Lis Eriksson: What happens in London…

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Words: Adam Scotland
Photography: Alex Synamatix

Working on The Daily Street we get to meet a lot of different people in various fields of work, whether that be PR, sales, advertising, retail, design e.t.c. The list goes on…

When we meet these people, it’s always great to hear their stories and learn about how they got involved in their particular specialist area, and also, their thoughts and opinions on the industry itself. One of the people we’ve been fortunate enough to cross paths with, and also, someone with one of the most interesting stories is Lis Eriksson, founder of both wholesale fashion agency Sewn and online mens and womenswear retailer Glass Boutique. Both Sewn and Glass Boutique are based out of Lis’ Brick Lane office and showroom, but Lis is originally from a very small town in the north of Sweden called Boden, where really it’s more function than fashion. Her story brings her to London as a teenager on a summer trip, a trip from which she never returned as she still resides in London 11 years later.

The store, Glass Boutique, has just had a bit of a facelift, and is full of Autumn/Winter product, and the agency, Sewn, is going from strength to strength, so we saw it as the perfect opportunity to sit down with Lis and hear her story direct.

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So, Lis, where did you begin your journey in the fashion industry?

I remember when I was about 11 I had visited a magazine shop in one of the bigger Swedish cities, about 3 or 4 miles from our town, I picked up a copy of The Face and it was just so cool. It sounds a bit cliché but it all kind of started from there I think. I started shopping in vintage stores as there weren’t any designer shops at all. From then, I think I’ve always just been slightly obsessed with it. When I went to go to college, I originally went to art college for about 10 days, but I couldn’t stand it… too many idiots I think. So, I ended up changing to fashion college. I did that for 3 years, but I probably didn’t focus that much in school to be honest, I was too busy doing other things. I played in bands and I had my own little T-shirt label with a friend. It was a really, really fun time and, although I didn’t end up with the best grades, I think I learnt a lot.

How exactly did that bring you to London?

When I was about 18, I’d just finished college and was on my way to Paris for the summer with a few friends. We decided to make a stop in London… We were only supposed to be here for 3 days. We were wandering around and I started chatting to a Norwegian girl in a shop called Superlovers in Covent Garden. She was like “Ooh you should stay for summer, stay and work. I’ll hook you up with a room”. It just kind of went on from there and… I’m still here, 11 years later. That’s kind of it really. I didn’t go to uni or anything like that, just started off working in retail stores and ended up doing management and buying and it’s all just evolved from there very naturally.

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What were the circumstances that led to you setting up on your own over here?

Well, I’d been working on the buying end of running a couple of womenswear stores for 4 or 5 years and a friend of mine had a small menswear label at the time and asked if I’d consider joining him. After doing buying, you know what goes on in a showroom, you’ve seen lots of sales people, you know about brands… so it was quite a natural step to go and help him out for a few months. After a while he decided that he didn’t want to continue the brand anymore and by that point, I’d built up some contacts in the wholesale world, so I thought I’d just go out there and see what there was.

At the time, there were a handful of quite cool Scandinavian brands that were emerging, like Won Hundred, Velour, Acne… So all I did was just call them up and say “Hello, do you want some representation in London?”. I sent a few emails, had a few meetings and got my first brand on board, Won Hundred, who I still work with today.

What were your reasons for working with the brands, like Won Hundred, that you picked up originally?

It had a mens and womenswear line and it was fashion, but not too contrived. It was fashion that wasn’t too ‘up itself’ so to speak. We’re always looking for new things, whether it’s accessories, menswear, womenswear… things that have a personality. There are so many brands out there, that you’ve really got to have something that is ‘you’. I met the guys in Copenhagen and Nikolaj, the founder, was really passionate about what he does, and they have a great team and set up there.

Did you always intend to go into men’s fashion? Do you ever find it hard being a self-employed female in the men’s fashion industry?

