Jane Matthews, Owner and Manager of Swensk
I AM WOMAN
Jane is the Owner and Manager of Swensk in Melbourne. A retail destination which specialises in urban multifunctionality - Swedish international labels.
We are here for the ‘metropolitan curiosity’. Likeminded people that believe simplicity is not only an aesthetic value but also represents a sense of order and essential quality. Purity, functionality and raw beauty are considered the ultimate luxury and impact every aspect of life. After all, there is a right, and a wrong way of doing things.
Jane Matthews – Swensk Australia, Owner and Manager.
Today we welcome another leading business woman who has made her mark on the Australian design landscape. We talk with Jane Matthews about her career path, her decision making process and how she established herself within the Melbourne design scene.
Be inspired by Jane’s story with KFive+Kinnarps
Hi Jane, tell us a bit about yourself?
I am the co-owner of Swensk, a Swedish multi-brand clothing store in Melbourne’s CBD. Over the last ten years Mats and I have worked together building a brand that aims to provide the style of minimalism and functionalism. In fashion we define this as quality wardrobe pieces that embody effortless style, with understated functional details that become your ‘go to’ favourites.
Prior to Swensk, I lived in Hong Kong working in a marketing role for a finance firm and then in Sweden for an engineering firm and later a network of European architects in Stockholm. While living in Sweden I was constantly looking for a business idea to either bring back to Australia or into Sweden. So, when Mats formed the idea of Swensk it was the right match of his branding and entrepreneurial experience with my hands-on approach of getting things done that made this business idea the right move for our next adventure.
Tell us a little bit about your background – what path initially led you to the retail space, and to eventually launch Swensk in Melbourne?
I cannot take all of the credit on the launching the business, on a day to day basis I worked the weekend shifts around my full time job, and then after 12 months the full-time role of managing the store. However, I was absolutely involved in the many discussions (some heated) about the business as Mats worked on the project of creating Swensk. The origins of Swensk were very well thought out, well researched and passionately created by him with a strong will of wanting to create a life style rather than the focus being on the ‘profit and loss’ of a business.
Swensk was always meant to be something different – we did not want to follow trends or service the fast fashion ideology, but rather to become a place where discussion could happen and for thoughts and ideas to be shared. The fact that it was within a fashion store was secondary. This is how our original brand positioning was formed – ‘slow fashion for interesting people’. I feel this is what drew people to us as a brand as we articulated a ‘conscious consumption’ stance, while highlighting that we believed our customers were the interesting part of our business, and we had the interest to ask and found out who they were and what they did.
The destination of Melbourne was selected as we wanted to find the cultural hub of a European city centre and the practicality of a climate would suit a Scandinavian offer. Originally from Brisbane I knew the second point could not be achieved and we search Sydney for this European feeling, but it was an instant fit when we visited Melbourne. We had no roots, no friends and few contacts in Melbourne so it was a huge leap, but the business’ best chances for success was in here.
How did you get your business off the ground?
There is no simple answer to this question, in retrospect is clear but it was not at the time. Financially it was the sale of Mats’ apartment in Stockholm that funded the venture. But socially it was a number of individuals that took us in with no connection or reference of who we were, they simply helped share the word that there was a new store in town. From day one they were advocates for us, brought their friends in and told people about us.
In addition to this, I cannot be more thankful to the people that walked through our doors in the first 2 years and then kept coming back that are the real heroes to our store’s success of getting off the ground. If I stop to recall their names I am honoured to call some of them some of our closest friends and our Melbourne family.
How did you develop your business’ style and voice?
I feel our style and voice is, quiet yet stubborn, which is the same way I would describe Mats! I think it has come about as an organic articulation of Mats and my personality – his directness and my translation or softening of that message so that we are a little more relatable and upbeat.
However, the Swedish directness and transparency of our business is absolutely driven by Mats and happily upheld by myself and our staff as it is a great way to work – ‘if you always tell the truth then you will always remember what you said’.
In business dealings with our suppliers I think this is also true – we sometimes play off our Swedish/Australian differences to get a reaction and most of the time we get a win-win result, so for us it works.
