Digitalisation, sustainability and increased equal opportunity are important for the Swedish fashion industry

Swedish fashion has a good reputation on the international stage, largely thanks to success stories such as ACNE Studios, H&M and other small and medium-sized enterprises that have achieved success. The most recent survey reported a strong increase in Sweden fashion exports, and the industry is currently being shaped by issues such as digitalisation, sustainability and equal opportunity.

The textile industry has played a key role in Sweden’s economic and cultural development since the industrial revolution. When Swedish production moved abroad in the 1950s, domestic production fell and cities like Borås lost many of their weaving and tailoring facilities.Now Borås is instead a centre of Swedish and international fashion and represents a base for creativity, research and development.

The modern Swedish fashion industry consists largely of small businesses that design in Sweden, produce abroad and sell internationally. “The creative processes often start in a basement, before being scaled up to become a proper company,” explainsMagnus Wiberg, Head of Development at ASFB, the Association of Swedish Fashion Brands. H&M played a crucial role in the development of Swedish fashion. Wiberg goes on: “Our industry has benefited significantly from H&M, both as a role model and as a representative of Swedish design heritage. Their success means that we can afford to work more on creativity.”

The most recent survey from 2015 shows that the Swedish fashion industry generated SEK 264 billion in revenue and Swedish fashion exports rose by 19.6% from 2014. These export figures for the fashion industry can be compared with the fact that Swedish exports in total increased by 7.4% in 2015.

The fashion industry is affected by the current global process of digitalisation, and in future fashion companies will continue to focus on digitalisation in their business models. “Sweden is better equipped than many other countries with its fibre network, which has been a great help to us now as digitalisation begins. A younger generation that’s grown up digitally. 11­–12 per cent of fashion consumption now takes place online,” explains Wiberg. He also points out that sustainability and equal opportunity are important factors for the fashion industry’s development: “We’re talking more about sustainability, equal opportunity and diversity in Sweden than in many other countries. We must show the way and become even better in these areas.” The fashion industry employs a higher proportion of women than men in total, with the industry as a whole comprising 73% women and 27% men. But the gender distribution at senior decision-making levels is similar to industry in general, with more men than women in those positions. The proportion of female CEOs is, however, twice as high in the fashion industry as in the rest of industry.

With a digitalisation process that affects consumption patterns and a new awareness of the environment and sustainability, new, circular business models are being nurtured.

Clothing and fashion play a central role in the creative and cultural industries, and if developments are to move more quickly Magnus Wiberg believes that the fashion industry must collaborate with other industries. “Aesthetically and culturally, it can look as though the fashion industry is leading the way, but we’re still a traditional industry with much to learn from others if we’re to make the change and become more circular, and to continue to contribute to a positive image of Sweden.”

Text: Carin Fredlund, 2018-06-14