Sweden is well known for being ahead of the curve when it comes to all things fashion, but how exactly can international professionals break into this competitive industry? The Local spoke to fashion insiders in Sweden to find out.
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The fashion industry provides tens of thousands of jobs in Sweden, in a whole range of roles from design and manufacturing to sales, buying, styling, and many more.
If you’ve already studied or worked in fashion abroad, you’ll likely have an idea of the part of the industry you would like to work in, and that will narrow down your search. On the other hand, if you’re new to the workforce or contemplating a career change, the first step is to build up your understanding of Swedish fashion and get experience as soon as possible.
You may want to study towards a qualification to add to your CV, and across Sweden you’ll find everything from three-year degrees to evening courses in fashion-related topics. As a starting point, two well-regarded institutions are the Swedish School of Textiles at the University of Borås and Beckmans College of Design in Stockholm.
“I knew I wanted to work with fashion – but with no real experience other than retail and customer service, or a single contact to speak of it isn’t easy,” says Swedish-British stylist and writer Beatrice Trodden.
“I started a blog to show what I could do in terms of online content, aesthetics and visual presentation. While I was still in my previous job I also did a long distance fashion stylist diploma course. To be honest, everything I’ve ever learned I learned by actually working, but the course combined with my blog helped get me my first internship.”
A post shared by Beatrice Trodden (@beatricetrodden) on Oct 6, 2018 at 1:26am PDT
Learning doesn’t have to mean a formal course, and Trodden also highlights the importance of doing research on Swedish brands, companies and events.
This might mean following relevant people on social media and LinkedIn and reading fashion magazines, the Swedish Fashion Council website, and trade publication Habit. That way you’ll not only get an understanding of the industry to help you impress at any interviews, but you’ll also hear about company expansions, mergers and so on in advance – which might give you a clue of when and where to send speculative applications.
Fashion marketer Nathalie Ryngdahl was able to line up her first job in fashion before she had graduated, after a recruiter for Gothenburg-based brand Rut & Circle contacted her via her blog. The role was an instore sales assistant with additional responsibilities as a stylist and blogger.
“I was so happy!” she says. “I worked there for 3.5 years and got a lot of contacts in the fashion industry and lots of experience.”
While working at Rut & Circle part-time, she found a second role as a freelance fashion stylist for Nelly.com, and worked there for a year before a career change that saw her train as a digital marketer and do internships in two other companies. Her top advice for succeeding in fashion is that “hard work pays off” and “be available to work any time”.
Ryngdahl recommends that people at the start of their careers should keep an open mind about unpaid internships, particularly if it’s possible to do these alongside studying, as they can pay dividends in terms of making contacts and building up experience.
“You don’t need a ‘fashion background’ – the business is huge and you can find a job in all fields, including finance and IT. But it’s important that you actually have some education in the field you are interested in,” says Swedish fashion journalist Maria von Wachenfeldt, adding: “Volunteering was the reason I got my first job as a marketing coordinator at Gina Tricot.”
Von Wachenfeldt got her start in the industry after getting involved in fashion-linked projects at university, from creating magazines to working on runway events and volunteering at Oslo Fashion Week, with the final role leading to her first job.
As well as looking out for events, other volunteering opportunities could include a sales assistant role in a charity shop, writing for a publication such as Nordic Style Mag, or simply offering your services – if you hear about an event and think you could help, there’s nothing to lose by getting in touch, even if there’s been no official call for volunteers.
Stockholm Fashion Week, scheduled for August 2019, is the biggest date in the fashion calendar, and elsewhere in the capital, check out what’s going on through the year at the Stockholm Fashion District in Nacka or at Beckmans College of Design. In Gothenburg, try the sites GoCreative and ADA, which are aimed at supporting creatives, including those in the fashion industry, in the Västra Götaland region.
But there will also be smaller-scale events such as launches, seminars and meetups. Make sure you’re following brands you have a particular interest in on all social media platforms, not only to hear about planned events but also because many will publish job adverts targeted to their followers (or even their competitors’ followers).
Entry queues for Stockholm Fashion Week. Photo: Stina Stjernkvist/TT
“Getting that first foot in the door is the hardest step,” Trodden admits. “So much depends on contacts in this business and I know I really lucked out when I decided to move to Sweden.”