What does a typical working day look like for you?
Firstly, no two days are the same in my life. As we share the work load in the shop and with our kids being young we often move our days of who is in the store around to meet our family needs. However, an ideal start on a typical day is fairly relaxed, most mornings we walk together through Edinburgh gardens to get the kids to day care in Fitzroy. I am usually at the shop by 9am to get on top of things before we open at 10. My role while I am not back full time, is limited it a few key management and administration jobs and floating between the office and the shop floor depending on how busy the shop is during the day.
When it comes to making a big business decision, what processes do you undergo to make sure your making the right move?
We use a balance organic market research of talking with our customers and network and the use of statistics and sale history to inform most business decisions.
As a business we are very transparent and I talk a lot. If I have an idea for an activity, new brand, update of shop, whatever it is, then I talk about it, test it with people, gauge their response and comments to support or discredit the idea. On a business level I’m more selective with whom I talk with, but I often seek council from our network in the specific area of the business decision.
In addition to this, over the last ten years we have collected statistics that we have slowly learnt how to use and interpret to inform or base financial decisions. In fashion, cycles are 6 and 12 months so we are always looking to our sales history to identify where we have the best chance of growth in a specific product category or department to allocate budget or investigate new suppliers.
What is your studio space like? How does your environment effect your work?
Our studio is above the shop on the mezzanine level we built 4 years ago. Our shop sits on a corner location that has 7-meter glass façade. So is light filled and always connected to the weather – rain, hail or shine we feel it. I seek a natural light filled area to work, even when working out of the shop. I struggle to think how I would feel if I had to work in a space with low ceilings and no natural light. This is one reason I could never locate our business in a mall or shopping centre.
We are very lucky to have acquired some beautiful pieces from KFive over the last few years including a Robin Boyd couch. When we worked with Erna to curate the items, the brief was that they must be pieces we would love to have in our home – so it is safe to say our studio is much better furnished than our home!
Can you tell us about something you’re working on right now?
Right now, we are planning and placing our orders for Spring/Summer 2019. Which in Australia is Autumn/Winter 19, which in reality is delivered in January/February 2019, the hottest months of our year! I can say that deliveries in the opposite season is one of the biggest business riddles for us to overcome and hopefully one day solve.
I sometimes describe buying is like investing in stocks, you plan, research, reference statistics, but sometimes when nothing supports a pick you want, you just have to trust your instinct and roll the dice.
This year marks the 10 year anniversary of Swensk in Melbourne. Can you tell us what’s changed in retail business over the last 10 years? And how have you achieved ongoing success?
Thank you for considering us as successful! The retail landscape when we opened is a very different place today. The main players that we admired and considered having a strong hold in the market are now no longer trading and the arrival of international fast fashion entities made their presence felt in this last decade. There has also been a move out of the CBD to locations like Gertrude street which ten years ago would not have been considered as a retail destination with the thriving mix it has today.
I believe our ongoing presence in the retail market can be attributed to a number of things but in particular : our service and genuine personal concern to help our customers, our (stubborn) curation of the idea of Scandinavian aesthetic and our location.
Our CBD location is not just an address to us, it is part of who we are, we believe in the European idea that the city centre is the hub of activity, collaboration and where people strive for change. This does not translate perfectly in Melbourne (or Australia), however the CBD represents that we are available to everyone, no matter where you call home – Fitzroy, Brighton, Coburg or Mt Martha. If we located ourselves on the North side where we live or where we know a lot of our customers live or work, our brand would take on the unique characteristics of that part of Melbourne and we would no longer as available to the rest of our Melbourne, interstate and international customers.
Can you share a piece of business advice for anyone getting started, something you’ve leant through experience?
Gain as much experience in the industry you are entering to learn all the mistakes but also the successful equations relevant to your industry. This will fast forward your learning curve and hopefully your success.
Also, do not follow industry standards if you believe they do not fit your brand or if they are simply bad. Make your own standards that you are proud to uphold and maybe you will even set new standards for your industry.
