Sitting in a black chair in Craaford-salen with a bottle of Ramlösa next to him, Johan Lindeberg, dressed in a characteristic black leather jacket, black hoodie and white boots, which he coloured himself, began speaking in his cosy Lund accent. Until now, Johan hadn’t held a public speech in twelve years. But because this is his beloved hometown Lund and Hugo Jansson, Breakfast Club coordinator in Corporate Relations Committe, was very eager in his emails, Johan said yes. He said his parents, who are buried nearby, would be proud that he is back in Lund. Growing up, he says, we add layers of expectations to our personalities and being older and back at home he tries to get rid of these expectations. His first advice of the morning is not letting other people affect us.
However, he emphasises the difference in being affected by and inspired by. As a child Johan didn’t have good grades but his youth in Lund made him politically active which is a big part of who he is. He paints a picture of a Lund in the 1960’s, filled with idealism and activism. People fought for human rights and demonstrated for what they believed in. This morale has stayed with him as he still doesn’t feel any need to label what he does as long as he has integrity in his work. His attitude towards school changed when he met his rst love, Lena, as a teenager at Katedralskolan. Lena, he says, was not only the best at everything but also the hottest girl in school. She inspired him to make more of his life and introduced him to skiing and golf, two sports any big J.Lindeberg fan would recognize from his collections.
He moved to Gothenburg to study International Economics and was later hired in a conservative company, employing a thousand. Even though he got to travel and was very successful in his field the anxiety caught up. He felt misplaced and suffocated in his suits. His biggest anxiety, he tells us, was the huge difference in who people thought he should be and who he actually was. Finally, after being reconnected with an old hippieband from Lund and seeing Top Gun for the first time he decided to make a change.
He sold his suits to a friend, traded his Saab for a Golf and began a new life in Malmo, working as an advertising manager for Dobber (the hottest Swedish brand of jeans at the time). Though he disagreed with everything the CEO did Johan felt at home instantly, allowing his creative side to show. After a visit to Copenhagen he met another love, Diesel. He immediately associated himself with the brand and knew he wanted to bring the brand to Sweden. After spending months trying to convince Diesel to expand geographically, they caved. He wanted to challenge Levi’s, and did everything in contrary to how they did things in order to do so.
With Diesel, Johan and his team created a strong brand which became a way of life in the 1990’s. “You have to view marketing as an investment and not a cost”, he says. Lindeberg was soon asked to work as international marketing manager. He had a vision of what Diesel could and should be but owner Renzo Rosso did not always agree on his methods. Johan wanted to adjust the length of the jeans and not bleach them as everyone, even Levi’s, did at the time. Con dent in his vision, Johan went behind Rosso’s back and made sure the changes were made anyway. This combined with the iconic marketing campaigns at the time made Diesel rst in selling dark jeans and led to Levi’s experienced a loss in revenue. Johan had the creative vigour and Renzo was the business man. “Our biggest problem at the time was our positive cash ow. We had so much money we didn’t know what to do with it”.
Despite of the huge success with Diesel Johan felt a knew despair coming. His body hurt as he worked 24 hours a day, which led to him collapsing on a transatlantic flight. He describes Diesel as having to much of a macho culture, making him feel like he was in the military. The collapse changed Johans life and he went back to Lund. After having cried for four weeks straight, trying to figure out what was next by golfing his way through France, Johan finally decided to leave Diesel. His last day was 9th of May 1996. Two days later he got married to Italian love Marcella, whom he later had a daughter, Blue, with. Even though he was newly married he could not avoid the depression he had felt coming. Having left Diesel, he left a part of himself.
Johan Lindeberg created J.Lindeberg in 1996, wanting to combine sports with fashion, an idea which took form during his time in France. This time he wanted to challenge Ralph Lauren who had its sports brand Polo Ralph Lauren. He says challenging Ralph Lauren with a small company from Sweden, using golf, was bananas. Golf fashion was
at the time, as Johan describes it, “beige, boring and badly tting”. Nonetheless, transforming golf, being the conservative sport that it was (and sometimes still is), was his new challenge. People considered him crazy for trying to dress old men modern but Johan had a vision. He wanted to change the establishment. He dressed legendary golfer Jesper Parnevik in “clothes so tight you could barely bend and pick the ball up”. Yet, six years later others followed. Setting the goal of changing a sport as conservative as golf originated from his time in Lund and the idealism he felt back then, Johan says.
Success did not come free and Johan became more dependent of investors. The investors took over more and more as his shares decreased. He went from owning 100 % of the company to only a small share. When Johan wanted J.Lindeberg to continue combining high fashion and golf fashion the investors wanted to sell the company to Puma who wanted to make it a full sports brand. The disagreements led to Johan leaving the company in 2007. After a board meeting in London he stood up at the table, saying “I quit”. It was an impulse decision, he tells us, and he immediately worried what his friends and family would say. “It became a big deal”, he says. “I began wearing glasses and grew the beard so that people wouldn’t recognize me. Today I consider leaving the best decision I ever made”.
