designers will play a crucial role in the rethinking of fashion.”

What has been the most rewarding part of running the Lissome?

Lissome has been nourishing for me on so many levels. It has expanded my mind, stimulated my senses, and fed my soul by giving me a higher purpose. When I started my journey into exploring a healthy future of fashion, I set out on my own, with no preconceived plan but full of curiosity and a drive to learn. Over time, I’ve met kindred spirits, smart and sensitive people who care, change-makers and trailblazers. It’s through these encounters that I am hopeful creating change is possible.

On a personal level, it’s been a pleasure to see my vision slowly come to life. Lissome is still taking baby steps, but it’s starting to walk with ease and gently touching the world around it. I am beyond thankful for the wonderful team and contributors that I am working with, here in Berlin and abroad.

At times it’s also been challenging and, being a naturally introverted and sensitive person, I’ve had to continuously leave my comfort zone to reach out to others, and to share my thoughts and ideas with the wider world. So in that sense it’s also been a journey of personal growth, of raising my own awareness, of gaining knowledge, and of becoming braver.

When looking at the current fashion system, what do you believe needs to change and why?

Today, fashion production and consumption run at hyperspeed. In the last 15 years, clothing production has approximately doubled, and more than half of the fast fashion produced is disposed of in under a year. In addition to that, many of today’s products are designed with neither durability nor recycling in mind—less than 15% of clothes are collected for recycling, and less than 1% of the material used to produce clothing is actually recycled into new clothing. The vast majority of garments simply ends up in landfill and becomes waste, which is madness.

I think the speeding up of the fashion cycle has been accompanied by a certain sense of cynicism and emptiness. There is this growing pressure to design and produce new collections faster and faster which, naturally, leaves less time for reflection, contemplation, and in-depth innovation. The industry is burning itself out for the sake of growth and profits, at the expense of human and planetary well-being. I believe over-production and fast fashion are the elephant in the room, but they are also symptoms of a larger problem.

In order to change our current fashion system, we need to rethink our overall economic system and the values that it is based on. We need a fair and healthy global system that first and foremost serves a radically new goal: to meet the needs of all within the means of the planet. I recommend reading Doughnut Economics: Seven ways to think like a 21st-century economist, recently published in 2017 by British economist Kate Raworth. It is an inspiring analysis of why economic growth is not enough and how we need to widen our concept of economic development and invest in the human, natural, and social wealth that sustains us.

When we met you mentioned ‘blockchain technology’. Can you elaborate on this innovation and point to any other exciting tools that brands are using to navigate supply chain issues?

Last year I interviewed London-based fashion designer Martine Jarlgaard and we talked about her collaboration with Provenance, a transparency platform that uses blockchain technology to increase supply chain traceability. Martine came up with a wonderfully succinct description of how blockchain technology works, which I would like to quote: ‘Blockchain is a decentralised ledger, which enables the verification of authenticity, be that of cryptocurrencies, investments, supply chains, or something entirely different. It consists of a network of independent computers verifying data and isn’t controlled by one person, company or institution. This, in itself, is highly relevant to the world we live in as it has the potential to change power dynamics, as well as change the way we do business.’

I am still a novice when it comes to Blockchain but while attending the 2018 Copenhagen Fashion Summit, I talked to two innovation companies, TrusTrace and Bext360, that both do ground-breaking work in the technology-powered supply chain arena. TrusTrace is a blockchain-powered collaboration platform for consumers, retailers, brands, manufacturers, and certification bodies to establish transparency and product traceability. At this stage it is being used by pioneering brands such as Acne and Filippa K, and suppliers and manufacturers in 14 countries across Europe and Asia. Bext360’s focus is to improve the global supply chain for agricultural products, using a combination of blockchain technology and machine vision. Their first initiative was to introduce the world’s first blockchain-traced coffee.

Dörte Lange

“I believe over-production and fast fashion are the elephant in the room, but they are also symptoms of a larger problem.”

Has there been any progress over the past few years (throughout the garment industry or society as a whole) that has been heartening to you on both a business and personal level?

Over the past few years the conversation around sustainability in fashion has been widening as well as deepening; slowly but surely moving out of its niche. At this year’s Copenhagen Fashion Summit, there was one topic that everyone seemed to agree on: the importance of moving from today’s linear system of ‘take, make, dispose’ to a circular economy. I couldn’t agree more—land and fossil fuel are finite resources and water is becoming increasingly scarce while, at the same time, the world’s population is rapidly growing. We simply cannot continue using valuable resources in order to produce poor-quality products that quickly turn into harmful waste.

Sustainability starts at the design stage, and designers will play a crucial role in the rethinking of fashion. My understanding of design is holistic and not limited to the outer appearance of a product. In order to create a circular fashion system, we need to design materials, products and processes with sustainability and the product lifecycle in mind. We also need to build a new circular infrastructure that generates additional user cycles through repair and resale services, and enables recycling to prevent waste. Earlier this year, we witnessed an important step in the right direction: the Ellen MacArthur Foundation launched their ‘Make Fashion Circular’ initiative, bringing together leaders from across the fashion industry, including brands, cities, philanthropists, NGOs, and innovators. The initiative seeks to facilitate the level of collaboration and innovation necessary to create this systemic change.

You launched the Lissome to “provide a space for conscious thinking in fashion, lifestyle and design, and to sketch out a new vision for the future of fashion.” What does the future of the industry look like to you? What excites and/or daunts you about this future?

The ‘Anti-Fashion Manifesto’ that legendary trend-forecaster Li Edelkoort published in 2015 was an important wake-up call for the fashion industry. It emphasised that when fashion becomes a mere disposable product, it loses its cultural relevance and humanism. At this point in history, we need to pause and re-evaluate the relationship that we have with our clothes, and more generally with fashion and consumption.

The distinction between consumerism and materialism is an important one that is often confused: while consumers love the act of purchasing, materialists love (and thus care for) the object itself. I believe that meaningful relationships make us thrive as human beings and this goes beyond the relationships we have with friends and family. It extends to the relationships we have with activities that bring us joy, as well as the longstanding connection we develop with carefully selected material possessions.

With this in mind, I would like to see the fashion industry reflect on the real needs of people—of both makers and buyers; of the planet; the impact of materials; and the quality and process of production. While we certainly need to shift from a linear to a circular system, simply doing that won’t be enough. We also need to address overproduction and the importance of developing a new focus on our real human needs. Finding innovative and healthy ways to meet them is crucial.


Photography Bella Fenning
Production Sigrid McCarthy
Sub Editor Reb Mery
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