Is there anything exciting coming up that you can share with us?
The Swensk shopping bag is something we have always been proud of, it is the only thing we have made in the store, as we do not design the pieces we sell. I have a small project in the works to have a 10-year bag made with some special friends of Swensk to help personalise a limited number of bags. I just need to get this project off the idea board and into reality before our tenth year is up!
You have such an amazing work ethic. Can you share with us some tips for working productively?
I do not think I am the poster child of working productively, I get distracted easily, but I do feel my attention needs to be across a lot of things all the time so it is just part of the role. However, when things need to be delivered it is always on time, as when I start a new task I work with the deadline in sight.
Also, I believe I have a good understanding of what needs to be one 100% and when it is ok to be 99%. This is where my husband and I differ! My work ethic is not unique, I think it is the same as every business owner - when it is your business you answer to no one except yourself. If you want it done a certain way you do not stop until it is just as you imagined or how you wish for things to be done.
I Am Woman was designed to inspire the future of women in business, so with that in mind, if you could you give one piece of advice to young females, what would it be?
Someone said to me early in my working life – everyone is replaceable. It is a tough thing to hear but it helped me to understand, do your best, learn everything you can, be kind and always respectful, ask questions and then if you are lucky, no one will want to replace you!
What is one of the biggest challenges you have faced, and how did you overcome it?
Learning the business of fashion starting from a point of zero experience.
Mats had the drive and I had the time to get the shop open, but it was everything after that point that made our learning curve a steep incline. The reality of receiving a winter collection in the middle of summer, the industry standard of discounting and sales, and the cost of staff where challenges we had to address in our own way, but quickly to stay on top of the fixed business costs.
We realised we had to find the right ‘equation’ of building a base of ‘never out of stock’ styles to mix in with seasonal styles and colours, ordering seasonal items but waiting 6 months to put them on the racks, and staying true to our brand and matching the European pricing rather following the pricing to discount practice in our industry. Furthermore, Mats and I continued to work outside of the shop so that we did not rely solely on Swensk to provide for us financially. This was key to surviving the first 12-24 months and we understand how were lucky we were to be able to have this as an option.
What are you most proud of?
That we are still here after ten years.
How do you like to spend your time outside of your work?
My two children are young, so it feels like they fill every moment I am not at work. When it is warm we are always outside, usually having a BBQ with good food and wine on the table with the kids running around. Usually we have wrangled another family to join us, so the kids entertain themselves and we get to enjoy the food and wine!
Do you have a guilty pleasure?
Can you tell us about one piece of design which you admire (recent or old), but which people may not know about?
Together my mother-in-law and father-in-law built a Swedish ‘summer house’, it was a typical log cabin for the area, painted red and was their home for the summer and winter. The outer wall of logs fitted together with no nails the design was so simple but that made it beautiful. Whenever we arrived, I felt like my heart beat a little slower and I was so happy just doing nothing – and I never feel that!
You’re based in Melbourne Australia, can you tell us what you love about your city and can you identify anything which differentiates it from the rest of the world?
I love Fitzroy and more recently Fitzroy North – I never want to leave this area as long as we live in Melbourne. I cannot say that these suburbs are the reason Melbourne is different from the rest of the world, but I can say that I never found a place in Stockholm or Hong Kong that I feel calm and happy in the routine of life.
What is Melbourne’s best kept secret?
Can I say Swensk!?
We would love to know which two products from KFive+Kinnarps are your favourite.
The Nikari December XL chair, we have this in the shop and I love to sit in it with my morning coffee talking with my colleague catching up before we start our day. My other favourite piece which we are also lucky enough to have, is another Nikari piece, the Skandinavia AHN1 Coat rack a great example of understated design.
And finally, can you tell us what brings you happiness?
Cheesy – but my kids. If you ask anyone that knows me they will say I’m always complaining about my kids, and this is true, but at the same time they are the main source of my laughter, hugs, kisses and a general feeling that everything will work out in the end.
Curious for more?
Visit Swensk // Shop 1, 230 Lt Collins Street, Melbourne, 3000