INSIGHTS / THE WAR IN UKRAINE

”Running a business and being a business leader during a crisis requires a lot — I’m impressed with our entrepreneurial leaders”

HELENA WAKER
On do’s and don’ts for the fashion industry after the Russian invasion
March 14, 2022

As the CEO of Trade Partners Sweden, an organization working to empower trade, Waker is an expert on agreements and trade around agencies and distribution. 

— We are also members of the International Chamber of Commerce and have an efficient international business network and over 100 years of experience in the organization, she says, continuing,

— Six years ago we founded Stockholm Fashion District together with our members in the fashion industry. International and Swedish companies invested in sales offices and showrooms and today we have 140 showrooms, important trade fairs, business events, and educations in the district, plus many designers and buyers visiting us over the year. It is a unique platform for the fashion industry, with about 750 brands in men’s and women’s fashion, shoes, interior, and textile. We have created a new kind of business network within the fashion and design industry. 

This urgent situation in Ukraine, how big of a problem is that for the industries that you’re working in? And what are the main challenges that the brands and their employers are now facing?

— As a trading partner, Russia is connected with uncertainty, and Sweden’s trade with Russia is limited. In the industries that we mainly work with — such as fashion, shoes, and textile — there are a number of companies that are affected and mainly those that run retail in Russia. It affects all stages, such as those that supply and manage design, fabrics, and production. The bigger problem is the rising energy prices, an unstable stock market, and uncertainty in Europe. We depend on having a global trade chain and these are our biggest challenges in these industries, Waker explains, adding,

— Right now, it’s difficult to get an overview of the consequences for the Swedish companies and the Swedish economy. But there are many indications that we will see higher inflation, higher energy prices, and higher prices for most of the goods in the segments that we are working with. 

What’s your own reflection on how the situation affects these industries? 

— Everyone is affected in different ways and we will most likely see some negative effects on our trade development. Hopefully, they are more temporarily. You become more cautious and await investments — that applies to both companies and private individuals. I hope that with all the strength that is available, we can soon return to safer world trade. That will benefit everyone.  

How can you as an organization help your member companies?

— The legal aid we offer is of the utmost importance, such as questions about how to handle different situations that arise when new agreements are to be entered or changes to existing agreements. Insurance, payments, and logistics issues are also high up on our agenda. There are many quick decisions made by today’s leaders, and we offer a good and safe place to discuss, share experiences, and learn from each other — or just an ear of an experienced party that listens. 

What do they ask you the most? And what do you answer them?  

— Many wonder if there are other than them who have these challenges in logistics, price increases in existing agreements, and concerns within the teams. Running a business and being a business leader during a crisis requires a lot. I see many business leaders who have had a very big development as a leader during the two pandemic years, and who are now being put to the test again. I’m impressed with our entrepreneurial leaders, Waker states. She continues:

— Most often, I or our experts have talked to several companies about these questions and can give a good summary answer. We also maintain continuous contact with our international colleagues to follow their input on the state of world trade, in order to encourage and inspire our entrepreneurs and give them relevant advice.

What can the brands do themselves?

— Secure deliveries through various action plans and keep close contact with production and principals. Review your own organization’s crisis plan, communicate even more with your customers, and take care of your employees.

Anything they shouldn’t do?

— It is better to be prepared than to wait and try not to make too hasty decisions. 

If this situation continues, what will the consequences be for the industries and the end-consumers?

— Prices will go up through all stages and new business models will increase, such as re-make, secondhand, and upscale of existing goods. We will have to use our products longer and some will have less trading space. Because of that, those who sell goods must really have the right assortment and be extremely relevant to the customer. I think many Swedish brands are doing very well in the international competition.

— We in Sweden are a pioneering country in democracy, gender equality, sustainability, and innovations. I hope that we can continue that development and that the pandemic and the war, in their own way, accelerate the building up of new energy sources and new business models. What I hope is that we thereby take a faster step towards a shift with sustainable trade in all the segments that we work with. Personally, my passion is to encourage the shift and make it happen, Waker concludes.

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