I didn’t, but it just naturally became that way because they stuff that I saw that I really liked was menswear. I also think that, with womenswear, everyone is so ‘Topshop’ and it’s harder to find something that’s a little bit different. Where as, with menswear, you can get something that’s very genuine and very well made, that’s sometimes where I struggle with womenswear. I think it’s just one of those things, it is hard if you make it hard. And yeah, it is sometimes a bit of a boys club, but, I think, If you have good collections and you work hard there’s no reason why it shouldn’t work, whether it’s men’s or women’s.

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When did Glass Boutique come into the picture?

I was working on my friend’s brand originally, Ben, who is a partner in the store and agency was investing in that brand. Ben said he really wanted to set up an online store, but didn’t know much about fashion, so we agreed that he’d do all the digital stuff, which I still know nothing about, and I’d do the other stuff – and that’s how it all started. It just took a really long time to come into play. During that time I got really busy with the agency and I was going to shows, and I was seeing loads of nice, new menswear brands coming up, like Our Legacy and other looks like Penfield coming through and it all just kind of made sense. I said to Ben, let’s just do it, let’s just put our favourite selection from our five favourite brands online, you do your magic online and we’ll just see how it goes. It’s just grown from there really.

How do you go about selecting the brands you stock in the store?

I like things to be fairly attainable, I don’t think we’ll ever do £200 shirts and £1000 technical coats, fashion wise that’s not where I come from. I like brands that have personalty and a sense of fun. Every brand needs to fit with the others we have in stock. At the moment we have Norse Projects, Libertine Libertine, Our Legacy, Penfield… everything kind of has to gel.

Will GB always be an online thing? Do you have plans to open a physical outlet?

We don’t have any plans for that at the moment, but we’re very much a company that likes to naturally evolve. If the right opportunity came up with the right partners and the right location then I don’t see why not. I like working online, I think it’s something new and fresh within retail, I think there’s so much more that you can do with it. People talk about online retail taking sales away from normal stores, and I disagree, I think it’s additional, I think it will become like most big cities, where you have the little stores that do their own thing and you have the bigger stores with more of a selection. It also enables you to do your own thing, because, if you have your own shop, online you can reach anyone you can reach a kid in Paris or a guy in Japan, or you can sell to a guy down the road in Hackney, but he just needs to like what you’re doing. I think it’s really exciting, it enables you do do more of what you really want to do, you don’t have to compromise so much.

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What was it that attracted you to London particularly when you came here all those years ago and decided not to go home?

I like this area in particular. This is where I first started going out, even though I wasn’t living in the area at the time. There’s just like a roughness, a sense of individuality, There’s this thing about British eccentricity and it’s true, I think this area really personifies that. You see some really cool people and some really interesting stuff, of course, sometimes you just laugh, but it’s a great place, sometimes you might not like what someone is wearing, but at east they’re expressing themselves. London is an amazing city. There’s always new things opening up and new people coming through. There’s always newness and you’re not restricted in what you do, I suppose that, coming from a small town, that’s quite attractive.

Do you think that your East London surroundings influence your work?

Definitely yeah. I mean, we don’t live and die by East, but of course you see things, you see trends. You can see things around here and know that in 6-8 months time, that could be an emerging trend, whether it’s a colour or how people wear their jeans. A lot of our customers are just down the road, it’s funny the amount of times we send things just a few streets away.

Do you have any particular thoughts and feelings about men’s fashion in Britain in 2010?

I think it’s in a really good place. I think it’s great that there’s been a focus on materials and it’s nice that there’s a sense of pride and a very British style that’s come through over the last year and a half. There’s some really, really good stuff and I don’t think we have to look far to find great brands. There’s YMC, there’s Folk…some really good stuff. I travel quite a lot for work but I always come back feeling that we have some amazing shops and amazing brands right here.

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Many thanks to Lis for sitting down for a chat with us. You can find out more about her agency, Sewn, at their website, and make sure to pay a visit to the newly revamped Glass Boutique and check out all the winter products they have in store.