Four reasons the fashion system needs to change
Lessons from inside the industry + what Finns need to learn about Sweden
17 Oct 2023

Hello and welcome back to Observations. This week is a reflection on my first six years as an entrepreneur, and how that has shaped my mission in the fashion industry.

Next week is our first edition of Beauty Innovation Talks in Stockholm. There are still a few seats available. Sign up here.

We are also working on a new event series based on Virtual Creativity, our special on the creatives using new technologies in their work. The first event will be on November 8 in Stockholm. Stay tuned for that.

Building bridges

Sometimes a change of perspective can mean everything, and set your life in a completely different direction. 

It’s now been six years since I followed a long line of men in my family and took the step of becoming an entrepreneur. It wasn’t really a conscious decision, it was more a set of curious circumstances – I was sick of the analogue world of print publishing, and an energetic entrepreneur invited me to become his business partner — that converged into what became my first company: Scandinavian MAN. 

There are many business owners who will tell you that if they had known about the sacrifices that you had to make in order to make a business work they would never do it. Looking back at my first years in business, I can certainly subscribe to that notion. The endless nights at the office, the failed timelines and crushed plans, the complete lack of income for years on end. I don’t want to minimise the good we did — the magnificent events, the awesome content, the aim to build something completely new — but it was ultimately a failed business. 

But just as you are unable to anticipate the struggles of running a business, you are also unable to foresee how it can propel your life to unimaginable heights.

What Scandinavian MAN did lead to was the creation of the platform you are currently consuming – Scandinavian MIND. And since that pivot three years ago, all I’ve been focused on is transforming the lessons I learned and the network I built during those first chaotic years as an entrepreneur into something useful, inspiring, and profitable. 

And it’s going quite well, thank you very much for asking. 

Looking back, there was one aspect of running Scandinavian MAN that would become highly useful to me. It was the opportunity to see the fashion industry from the inside. 

I had been a part of it for a decade as an editor, but as a member of the press, you only ever get to see the polished side of the industry. The press lunches and presentations, the steady stream of people pitching you their latest idea, product, or person (“cover story, perhaps?”).

During Scandinavian MAN — which was part magazine, part e-commerce operation — I started to learn more about how brands functioned, how trade shows operated, how distribution was organized, and how everything was interconnected. 

And what I saw baffled me. 

Here are a few takeaways from those early days of peeking under the hood of the fashion system:

1. The industry had huge inefficiencies. Trade shows were the preferred medium of data-sharing and brands calculated over-producing their collections of up to 30 percent. 

2. The sustainability problem was much bigger than I previously had realised. Promises of organic cotton rang hollow when the whole industry was completely linear, and only one per cent of garments were recycled. 

3. The need for new solutions and technologies was imminent. How else were we supposed to change consumer behaviours, revamp the supply chain, and install a better afterlife for our products? 

This led me to the last and most chilling realization:  

4. The industry had extremely low technological maturity. Brands were made up of sales, marketing, and distribution people, with a thin layer of design on top of it. No one really understood tech in the fashion system. Heck, some companies in Europe still used fax machines (and still do, I’ve heard).

You have probably guessed by now that these learnings were the foundation for the concept of Scandinavian MIND. I realised that my place in the system was not to be a spoke in the commercial wheels of fashion, but rather an intermediate between the fashion system and the technologies it so desperately needs. 

This has been my focus ever since and influenced not only the feed on our website, the columns of our print magazine, and the conversations at our events, but also the work we do with brands and companies in our agency business. 

Hence our tagline: Bridging Lifestyle & Technology. 

Finnish expansion

Last week I was invited to the Finnish Embassy in Stockholm. My friends at Business Finland wanted me to talk in front of a delegation of Finnish fashion and lifestyle brands about the challenge of launching themselves to the Swedish market. 

Here where my four points:

1. Network is everything. For better and worse, Stockholm runs on networks. Who you know defines your success. The negative side: it’s hard for people standing outside, looking in. The positive: once you have established a network, once you are validated by someone from the inside, you’re off to the races. Establish authentic relationships and build your business from there. 

2. Diversity is real. 25% of the Swedish population is either born in another country or have parents who were. This makes our market uniquely diverse, and a stark contrast to Finland and its stricter immigrant policies. Most Finnish brands showcase models with blond hair and pale skin. This wound fly if you want to cater to the Swedish market. 

3. Collaborate. Establishing a new lifestyle brand in a market rife with similar offerings is hard. Creating collaborations with Swedish brands and personalities can be a way to jumpstart your presence. 

4. And finally: lean on your strengths. Finnish happiness, the closeness to nature, local production, and sustainability stories are in high demand, even in a country with similar offerings. I predict an increased interest in the Finnish lifestyle in the years to come.

That’s it for now. See you next week!