In the Spotlight: An Interview with CATHERINA CARLANDER

16th October 2018

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Catharina Carlander is the Design Manager at Tenson. We grabbed a few moments of her very precious time to find out what it takes to be a designer for a top outdoor brand, and discover the challenges in designing gear that is built to last without compromising on style!

TGOA: How did you get into design, did you always want to be a designer?

I knew already by the age of 4 that I wanted to become a designer. My mother worked in the exclusive fur business when I was a small child and I was inspired by her making clothes for me and my older sister. 

I was brought up in a printing office, had an instant love for paper and pens, and loved to draw and my parents saw early my talent for making design as I could spend hours making small paper dolls, not to play with, but to create designs and big collections for each one of them. 

I also had a huge interest for both skiing and sailing, spent many years sailing around in Euroupe and on the Swedish Westcoast and skiing in the Swedish fjells or in the alps, learned quickly how to ski well, became a skibum and lived a pretty bohemian life for many years.

I took a master in Fine Arts and Design quite young, started my career by doing my exam project at the University in collaboration with the most trendy skiwear company in Sweden for the time being, (SOS of Sweden) and then everything started I guess 

TGOA: What has your journey as a designer been like, what have been the high points in your career?

My journey as a designer has been quite varied depending on the state of my private life, my childrens birth, economic cycles, etc. I have worked both as a freelance designer and Design Manager for many companies since 1985, so I can´t even count anymore how many collections or products I have created since then. I have of course a special love for Tenson, it is in my spine, though it was an important company I “grew up” with when I was a young child and teenager in Sweden.

I also spent many years as Head of Design for the mother company to Tenson (Melka) during the 90´s and that made me become very close to the special “Tenson-feeling” as we were one big company back then, before we split up.
I started as a freelance designer mainly working in the skiwear- and outdoor business, I soon realized that I wanted to work with functionality, quality and sustainable clothes that could last for a long time, rather than quick fashion that would end up as wear and tear products.

My highlights in my career might not be so famous but I´m pretty proud of being the designer of the first Swedish Mount Everest Expedition that reached the top, and making really big selling numbers for several companies within Outdoor, Ski, Sailing, Menswear and even Marine safety products, running as bestsellers for many, many years. For the moment I´m very proud of being the designer since almost ten years back of the official race dresses and clothes for both the Swedish Skicross Team and the Swedish Ski Moguls.

It always makes me happy to see people in my clothes and products in various surroundings and activities of course. Sometimes it makes me remember the original sketch and I think of what made me design that special item and what meaning it now has for that special person wearing it.

The finest compliment I had in my career came from an old friend and famous fabric supplier in Italy. He used to scold me about me being the most talented but also the most anonymous designer he knew, terrible bad at marketing myself. I guess it´s spot on.

I never became a designer because I wanted to be famous but for my interest and skill in analyzing and solving problems, my great love for creative thinking in combination for an interest in nature, sport- and outdoor life

TGOA: Tenson has a reputation for producing clothes that are “built to last”. There must be some challenges in designing functional clothes that also look good, but what about functional garments that are still stylistically relevant and wear well beyond the current season?

It is always a big challenge to design clothes that will be both accurate in fashion, yet still will be lasting as “classics”. I think it´s always easier to achieve a long lasting functional design with a certain minimalism.

The hardest thing is to create a commercial product that will be a big seller for many years rather than to design an artistic, individual piece. It’s even more difficult to have the task to make an existing “bestseller” even better, when you already have tried all possible variations to do an item optional in every way, but sometimes when I manage to do that, I feel really proud of myself, it´s kind of a victory of hard work and analysis.  

TGOA: The Skagway Jacket and Pants, available for men and women, is a key item in the Tenson collection. Can you tell us what makes the Skagway stand out in terms of design, practicality, and longevity?

The Skagway jacket and Pant is exactly what I´m talking about. It is made from the very start to be a typical trans category item, with the purpose to fit in to many activities in everyday peoples life.

The challenge was to create a rain-/outdoor set so minimalistic, yet so durable, comfortable, functional and with high quality so it could last in peoples wardrobes for many, many years. 

What I personally love about Skagway is the stretch comfort, the soft handle touch, the lightness and that it is almost without any noise. Perfect both on the golf green, biking or in the forest listening to the sound of nature.

It also stays nice even if you pack it in a bag without any special care, and dries very quick if it gets wet, so it is a perfect set as a travel companion. 

TGOA: Tell us about the fisherman who arrived at Tenson HQ with an original Himalaya Jacket, a testament to the “built to last” ethos. How many years had he had it, and what contributed to its longevity?

Haha, actually this special man was not a fisherman, (even though I know many fishermen have been and still are wearing Himalaya jacket) but a team member of the official Swedish 1977 Americas Cup Team, sailing with world famous sailor Pelle Petersson.

In fact, the whole team were dressed up and sponsored in a special version of the famous Himalaya jacket and also other Tenson clothes. That special Himalaya was designed with an aluminum foil inserted and with a very thick fake fur inside to keep the warmth for these guys during bad conditions at sea. The team member came in to the office with that jacket after about 35 years of use, very well worn of course, but the jacket was still in good condition! He asked us if we were interesting in learning about the history of his jacket and of course we became really happy!

The history and our heritage is what we are built on and we carefully study what made this company great in earlier days and we try to keep to the company’s origin as much as possible but updated with modern materials and values.

The end of that story is that we actually made a special edition replica of that jacket, that will now be sold in a numbered version from AW18. 

TGOA: What do you get most passionate about when designing a new Tenson product?

The hardest, but also funniest part about designing new products is to combine our core values and that special “Tenson-feeling” to fit in to modern techniques, fashion trends and general movements in the world. Hopefully you can use our garment for a long time, sometimes even for a lifetime and maybe even next generation can inherit the item you bought. That is our passion!

TGOA: Can you tell us what a typical day in your design studio is like?

It varies a lot. I would say that to build up a collection for Tenson it is about 60% analyzing and 40% design. I spend a lot of time sourcing, benchmarking, traveling, meeting suppliers, reading about trends, fabrics and colours, checking fittings, etc.
One day could be full of analyze meetings about prices, economy and figures, another day I focus on inspiring my team and giving briefings and instructions, the next day I jump in as a size 38 fitting model and taking comments on protos! 
It is very seldom a minute over and one need to be very stress resistant!