What if you could cut your clothing consumption by as much as 90% and still have access to a stylish and varied wardrobe? That’s the goal entrepreneur Sigrun Syverud and the Fjong team are working towards. With the help of Nordea, the 2019 Norwegian female entrepreneur of the year wants to go global.
Did you know that on a global scale emissions from the clothing industry exceed that from international air traffic and shipping combined? Or that every Norwegian has an average of 359 clothing items in their wardrobe, and that one in five of the items is rarely or never worn?
With financial assistance from Nordea, the Norwegian startup Fjong is looking to change this.
“The support from Nordea has been crucial. Nordea is very welcoming towards startups and focused on sustainability, which I think is very important. Not just from an ethical perspective, but also with Norway and our economy in mind. We need to start moving away from an oil-based economy,” says Fjong founder Sigrun Syverud.
Next to no clothes shopping
Fjong offers outfits for special occasions for rent or everyday outfits by subscription. That way you are guaranteed a bit of rotation in your wardrobe. The concept earned Syverud the title Årets kvinnelige gründer (female entrepreneur of the year) from Innovation Norway in 2019.
“The waste is enormous, and it’s not just about the unused items, but also about the items that never reach customers because shops aren’t able to sell them. Society has certain expectations about what your wardrobe should contain, but what if you didn’t have to buy and own everything and could still access the clothes you need when you need them? We have to change behaviours, and we are actually noticing a change among our subscribers,” says Syverud. She explains that several subscribers report back that they’ve nearly stopped shopping for clothes altogether.
“There is a desire among people to be able to consume clothes in a sustainable way while still having access to a certain level of options. Our goal is to make people realise that you don’t have to own a lot as long as you can have easy access to different items and accessories,” she continues.
The support from Nordea has been crucial. Nordea is very welcoming towards startups and focused on sustainability, which I think is very important. Not just from an ethical perspective, but also with Norway and our economy in mind. We need to start moving away from an oil-based economy.
Fjong founder Sigrun Syverud
Fjong was founded in 2017, but a revolution doesn’t happen overnight. An ongoing research project conducted in cooperation with The Research Council of Norway and the Norwegian Business School, BI, shows that the biggest hurdle is making the solution as easy as possible for the consumer.
“It’s about making the user experience as seamless as possible, from clothing pick-up and delivery to the website experience. We have built our own search engine and are working with partners to develop algorithms that ensure relevant clothing suggestions. Data analysis is our major advantage,” says Syverud.
Even though Fjong sounds like a clothing business, it’s really a tech company. The data they have access to, and how they use that data, are the elements that can ensure success – not just in Norway, but internationally.
And that is where Syverud wants to go.
“We had hoped to reach that goal in 2020, but things have been delayed because of the coronavirus pandemic. We’ll need to wait and see, but we are rigged for an international launch and have developed a platform that can be scaled accordingly”, she says.
A conference about equality and diversity, the SHE Conference was founded by Norwegians Heidi Aven and Linn-Cecilie Linnemann in 2014. Its purpose is to inform, inspire and facilitate more women in senior management roles, but also to inform about the advantages of an even gender balance in ownership and investment.
The gathering is Europe’s largest gender diversity conference. With more than 80 speakers, it reached over 20,000 people in over 100 countries between 5 and 19 March this year.
Among the 80 speakers participating at SHE Conference 2021 were the Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg, former US Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, Island’s Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdottír, London mayor Sadiq Khan as well as ski jumping star Maren Lundby and hip-hop comet Musti. Nordea sponsored the event for the third year in a row.
Few women at the top
Randi Marjamaa, Head of Personal Banking in Nordea Norway, is among those advocating for an increased focus on women in senior management positions, like Sigrun Syverud in Fjong.
During this year’s SHE Conference (see fact box), Europe’s biggest conference of its kind, she talked about equality and diversity in the finance industry and why it’s an important topic in 2021.
“Women still don’t have a very firm grip on finances, both their own personal finances, where they often lean on their partners, but also corporate finances. The balance is very skewed at the top, with few women,” says Marjamaa.
Figures show that she’s right. According to CORE’s Norwegian Gender Balance Scorecard 2020, the senior manager is nearly always a man: 14% of the CEOs are women, and for chairmen of the board the number is even lower: 11%.
In executive committees, the number is a bit higher, but at 25 and 29% women, respectively, there is still a way to go.
“Focus on diversity is very important – a company should represent the population to be able to serve the market. Different experiences ensure more creativity, more perspective and rewarding discussions, which leads to better decisions,” says Marjamaa.
Nordea Likestillingsfund (Nordea Equality Fund) was founded in 2019 with specific demands for the companies it invests in. The minority of either women or men at senior management level must make up at least 30%, and the company must have clear policies on equal pay, working conditions, promotions and career development. Nordea’s own ESG analyses are also applied to the fund management.
14% of global companies qualify for the equity fund. In 2020 the fund value increased by 6.43%.
Change is coming
Nordea colleague Thina Saltvedt, Chief Analyst for Sustainable Finance, agrees:
“It’s about having the best heads to make the best decisions, and limiting the decision making to 50% of our population is just not good enough. We’ve been aware of this for 20–30 years, but haven’t acted on it until now. That’s certainly strange,” says Saltvedt.
Initiatives like SHE, which creates accountability and awareness through the conference and its index are important drivers for change, according to Marjamaa and Saltvedt.
“Continuous visibility is important – discussing and focusing on the topic. It makes us reflect,” says Marjamaa.
“I’ve noticed big changes happening over a short time, just the past three to four years. We can see a change coming, and we are seeing more and more women in top management positions internally. It’s inspiring,” she says.
Produced in cooperation with Schibsted Partnerstudio
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