Helena Mellström is one of the elite faces on the Swedish fashion scene that can make or break a fashion house with a point of her manicured finger. A member the Swedish Fashion Council since 2003, Mellström has made strides by creating Swedish Fashion Talents, the initiative formerly known as Rookies. The program has given a number of carefully-selected promising designers a platform to shine, showcasing their work and nurturing their business acumen so they can be successful. To commemorate the ten-year anniversary of Swedish Fashion Talents we spoke with Helena about the future is for the program, plus highlight some of our favourite graduates..
How did you feel about this years show?
I thought it was a good mix between different brands and between woman’s wear and men’s wear and accessories.
What do you think is the most difficult thing about the fashion industry right now for young talent?
There are both possibilities and problems. It’s much easier if you compare to ten years ago to get out and market yourself, it’s so easy to have your own website and your own web shop, with social media it’s so much easier to get started and get out there.
The struggle though is that you compete with so many other people and brands, so it’s much tougher today. In Sweden especially, we don’t have so many independent shops, so there aren’t that many retailers that are eager to take in new brands, they want to wait for the second or the third collections. The brands struggle a lot in the beginning with sales. Sourcing too – the trend I can see with these new fashion brands is they want to keep the production close to them, they are so eager to produce in Sweden or a nearby country. But it’s not that easy in Sweden so they might have to go abroad.
Who are some of the designers at the forefront in the international market right now?
Well, we have lots of brands that have gained international attention like Dagmar and Acne. Dagmar received the very first Swedish Fashion Talent award in 2005. They are one of the brands that have really grown bigger.
Looking back, how do you think the show has evolved?
In the beginning the project was geared towards having a meeting place for up-and-coming designers. It was organized as a trade fair in the beginning during Stockholm Fashion Week. We changed the strategy about five years ago, and since then we choose a maximum of 25 brands each year. We started picking a mix of designers that we really believe in. We have had fewer brands in the project for every passing year, hoping instead that the participating brands can gain more from the project. We highlight them in exhibitions and fashion shows, as well as having them get trained in business strategy, law, sales, how trade functions abroad. We give them seminars and networking so they can survive in the fashion industry.
What are the needs of the project?
We need more money through the projects, so we would like to get more consultancy for the brands so they can address their own struggles. I would love to have them get more support. So I hope that could be improved in the next couple of years.
What is the most exciting part for you of putting on the show? What trends have you noticed?
What makes me happy is that people see the talents. That we get to show a fine mix of different brands, maybe they wouldn’t have the opportunity to see them elsewhere so that makes me happy that they get a platform. Also I’m very happy that we have had more menswear brands applying for the project. We have had a great dominance in women’s wear up till then. Swedish brands are so good in menswear. Style.com last year listed the five most interesting menswear designers in the world and there were three Swedes on the list. So that is one trend, Sweden is getting stronger and stronger in menswear.
Apart from that, I get excited about brands that are about sustainability, quality and that want to build more clothes that hold up for a long time. They are eager to go back to handicraft and the terms “slow fashion.”
Speaking of menswear, what do you think of New York’s “Men’s Fashion Week” this year? Do you think Stockholm should segregate its fashion week?
I think it’s too early. We have an interesting fashion week and we are listed in the top 16 in the world. New York, London, Paris, Milan – they are big markets. We have many interesting brands but to divide the fashion week? I don’t believe in that, we need to unite the brands.
What is the best advice you can give to a young designer or fashion house starting out?
Think about your niche, that hole you fill somewhere in the market. For example Stutterheim has really found his niche – high-quality rainwear. There is not so much competition and if you succeed you can get into many lifestyle shops all over the world. I think you need to build a good concept around your brand. Even today I meet brands and I ask them, “What does your brand stand for?” You have to have a concept ready and don’t just do things to be nice. You have to believe in what you do. Build a concept and a story that is important for you. You need to let the buyer know why are you needed in the market. Look at the niche and be aware of your concept.
Words: Koko Ntuen