The company Nudie has been called a fashion wonder, export success and the success story. But the founder and head designer Maria Erixon Levin came to a point when the pace was too high. The path from zero to 60 profitable jeans models - all in 100 percent organic cotton - has not been easy sailing.
Original article published in Swedish daily "Svenska Dagbladet" by Emmylou Tuvhag.
Photo: Therese Jahnson
Translated with Google Translate.
On the train between Stockholm and Gothenburg, Maria Erixon Levin hesitates. Maybe she should conform to the dress code. But then she thinks that if it's jeans she'll be awarded for, she should be able to wear jeans.
She is heading for the House of Nobility in Stockholm to receive the Royal Patriotic Society Business Medal from the Minister for Infrastructure, Catharina Elmsäter-Svärd. Dressed in all black, from the big black cap to a pair of black tight jeans, she is told that it is the first time in history that anyone received the award in such clothes. Then gets praised for her entrepreneurship.
It was in 2001 that Maria Erixon Levin and Joakim Levin started Nudie Jeans. Together they built, and later with Palle Stenberg, a company with 34 employees and about SEK330 million in revenue.
While much of the clothing business is now on its knees, Nudie Jeans together with other Swedish fashion companies Filippa K, Gudrun and Acne Studios, set to go another year with sales success.
Since the award ceremony, spring has become summer and at the date of this conversation, Maria Erixon Levin is not wearing jeans but a dress. Not that a meeting with SvD Business beats higher than an awards ceremony in the House of Nobility, but playing with the kids ended up with a damaged knee that now need the maximum amount of air to heal.
We talk about the successes, and stick to adversity. But even if Nudie Jeans usually is portrayed as a great success story, the way from zero to the current situation was not always smooth.
- These ten years have been the most fun in my life, and also the hardest, says Maria Erixon Levin.
The initiative to start the company came after many years of intensive work, first as a jeans designer at JC and then as head of design at denim company Lee. While working, she was haunted by the thought that managers would soon consider her incompetent.
- When you have that feeling of not having any idea what you're doing then you get worn out. I work over and around the clock. In the end, I felt that now I wanted to start something on my own.
She had to resign three times before the employer finally let go of her, but to build Nudie Jeans was far from the break she dreamed of. Work started soon, and after only a year, co-founder Maria Erixon Levin and Joakim Levin had a child. When the daughter was four weeks old she went along to the job.
In the creative chaos there was something euphoric. The creators were pushed forward by indescribable energy and the company received industry to grow rapidly. Together, the couple went into a bubble and lived in isolation. Personal life and business became one.
- They have not really been possible to distinguish. Both children have grown up here in the company premises. We faced the decision to choose children or agencies, but that failed.
When the children went to bed, Maria Erixon Levin took place under the working lamp's bright light. She got sick, even had pneumonia, but worked anyway. She pressed herself both of desire and the haves. What started with a positive stress eventually became too much.
The children's and company's primary needs came first. There remained no time to reflect on who she was or how she really felt herself.
- You get drained on energy. I do not like the word burnout, but there was a kinship with it. When you do not take time to pause, you will eventually burn out, she says.
That was four years ago. The recovery has been in therapy, in solitude and with the passage means. Now she feels back in balance.
- I know several others in the industry who have gone the same way. Work is underway in a few years ago required a certain type of recovery. If you are lucky, you will have both business and family left in the end.
Maria Erixon Levin and Joakim Levin are no longer married, but they have found new roles to each other and the company.
- We've landed in some kind of stable phase. Now we and the company are ready for a new step.
This fall, all denim collections that reach the stores will be 100 percent organic. But the thing with environmental thinking, Maria Erixon Levin has always seen as the owners' homework. Clients want her to focus on how the clothes look, feel on your body and molds itself to the movements. Therefore, it is not the ecological stage, which she refers to in the quote above.
When asked if Nudie Jeans is about to enter a new market or launching a new product, she replied mysteriously.
- It becomes clear soon enough.
Maria Erixon Levin on ...
... To be called a part of the Swedish fashion miracle:
- They talk more about Scandinavian fashion than what we bring in revenue. It is said that after the musical miracle there will be a fashion miracle but it does not feel like you are part of a miracle. I think the language is more of a media flirt.
... To be called good and rowdy:
- It's fairly typical that women are referred to as aggressive or clever. Just because I as a woman am driven by a desire to change my situation or take responsibility for my life, I am given the label that I'm rowdy.
... what she is most proud of:
- That we haven't had to receive external investments. After only one year, we were offered to be bought by a large international company that offered to pay several millions. But to accept was not considered. Then we had become hostages in our own company.
... To say no:
- We've said no to everything, like making cheap jeans, girl jeans. We want to make unisex, of good quality. It requires courage and a cool head to say no to obvious sales successes, but we stand by what feels right.
... Their jeans:
- I'm always in jeans, usually in a couple that I have not washed for three years. Then I have a couple of thin black, and patched and mended. A total of six pieces that I switch between.