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

"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.

'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

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 Feb 8, 2018 at 3:02am PST

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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READER QUESTIONS

Reader question: When am I eligible for a Swedish pension?

A reader got in touch to ask how long he had to work in Sweden before he was eligible for a pension. Here are Sweden's pension rules, and how you can get your pension when the time comes.

Reader question: When am I eligible for a Swedish pension?

The Swedish pension is part of the country’s social insurance system, and it can seem like a confusing beast at times. The good news is that if you’re living and working here, you’ll almost certainly be earning towards a pension, and you’ll be able to get that money even if you move elsewhere before retirement.

You will start earning your Swedish general pension, or allmän pension, once you’ve earned over 20,431 kronor in a single year, and – for almost all kinds of pension in Sweden – there is no time limit on how long you must have lived in Sweden before you are eligible.

The exception is the minimum guarantee pension, or garantipension, which you can receive whether you’ve worked or not. To be eligible at all for this, you need to have lived in Sweden for a period of at least three years before you are 65 years old. 

“There’s a limit, but it’s a money limit,” Johan Andersson, press secretary at the Swedish Pension Agency told The Local about the general pension. “When you reach the point that you start paying tax, you start paying into your pension.”

“But you have to apply for your pension, make sure you get in touch with us when you want to start receiving it,” he said.

Here’s our in-depth guide on how you can maximise your Swedish pension, even if you’re only planning on staying in Sweden short-term.

Those who spend only a few years working in Sweden will earn a much smaller pension than people who work here for their whole lives, but they are still entitled to something – people who have worked in Sweden will keep their income pension, premium pension, supplementary pension and occupational pension that they have earned in Sweden, even if they move to another country. The pension is paid no matter where in the world you live, but must be applied for – it is not automatically paid out at retirement age.

If you retire in the EU/EEA, or another country with which Sweden has a pension agreement, you just need to apply to the pension authority in your country of residence in order to start drawing your Swedish pension. If you live in a different country, you should contact the Swedish Pensions Agency for advice on accessing your pension, which is done by filling out a form (look for the form called Ansök om allmän pension – om du är bosatt utanför Sverige).

The agency recommends beginning the application process at least three months before you plan to take the pension, and ideally six months beforehand if you live abroad. It’s possible to have the pension paid into either a Swedish bank account or an account outside Sweden.

A guarantee pension – for those who live on a low income or no income while in Sweden – can be paid to those living in Sweden, an EU/EEA country, Switzerland or, in some cases, Canada. This is the only Swedish pension which is affected by how long you’ve lived in Sweden – you can only receive it if you’ve lived in the country for at least three years before the age of 65.

“The guarantee pension is residence based,” Andersson said. “But it’s lower if you haven’t lived in Sweden for at least 40 years. You are eligible for it after living in Sweden for only three years, but it won’t be that much.”

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