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'Adaptation is key: people often give up when they're on the brink of success'

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'Adaptation is key: people often give up when they're on the brink of success'
William Baxter at work in his Gothenburg studio. Photo: William Baxter/Private
06:59 CET+01:00
"If you do something well enough, people are going to want to buy it. It's about making your own market." William Baxter knows this from experience: when he moved to Gothenburg in early 2016, he was the only trouser maker in the Swedish city.

Two years on, he's built up a loyal client base and collaborations with local brands, offering bespoke and made-to-measure trousers as well as clothing alterations.

But when he started out, no one was doing what he was.

Baxter even says he was even slightly concerned that local consumers might not be interested in what he could offer, but he went for it anyway. The British tailor credits "pot luck, connections, and persistence" with his success, but it's probably the latter factor that has been most essential, as well as his clear love of the craft.

Baxter has always been motivated to make things. Originally from the West Midlands, he got his first insight into tailoring when he visited London around the age of 16. His dad took him into a tailor's where he spoke to staff about their career paths and jobs, inspiring him to study Menswear Fashion and later start a part-time tailoring internship alongside his studies. After he finished his degree, the company offered him a job – and he finished his apprenticeship in record time.

While working as a trouser-maker in London, Baxter created garments for celebrities including Benedict Cumberbatch and the films Spectre and Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation. However, working for a large company meant his days were spent in the basement working on the trousers. 

"I sometimes met clients but really the contact was minimal. You'd just get to pass by them on the stairs if you timed it well – if I knew someone was coming in and heard the door, I might sneak up and then they'd introduce me," he tells The Local with a laugh.

Now working as a sole trader in Sweden, things have changed. "I have much more of a relationship with clients, which I like. I'm a sociable person so the clients are the best part of the job for me, and especially when they hear about me through personal recommendations – that's a good feeling," says Baxter.

He believes the key to success as a tailor, beyond learning the skill itself, is communicating. "You've got to understand what the client needs. If you can't communicate with them it's pointless; you may as well go back to the basement and work for a tailor-house."

Since he arrived in Gothenburg two years ago, the business has snowballed. One of the main tools he has used to raise awareness of his brand is social media.

"Instagram is a huge game-changer. People can have direct connections to tailors, see exactly what you do, and understand your aesthetic," the tailor explains.

 

A post shared by William Baxter (@wbb.tailor) on

In fact, it was Instagram that got Baxter his first professional connection in Gothenburg, and inspired him to choose the western Swedish city as his new home and business headquarters.

He tells The Local he felt he had exhausted his professional options in London for the time being and wanted to experience life outside the UK. The decision was also motivated by Britain's vote to leave the EU: "It seemed like if I wanted to do it, it had to be now," he says.

One company in Berlin offered a job, but with a large number of London creatives moving to the German capital, Baxter felt this was "too obvious a choice" and focused his search further north.

Around this time, he got in touch with a Gothenburg-based tailor, Robin Pettersson, on Instagram. Pettersson was asking for advice with making a certain type of pocket, and Baxter sent picture-by-picture instructions.

When he visited the Swedish city later, he met Pettersson in person, and after eventually deciding to make Gothenburg his new home, the pair came to an arrangement where they would share a studio and Baxter would make trousers for him as well as working for his own clients.

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This connection also helped with some of the red tape entrepreneurs face when setting up shop in Sweden, as Pettersson was able to offer advice while Baxter set up his business and went through the stages of registering with Skatteverket (the Swedish Tax Agency) and acquiring all the equipment he needed.

The 26-year-old says he faced a series of 'catch 22' problems: "there was never one easy step to fix a problem; it's more of a shuffle – and it all would have taken much longer without this collaboration." 

"I had done research and spoken to Skatteverket and people in the area when I had visited Gothenburg, so I had some idea of what was going on and what I needed to do," he adds. "I could have been more prepared but then there's always something unexpected that comes up!"

READ ALSO: How to register as a freelancer in Sweden


Photo: William Baxter/Private

But it's equally important to get your name out in the real world, and "talk about yourself to anyone and everyone", he adds.

"Gothenburg is small, word will get around."

Baxter says the city's small size makes it more intimate and better connected than London.

"It feels like everyone knows each other, so it's nice to form those bonds with people. It took me a while, maybe a year, to feel like I'd found my place here, because making connections in Sweden can be difficult at the start. But once you're in, you're in – and it's nice to be in!" For those who still feel they're on the outside, his top tips are simply to "be kind and say yes to things".

Now he has settled in the country ("I've been here for two years and about 12 days – not that I'm counting!"), he hopes to stay long-term and plans to become a Swedish citizen once he is eligible in three years' time. He's already feeling more Swedish, saying he has got used to drinking beer in 40-centilitre units, and has picked up the Swedish habit of saying "ah" instead of the British "mm".

Baxter also says he prefers the clientele he deals with in Gothenburg compared to London. "It's more of a blue-collar city; people don't just buy tailor-made clothes because they have the money and it's the done thing to do when you can afford it. People appreciate things made by hand and the time it takes; I've found my clients are all really patient and interested in the work I do."


Photo: William Baxter/Private

Living in fashion-forward Sweden has also influenced Baxter's personal style, which he says is very fluid. 

"I'm trained as a British trouser-maker, so the constructions and fits different clients prefer are different. Swedes tend to like British cloth and Italian style – then I have to order an extra ten centimetres of cloth here and there for the extra tall clients!"

And although being a sole trader sometimes means working at the weekend, the Brit is still able to take advantage of Swedish work-life balance.

"I've probably been overworking myself recently but over summer it should be easy to take a break. Gothenburg is so close to the sea and to lakes which is great, and there's a really good brewery here. I love experiencing and learning different things – last weekend I discovered cross-country skiing for the first time!"

Baxter's passion for learning new things extends into his working life, and though he says his success is down to "connections, good luck, and persistence" it's clear that the latter factor has played a huge part. As well as continuing to work alongside fellow tailor Robin Pettersson, he collaborates with several different companies, for example teaming up with Gothenburg Manufaktur to make work trousers.

In the near future, he'll be adding another string to his bow: a line of bespoke jeans, using fabric from a new microfactory close to Gothenburg.

"The key word is 'adaptation'," he says. "I think a lot of people give up when actually they're on the brink of success."

His plan for now is to keep growing the company, and he hopes to be able to train young Gothenburgers in the future, to pay forward the help he has had from others in the profession. "I'm the only trouser-maker in Gothenburg and it would be nice for people to have another option, so I'd like to train people and share my knowledge. I want to keep tailoring alive."

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