Interview by Maria Hunstig

Long known for its logo-loaded underwear, Swedish brand Björn Borg is now preparing to gain a piece of today’s luscious sportswear cake, too. We spoke to the company’s head designer, James Lee, and marketing director, Jonas Lindberg Nyvang. 

Being at your most recent show at Stockholm Fashion Week you hardly felt like looking at an underwear collection, but rather a head-to-toe lifestyle line. Does Björn Borg aim to become a full sportswear brand?
James Lee (JL): Underwear is our heritage and something that is really important to us, but we see from consumer insights that sportswear is a really strong element that people want to buy from our brand.  As the sports/lifestyle sector is continuously growing in popularity, people want alternatives to the few major brands. So now people want something different and this is an area where we think we can have success. And because of our history and the connotation to the person Björn Borg it feels like a natural step for us.

Space meets '70s tennis in Björn Borg's summer '16 collection
Space meets '70s tennis in Björn Borg's summer '16 collection

So why should people buy Björn Borg instead of the major sportswear brands?
JL: Naturally with our background of working with underwear, we focus a lot on qualities, cuts and fit. We are also developing a stronger design language, finding our own style. I think it’s time to do something different to the Alexander Wang kind of sportswear look that has been around for a while. And I think our clash of retro silhouettes with high performance sports fabric is really interesting. For summer ’16 for instance, we incorporated a lot of ‘70s tennis influences.

How important is functionality in that?
JL: Functionality is very important to us and consumers today are really aware of what they want, but they almost take the functionality as a given. I think a large proportion of brands are very equal on performance and function, it's mostly the fit and expression that are differentiating factors. It’s about providing something that’s unique in terms of fashion or design, only then comes the functionality. That’s why we want to take the position of a sports fashion brand. There is a strong aspect of fashion that can drive the sportswear market because people don’t want to only feel active, but also attractive when working out.

Jonas Lindberg Nyvang, marketing director, Björn Borg
Jonas Lindberg Nyvang, marketing director, Björn Borg
So do you rather want to target sports or fashion stores?
Jonas Lindberg Nyvang (JLN): About 85% of our distribution today is fashion distribution. So we think we can grow in the fashion field with our existing offer, adding some sportswear into that. But we think the big growth will be within sports distribution, where we think we have a quite unique offer both in terms of price points and expression, compared to the big brands. We are expanding in the sports stores, but we are keeping the fashion stores. And we have separate lines for the separate retailers.

How long do you think this whole sportswear-trend is going to last?
JL: I think it’s just in the beginning really. I don’t think that sportswear is a trend, I think it has become a lifestyle. As people are becoming more and more aware of health and wellbeing I think that this market will develop and grow more and more.
JLN: And it has to do with urbanization growing even more parallel to that. When people spend their time in big cities, the urge to be out more in parks and work out more gets even stronger...it’s linked to nature.
JL: It’s interesting because people used to buy a product to represent who they are and now it’s a whole lifestyle, this whole active trend…it’s your identity, it’s about how you work out and if you are a swimmer, runner or a triathlete. And then again, many of the people dressing like that don’t actually do sports. I just read how denim sales in the US have gone down because of the increased sales in jogging pants and other sportswear.

'Training for Mars', Björn Borg's summer '16 presentation at Stockholm Fashion Week
'Training for Mars', Björn Borg's summer '16 presentation at Stockholm Fashion Week

Your spring/summer ’16 collection was entitled “Training for Mars”. You’re saying that it influenced the collection – how is that possible? It didn’t look much like space, really…
JL: For this show we wanted to create a collection that references the history of space travel and the journey to find new frontiers that took place during the 1970s and ‘80s, By looking at retro styles, colours and silhouettes from this era and clashing them together with modern high performance materials, detailing and techniques, to create a collection that honours the past but is also perfect for the journey that Mars One is preparing for.

Would you like to go to space?
JLN: Yes, I would love to go to space, maybe not stay there.
JL: Yes, at the moment, it would be nice to come back. It’s pretty surreal that the Mars One colonizers might not.

Björn Borg’s currently biggest markets are the Netherlands and home country Sweden. International growth is mainly generated in Germany and the UK. Other than that, the company puts a strong focus on the Nordics (Denmark, Finland, Norway) and Belgium. According to own statements, the most loyal Björn Borg consumers are between 18-30 years old, predominantly men, living in bigger cities in Northern Europe.