Founded by Johan Lindeberg in 1996 as a tribute to the power of protest, J.Lindeberg became the leading brand for Swedish athleisure apparel before falling out of favor with shoppers. Now, with new creative director Neil Lewty bringing his background in tailoring and luxury fashion to sports design, the brand has reported their highest sales in history. Grace Banks meets with Lewty to discuss the delicate act of bringing a household brand into the future.
“The idea was to design a collection that fully integrates fashion and sport into the same items,” says Neil Lewty, head of design at J.Lindeberg, of his new Fall 2022 collection that combines sport with tailoring – “the golf course and runway at the same time to bring those two worlds together.” Lewty joined the brand in 2020, and after testing the success of fashion-forward pieces over the past two seasons, the brand’s FW22 collection marks the debut of its fully-formed bespoke sports wardrobe, featuring J.Lindeberg’s Combining golf apparel heritage with luxury fashion is a much-needed repositioning for the Swedish sports brand that has struggled to stay relevant for the past decade.
Jointly led by Lewty and J.Lindeberg’s CEO Hans-Christian Meyer, their new fashion wave hybrid seems to be working. In 2021, the brand reported sales of $81 million, the highest ever. Both Lewty and Meyer competed in the early months of Covid-19 in 2020, Meyer from Tiger Sweden and Lewty from Hugo Boss. “When I joined the company at the start of the pandemic, there were a lot of challenges,” Meyer says, “we did everything we could to boost sales in an extremely challenging market and we decided to switch to digital channels as much as possible.” .” For Lewty, the opportunity to win this new digitally savvy client at a brand best known for its golf apparel was a welcome challenge. His new collection caters to a new post-Covid casual shopper and to a growing Gen Z audience scavenging J.Lindeberg’s 90s golf apparel on Depop and Ebay. “There really aren’t that many brands I could go to for the fully-rounded hybrid fashion and sports wardrobe,” Lewty says, “so I think from a marketing and consumer perspective this is really a gap in the market.”
Your new fall collection is your first for J.Lindeberg since you joined the company as head of design. How did you approach the creative process when you joined the brand?
When I showed up at J.Lindeberg, the design team, a fantastic group of people, designed everything in separate little collections – a golf collection, a fashion collection – and it just didn’t fit. I thought, okay, let’s put it all together under one concept, one color story, one print story. My end goal was actually to create a strong and tangible look for the brand because I don’t think you dress differently when you go golfing or when you just go out. The idea was to be able to design a collection that is fully integrated, fashion and sport in the same items, the golf course and the runway at the same time to bring those two worlds together.
You recently showed your SS23 collection at Stockholm Fashion Week. What makes the brand a Swedish label for you?
I think the interesting thing about J.Lindeberg is that it’s always done things a little differently. The idea of doing this runway show really came about because we felt it was time to do it no matter what the runway show schedule might dictate. We were only later informed that Stockholm Fashion Week was in that same week, so we wanted to create a buzz, throw a party and show people our new direction. The brand has been working on this new look for J.Lindeberg for two years now, so it’s time to really show what we’re working on.
The company reports that 2021 was its most successful fiscal year to date. How would you like the company to scale after that success?
I’m thinking of showing during fashion week, creating events and creating a certain atmosphere for people to experience. We wanted to put ourselves back on the map by organizing a big event in Stockholm, and the next project will be the store in New York, then a store in Seoul, Korea. I think it’s so important to always refresh and refine your brand, and turn that knob a little more every time you go. And of course it’s the first time we’re doing this.
After Covid, many brands are tapping into the luxury athleisure apparel market. How will J. Lindeberg stand out in that crowd?
We are definitely at this point in time where a lot of brands are looking at that market. When you look at Gucci’s collaborations with North Face and Adidas, you realize that this fashion and sports connection is definitely happening. But what I hope sets us apart in the market is the fact that we are originally a sports brand, we are not a fashion brand that does sports.
We really know sports design and customization, so it’s interesting for us to add the fashion corner to that. I’m convinced that we can dress someone with an active lifestyle, who also wants to dress well, look good when he’s working out, and look current and relevant when he’s dressed up and going to a party. So from my point of view, there really aren’t that many brands I could go to for the fully-rounded hybrid fashion and sports wardrobe. Our women’s collection includes leggings and a blazer, knowing that will work for sports too. The same goes for menswear, I don’t think there are many brands in our segment that really do that. So I think from a marketing standpoint and from a consumer standpoint that is really a gap in the market.
In the past two years, attracting a new client for J.Lindeberg has brought many changes. How would you like the brand to continue to innovate over the next two years?
When I showed up at J.Lindeberg, it was during the pandemic and the brand’s situation couldn’t have gotten much worse. Of course, there were options, from scaling back to closing the business. But we decided to try to make a difference and make a change and that involved risks. We’re going to bring to market what we think is relevant, what people want, and we’re not afraid to innovate. And because of that, the results are truly incredible. And with so much feedback from so many customers, suppliers and buyers, they’re just like – you went for it, it’s so refreshing. And it’s a great bit of feedback to get. You know, why should you follow the standard?