Even the colors of a chameleon are for survival not beauty.” – African Proverb

Malin Busk

The survival in the urban jungle of our “modern times” is the very intention, the aim, the ambition of the Afro-Swedish brand HI ON LIFE.

Winner (among other things) of the prestigious Rebelpin Fashion Award 2018, HI ON LIFE is an interesting journey within the most contaminated street-culture. Founded in 2014 by Malin Busk who is its designer as well, the brand represents an irreverent tribute to the African continent: rigorously not rigorous just as the North European philosophy. All her items are ethically produced in a sartorial manner.

We met Malin some weeks ago and that’s what she told us…

Why did you decide to start your own label? 

When I studied Textile Management at the Swedish School of Textiles in early 2000 I got the insight of how dirty the fashion industry was behind the scenes and what terrible things were going on back of the flashy façade, with poor working conditions, environmental destruction etc. So that got me into the field of sustainable design and I have put all my energy into trying to do things better. I always had a passion for creating but not really the skills or patience to “make it” myself. So it wasn’t until I discovered the Ghanaian tailors and how we could collaborate, that I found a solution for designing my own collections and putting up a production model I could feel good about. (Ethical, small-scale, on-demand/zero-waste)


How did your interest in fashion started?

I think I have had a thing for fashion since early childhood. My favorite TV-program was the Sunday morning-show reporting from the runways and couture-shows around the world. And I could spend hours in the attic dressing up in mummy’s vintage outfits. And then MTV came and I just loved the fashion and style featured in Yo! MTV Raps and MTV Amour.


HI ON LIFE: how did you pick this name out for your brand?

I actually started HI ON LIFE as a multi-brand store for sustainable fashion, together with a friend in 2009. And I came up with the name as a reflection of our state of mind at that moment, when we were very happy to see so many new cool brands rising in the field. When we closed the store in 2014 in order to let me focus on designing I just took the name with me. And I guess HI ON LIFE it’s kind of my life motto…

How would you describe HI ON LIFE style?

I use to say street couture. A mix of street-style and high-end. I get a lot of inspiration in the streets and daily life around the world…as well as from urban music and dance. I guess my style is a fusion of Scandinavian clean cuts, from my Swedish heritage, mixed with the more extravagant African influences that I’m surrounded within Ghana… bold prints, patterns, glitter, and glam. Street-wear made in a sartorial manner with influences from the couture-scene you could say.


You are a Swedish brand but your design base is in the Ghanaian capital Accra, where all styles are made in close collaboration with local tailors and artisans. What is the link between these two countries?

My personal link is “love at first sight”… both with the country and my husband, that I met there on my second trip. Immediately when I arrived in Ghana in 2012 I felt very welcomed, free and inspired. And then I discovered all the tailors and how they work on a daily basis doing outfits for the locals in every street-corner. But I also learned that they are in a tricky situation as their livelihoods are threatened by the cheap Asian mass-import and extreme amounts of 2nd hand clothing from Europe and the US putting them out of business. So I did some quick samples with a tailor in northern Ghana, which mainly turned out fine…and that was the start of what is now HI ON LIFE (2.0) as a brand.

Apart from that, I would say there are not many links between the two countries… they are total opposites to each other, but that’s also what I find very satisfying…though sometimes also struggling.


All your items are ethically produced in a sartorial manner. How important is the concept of sustainability to you?

It’s everything…I wouldn’t do this if I couldn’t feel good about the way it’s done. I see it as a win-win situation. I get access to skilled tailors that can do one-offs and on-demand orders (without patterns as I’m not trained as a designer and lousy in pattern making and sawing) and the tailors get well-needed work opportunities and possibilities to feel proud about their craft.

I’m still working on getting the materials more sustainable though. As it’s now I can’t get much information about the origin of the materials that I buy at the market in Accra. But I’m working on doing more of my own fabrics and prints in collaboration with artisans so I’ll be able to trace the origin all the way to the fiber and feel good about the whole production chain. But it’s a bumpy road…


What is the street-style? 

Street-style of cause is a very wide expression. In Ghana the street-style-scene is a never-ending catwalk of creativity with everything from hip-hop inspired b-boys to church-dressed ladies in colourful wax-prints, chiefs in powerful traditional outfits, hipsters in vintage-bargains and “everyday hustling people” in “you take what you have and make the most out of it”-outfits. I find it very inspiring and free without a lot of style-rules.

Your Brand is the winner of The Rebelpin Fashion Award 2018 at Berlin Fashion Week. The theme of the competition was “Light in The Night” and 10 finalists presented their interpretations. Tell us about this experience.

It was a great experience and I’m very happy with the price. I did the application at the last minute and barely got it submitted before dead-line. There is a lot of hard work and many hours behind applications like this, which make it extremely satisfying when you actually win something. And a great boost to your self-esteem…


Last collection and future projects.

I have spent a very busy summer exhibiting in Milan, showing in Berlin, Cph FW, festival-projects, photo-shoots and Vogue Ball-styling in my hometown Malmö. So I’m heading back to Ghana in September with quite a need of resting under a palm-tree….but there are many exciting projects in the pipe-line…can’t reveal them really yet though.


As always, our last question… According to you, what is really FUCKING YOUNG! today?

Do your own thing no matter what! (…young is a state of mind ;))


Photography: Gianmarco Boccaccio
Models: Kelly & Maria
Clothing: HI ON LIFE
Styling & Design: Malin Busck