She found her first role in Sweden through an online advertisement, but says this is unusual. When she later went freelance, she says a large amount of her work comes from “word of mouth and being suggested for jobs by friends and contacts”.
And if you’re new in Sweden without any industry contacts – make them! Set up an Instagram profile or blog/website, and if you already have one, make sure you’re following and connecting with potential collaborators and clients in Sweden. You can be proactive and send introductory emails to people working in relevant roles at companies you admire, or freelancers.
“Depending on what your initial goals are and what kind of work you’re looking for I would suggest emailing people to let them know what you can do and ask if they might have a need for more freelancers on their roster,” Trodden recommends. “Or if you just want to expand your contact network email a casual introduction and ask if the person would be willing to meet for a quick coffee so you can get some advice about how the industry works in Sweden.”
If you do this, make sure you have questions prepared before you meet, and be specific when you first let them know what advice you’re hoping to get, so that you can both get the most out of the meeting.
Some good news is that as Sweden is a smaller country, the fashion industry is close-knit and Trodden describes the atmosphere as “casual and friendly”, meaning that once you’ve made the first few daunting introductions, things will get easier from then on.
Front row at Stockholm Fashion Week. Photo: Jessica Gow/TT
How to job hunt
If you’re looking for a role in a Swedish fashion company, the good news is there are dozens to choose from. To name just a few, there are high street brands such as H&M, Weekday, J.Lindeberg, Björn Borg, Cheap Monday, Cos, Monki, Carin Wester, Filippa K, and Lindex, plus exciting names in various niches: shoes (Vagabond Shoes, Swedish Hasbeens, Reschia), childrenswear (Polarn O. Pyret, Mini Rodini, Newbie), outdoor wear (Craft, Peak Performance, Haglöfs) and maternity and pregnancy wear (Boob).
These will be your best bet if you want a head office job, and make sure you find out where your chosen brand is based (or to target companies based near your city if you have a fixed location).
In Sweden there’s a big crossover between the booming tech and fashion industries, so look into e-commerce companies, such as NA-KD, which has several roles in Stockholm and Gothenburg, Nelly, with roles in Stockholm and Borås, and Zalando, offering roles in Stockholm, Gothenburg, Malmö, and Norrköping.
But for roles such as sales assistant or store manager, you can also try international brands that have a Swedish presence, or approach smaller stores such as bridal boutiques, accessory stores, vintage shops and others. To speed up your search, check out the jobs pages featured on most mall and shopping centre websites, where roles for all the different shops will often be advertised.
Cast your net wide: use traditional job sites, including the Swedish Public Employment Service such as Career Builder, Indeed, Monster, Jooble, LinkedIn, and of course The Local’s own jobs site, which advertises English-speaking roles. There are also recruitment agencies and job-hunting sites specific to the fashion industry: Fashionnet, Modeverket, Modekonsulterna, and the jobs pages of both Swedish fashion trade publication Habit and the technical university in Borås which has a section of jobs and internships aimed at people with a background in textiles and design (the page is only available in Swedish, but some of the ads are written in English).
If you’re planning to launch your own business, there are plenty of resources for entrepreneurs in Sweden, and it’s worth looking into joining an employee organization, such as The Swedish Association of Designers (Sveriges designer) which is free to join.
READ ALSO: How to register as a freelancer in Sweden
If you aren’t finding the roles you want but have unique skills to offer, let people know. In the fashion industry even more so than any other, having a strong personal brand and new ideas is incredibly valuable.
In the case of fashion journalist Maria Von Wachenfeldt, she was able to carve out her own exciting role at the Swedish School of Textiles in Borås after studying fashion internationally.
“Come up with your own ideas,” she recommends. “I contacted the Swedish School of Textiles with my ideas around fashion and communication. They believed in me and gave me the responsibility to develop a fashion journalism course and give lectures in the field.”
Bear this in mind with your social media profiles too. It is a competitive industry, so make sure that these showcase your unique value.
When it comes to the qualities hiring managers may be looking for, fashion marketer Nathalie Ryngdahl emphasizes: “being hard-working, creativity, and having your own sense of style.”
Since then, she has studied fashion internationally, and got an exciting role at the Swedish School of Textiles in Borås. After getting in touch with the school to share her ideas, she was asked to develop a fashion journalism course and has lectured at the school, proving that the combination of volunteering experience and having confidence in your unique value can lead to a great job.