Design

XC90 presents… the Swedish designer making handbags out of safety belts

From her studio on Martha’s Vineyard, Swedish fashion designer Stina Sayre is carving out a niche for high-end, sustainable fashion with products like her bag made from discarded safety belt material. She tells us about the enduring influence of Scandinavian design.

WORDS: IAN DICKSON | PHOTOS: ANDREW SHAYLOR

The handbag made out of leftover safety belt material

“To take a material that is intended for one thing and make something else out of it is really interesting for me,” says Stina Sayre, a champion pro-windsurfer turned fashion designer.

We are in Stina’s eponymous boutique in the charming little town of Vineyard Haven on Martha’s Vineyard, the New England island that has, for decades, been the summer retreat of presidents, musicians, sports stars and the Hollywood elite.

On display is one of her latest collections, a handbag creatively crafted out of leftover safety belt material. Stina doesn’t call her approach recycling, but rather re-purposing. “I buy the leftover material that would otherwise end up in the bin and give it a new purpose.”

She also creates trouser belts using safety belt fabric, and jackets out of a polar fleece fabric made from recycled PET soda bottles. “I’ve always had this social and environmental consciousness,” Stina says in a nod to her Swedish heritage. “We Swedes are outdoors people. We love nature. We’re not going to destroy something that gives us so much pleasure.”

Growing up by the coast in southern Sweden, summers spent sailing and swimming in the sea, Stina has long had a passion for the ocean and the environment and her Swedish sensibility is evident in her interpretation of modern Scandinavian design.

It was in Sweden where she developed her passion for design, but it’s Martha’s Vineyard and its affluent residents who have benefited from her uniquely Swedish form of fashion – one of sustainable design created with simplicity, form and function in mind.

“I come from a family of artists and designers. Clean lines and functionality is very important in our design,” says Stina. “Any design detail you put in has to have a function. It can’t just be pretty because then it loses its value.”

Stina’s studio is at the back of her boutique, so that she can be in two places at once; out front, speaking to her customers, discovering their needs, while also concepting designs and working with her seamstresses on new collections. Each year, Stina creates two collections of meticulously crafted, ready-to-wear, made-to-order clothing and accessories. “They make you feel great, look fabulous and feel invincible,” Stina says with a smile. “Fashion for powerful women.”

How did she go from windsurfer to fashion designer? “I had a friend in Sweden who had a knitting machine and knitted sweaters so I bought a machine, too,” says Stina. While touring the world windsurfing, Stina brought the machine along with her, creating sweaters in her spare time and selling them to friends and competitors. Later, after marrying an American, Nevin Sayre – a three-times windsurfing world champion – the couple settled down on Martha’s Vineyard. They have lived there ever since, in a beautiful old New England clapboard house overlooking the Atlantic Ocean.

After years of intense working, building up her shop and busy studio on the island, Stina is now focusing on improving her work life balance. “I was working too hard, so I’ve now decided to work four hours a day and, when I’m here, I get as much done as possible. But I also take time for myself because when you work all the time you’re not focused.”

It means that these days you’re just as likely to find Stina on a paddle board as at the cutting table.

In 1959, Volvo Cars gave the world the three-point safety belt. In 2019, our new XC90 will have City Safety with steering support and curve speed adaption. This is our idea of modern, sustainable Swedish luxury.