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Swedish career guide: How to get a job in fashion

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.

Swedish career guide: How to get a job in fashion
Sweden's fashion industry is known for being ahead of the curve in design and sustainability. Photo: Sofia Sabel/imagebank.sweden.se

This article is available to Members of The Local. Read more Membership Exclusives here.

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.

Read up

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.

 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 

 
 

 
 
 

Arrivederci, Italia????

A post shared by Nathalie Ryngdahl (@nathalieryngdahl) on Sep 27, 2018 at 3:38am PDT


Volunteering

“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.

Show up

Even if you miss a deadline for volunteering at an event or can't commit the extra time, simply attending industry-related events can be the key to your big break. 

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

Networking

“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

Stand out

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. 

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For members

WORKING IN SWEDEN

EXPLAINED: Can you negotiate a pay rise in Sweden to offset inflation?

With Sweden's central bank expecting inflation of nearly 8% this year, everyone working in the country is in line for a real-terms pay cut. We asked Gunilla Krieg, central ombudsman at the Unionen union, what scope there is to negotiate a salary hike to compensate.

EXPLAINED: Can you negotiate a pay rise in Sweden to offset inflation?

With Sweden’s central bank expecting inflation of nearly 8% this year, everyone working in the country is in line for a real-terms pay cut. We asked Gunilla Krieg, central ombudsman at the Unionen union, what scope there is to negotiate a salary hike to compensate.

How soon can I get a pay rise to compensate for high inflation? 

Probably not for a while. 

About 90 percent of workers in Sweden are covered by the collective bargaining agreements made between employers and the country’s trade unions. The last round of salary deals was negotiated at the union-employer level back in 2020, and most of them will remain valid until March or April next year.

This means that most employees in Sweden will not see their salaries adjusted to take inflation into account for at least nine months. 

“Under this special model that we have, we already have a level for the wage increases for this year, so you can’t get compensation for the inflation right now,” Krieg explained. 

You might be able negotiate a pay rise in addition to what the unions have agreed in your personal salary review, she added. 

“Of course, you have that freedom. Whether you work in a small company, or a big company, a company that has a collective agreement, or one that doesn’t, you always have the freedom to ask for a salary rise,” Krieg said. 

The only issue is that most unionised companies only offer personal salary reviews once a year, and for the majority of employees, the window of opportunity passed in the spring. 

“You have to find out when you have a salary review as part of the collective agreement you have at your own workplace,” Krieg recommended. “For most collective agreements, that is in the spring, although some collective agreements have it in the autumn.” 

What if I’m not part of a union? 

If you are among the 10% of workers not covered by a collective bargaining agreement, you can ask for a pay rise whenever you like, but unlike union members, you have no right to a pay rise. The decision is wholly up to your employer. 

Gunilla Krief is the central ombudsman for the Unionen union. Photo: Patrik Nygren/Unionen

So will the unions eventually negotiate above-inflation pay increases? 

Probably not. 

Unions in Sweden have historically been quite responsible, and understood the risk of creating a wage-price spiral by demanding wage increases that match or exceed inflation.

“Twenty-five years ago, we had a really high wage increases in Sweden, and we had very, very big inflation, so people got more money in their wallets, but they couldn’t buy anything, because inflation went up much higher than wages,” Krieg explained, putting the union perspective.

“We always take responsibility for the entire labour market, and that’s good in the long term,” she added. “There’s been much more money in the wallet for employees in Sweden over the past 25 years. That’s why we think we should we should not panic because of inflation. It may be that for one year it will mean less money in the wallet, but in the long run we benefit.” 

Can I argue for an inflation-busting pay rise in my salary review? 

You can certainly argue for a pay rise of 8 percent, or even more, but you don’t cite inflation as a reason for it. 

“Everything is individual, so you can, of course, negotiate up your salary, and there is no limit to how much you can ask for,” Krieg explained.

“If you have a job or an education for which there’s a shortage on the Swedish market, then you can get a much higher wage increase. Up in the north of Sweden, where we have [the battery manufacturer] Northvolt, and we have mines and the steel industry, they are looking for a lot of competence right now, and there you can have a much higher rise in wages.” 

But, particularly if you’re covered by collective bargaining, you can’t really cite inflation as justification, as that is one of the factors that unions and employers are supposed to factor in during their negotiations. 

What’s the best way of getting a big pay rise? 

The best way to get a pay hike of as much as 5,000 kronor or 10,000 kronor a month, Krieg suggests, is to apply for other jobs, even if you don’t end up taking them. 

“You can get offers from other companies, and then you can tell your employer that ‘I really liked it here, I enjoy this work, and I want to stay here, but now they are offering me 10,000 kronor more at another company, and if you can raise my salary like that,  of course I will stay here’,” she said.

In a normal salary interview, she adds, it’s important to be able to demonstrate your results. Look again at your job description, and what your goals are for the year, and identify concrete achievements that meet or exceed these goals. If you have any additional duties, you can cite them to argue for a higher salary. If you’ve done any courses, or learned any skills, you can cite these. 

At any time in the year, if your superiors praise any work you have done, keep those emails, or write it down, so that in your salary review, you can say, “you said that this report I did was ‘the best you’ve ever seen’,” or such like. 

Finally, you should find out in advance if there are any salary criteria being applied, so that you can argue that you exceed them, and so demand a higher raise than that agreed for the company as a whole with the union. 

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