Johan advice us to follow our intuition, something that always worked for him and was one of the reasons why he recently chose to go back to J.Lindeberg. CEO Stefan Engstrom called, asking him to come back, saying J.Lindeberg could not reach its full potential without him. When he got the call, he phoned his daughter, Blue, asking what he should do. Blue said go for it and so he did.
Time is out and after chatting with students, Johan follows us up the narrow stairs at Skånis and into the meeting room.
“I am an emotional romantic so there will always be rough patches but I’m not afraid of it.“
The lecture ended rather abruptly so let’s pick up where we left off. You mentioned being back at J.Lindeberg after all these years and your first campaign back, the Bridge Series. What is the Bridge Series and what would you like to accomplish with it?
The Bridge Series is about creating a J.Lindeberg collective. The brand changed a lot since I left and being back I’d like to blur the lines, incorporate the sports collection with the fashion lines for example. I want to make it more modern and more energetic.
You talk a lot about changing the world. What aspects do you want to change and what can you personally help change?
As I mentioned I’d like to blur the lines, everything isn’t as black and white as many might think. All my life I’ve been inspired by women. Being back at J.Lindeberg we are going to attention women. We can’t be a modern brand promoting a modern lifestyle without giving women the attention they deserve. If you are going to make a campaign, make it meaningful.
What advice would you give young women?
I think the worst thing young women can do is trying to make it in male dominated businesses and industries, trying to prove themselves by adding a macho attitude or culture that is not natural. That’s a waste of time and energy. I know and have worked with a lot of different women who have created their own roles. Create new paths and new ways to do things. Gather a group of girls and create successful projects, without wasting time on battling ignorant men. Make your way round them.
You said you are christened here in Lund and you seem to have a quite philosophical take on life. What’s your relation to religion?
Both my grandfathers were priests, my father fought for women’s rights to be priests and my ex ancé are muslim. Still, religion isn’t important to me. I’m a romantic so love is way more important but religion comes in the way and complicates things. People who want power sets rules on behalf of their own gain.
With the experience you have from depression and big changes this far in life, do you think that part of life is over or do you have more rough patches ahead?
I think the future will be more balanced, I want to live alone for a while and I think my biggest depressions are over but you never know. I am an emotional romantic so there will always be rough patches but I’m not afraid of it. These past two years have been tough but whenever I feel bad I make changes.
You seem eccentric and unafraid of change. What goes through your head when you decide to make a change?
There is nothing that can stop me. I have an inner strength. Today it is modern but I’ve always opposed the Law of Jante. It’s about both wanting and actually attempting to grow. The fact that I’ve dared to change have helped me move on.
Do you have any regrets?
No, not really. Maybe I should have become a photographer sooner and travelled more. Even though I got to travel a lot with work I’d like to travel on my own.
Your investors in J.Lindeberg wanted to sell the company to Puma, and generally investors will try to maximize the pro ts while you claim that is not your main goal. How does that work? Has your creative mind led to making money or do you compromise?
This is diffcult. I don’t care about the money. I made a lot of money at Diesel and lost a lot of my personal money at J.Lindeberg the first time because I wanted to do things my way. It’s complex. I believe companies can contribute to society and be more important and influential than politicians. At the same time companies have to be pro table in order to be useful and not a burden. I achieved the most with Renzo (Rosso) by my side.
What’s your view on basing marketing on segments, target groups and surveys?
Oh, that is old school bullshit. Today it’s all about inspiring and trying to involve people instead of giving them what they think they want. Age doesn’t matter. With all the tools there are thanks to technology anything is possible.
What do you feel when you see people wearing your clothes?
The first time I saw someone wearing Diesel jeans in Sweden was great. Now I see people in BLK DNM everywhere. I want to help people feel con dent and clothes is a way of expressing oneself and that can lead to self development and as a result maybe inspire others. That is the purpose of brands and I like creating lifestyle brands. I simply make what I personally want to wear.
The theme of this issue is change. What changes would you like to see in the world
Well, the world can be terrible with bombings and such. It’s awful that we still fight over borders, one hopes it will end. I want Blue to grow up in a safe world. I’m an old communist from Lund and I believe in solidarity, in equality, in sharing and in helping each other.
How has Lund changed since the 60’s?
I don’t know. Generally, change seem to happen more individually instead of collectively as self promotion have become more important than the collective. But I want people to get involved. We have to take care of our children. If we can help children being safe, I think we will create a safer future. Swedes can play such an important part here because we generally have good basic values concerning child safety, equality and such. So travel and spread these values.
Talking about change, a better world and the fashion industry, what are your thoughts on the general attitude people have towards consumption today? Is it sustainable
That’s very diffcult. Even for me, being famous for leather jackets, it feels strange even though we only use spare parts. It’s a diffcult thing to balance but everyone can and should do something.
Any advice to all the students out there who want to make a change but don’t know where to begin?
Stay away from the roll your parents, friends or society want you to enter. Remain as true to yourself as you can. You don’t need any bloody money, just travel until you know what to do. Today, there is no formula for success. Just do what you care about. Young people of today have more idealism and with all the technology it’s easier to reach out and help people.
Favourite artist, and song of his/hers?
John Lennon and everything he wrote about Yoko Ono. I love the way he portrayed the woman he loved.