HILDEBRAND SWEDEN was established in 2018 by Nina and Tobias Hildebrand as a premium fashion brand focusing on sustainability, quality, slow fashion and a good work ethic underpinned by strong family values. Paul Andrews spoke to Nina and Tobias to find out more about their journey and the creation of their family business.
For Nina, it was time to follow her dream. For Tobias, it was an opportunity to build a business that incorporated tennis, something that been an integral part of his life since a very young age.
As Nina explains, “From being educated in Biomedicine and working within the field of clinical research, mainly in oncology, for 12 years, I chose to invest in my dream of becoming my own boss, working in fashion, design and production and the dream became a reality back in 2018 when we started trading.”
“We wanted to build a business that has authenticity and values around sustainability at the very heart of it. Our bags are fairly produced in India at handpicked factories that we have personally chosen based on the way they operate, their quality, work ethic and sustainability and we have made sure that all of the factories comply with the internationally approved standards based on the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, National Labour Laws and International Human Rights Norms and our bags are made of vegetable tanned genuine leather, organic cotton canvas and nylon,” she continues.
“HILDEBRAND shoes are made by artisans in a small family-owned factory in Montegranaro, which is located in the heart of the Marche region, known as Italy’s ‘Shoe Valley,’ where shoes of the highest quality have been made for over 100 years,” adds Tobias.
This is a business that is all about the products. They aim for slow fashion, creating products that have been made to last where quality is key. It builds on their desire to produce beautiful products whilst also providing a reference and ongoing legacy of the life in tennis that Tobias continues to enjoy.
As Tobias explains, “Ever since the age of four, my life has in some way evolved around tennis. Before turning professional at the age of 16 in 1992, I was top two ranked in my age group in Sweden and won various Swedish and international junior titles. As a professional tennis player, I enjoyed playing on the tennis circuit for more than nine years, participating in everything from money tournaments, club matches, ITF satellite tournaments, futures events, ATP Challenges, ATP tournaments and Grand Slams. During my career I enjoyed wins over several ATP top ten players and have two ATP Challengers doubles titles and made it to plenty of finals over the years.”
After almost 10 years as a tennis professional player, Tobias went back to school to study finance and economics at Stockholm School of Economics. After graduation he began a new career within private banking and became head of the HSBC Nordic Wealth Management office in Stockholm. He stayed for about 8 years in that position. However, it was during his tennis career the idea of creating a ‘premium tennis bag’ started. Back in the days, most of the tennis professionals that played the Stuttgart ATP tournament received a plain black duffel bag from a certain famous fashion brand factory that was located nearby. This bag happened to be 70cm long and was perfect for fitting tennis rackets, and subsequently became THE bag which all the players back in the 1990’s and early 2000’s used for carrying their rackets to practice and travel with.
The idea became a reality when Nina and Tobias started their business back in company in 2018, with the launch of their first product, the HILDEBRAND Tennis Duffle Bag launching the following May.
The dream was becoming a reality, the introduction of stylish, premium sports bags in nice materials, nice colours and without big screaming logos. As Nina adds. “My husband is a former tennis professional so the choice of making tennis bags as our first bag was the natural choice.”
Looking back now, one of their first memories was when they visited India in 2018 to look around the factories that they had chosen when it dawned on them that ‘this was really happening.’
Tennis was obviously an integral part of life for Tobias and has really helped with the development of the business to date. As Nina continues, “First of all, the design of the sport bags is very well thought through. Tobias knew how the bags should be constructed to look and feel good, and more importantly the need to fit all of the essentials. Of course, he also knows a lot of people in the tennis world which has given us an advantage in promoting the bags too.”
For Nina, the business has been a total change from the personal journey that she was on. “I made a complete turnaround in my career, moving from the world of Biomedicine to investing in my dream of becoming my own boss in the world of fashion where I am today. Now I work as the CEO which involves a whole variety of roles, including design, contact with factories, marketing, liaising with customers, packing orders, dealing with the accounts and customer service. Like many other small, family business leaders, I have to get on and do what needs to be done,” she adds.
Like many family firms, HILDEBRAND is built on a series of underlying values and principles. Tobias and Nina are set on creating an ethical business that has a moral compass and one of the most important values for them is social sustainability. As Nina continues, “Social sustainability affects people’s living conditions in society, such as health, security, education, justice and the exercise of power, as well as the opportunities to improve them. In addition to the individual perspective, it is about how these living conditions are distributed between people. We believe in Doing Well by Doing Good.”
Sometimes it is easy to say but less easy to substantiate but the team do all that they can to validate their products and ensure they do all they can to stick to their purpose too. As Nina explains, “The factories that we are using for the production of our bags are all SA8000 certified. SA8000 provides a social standard framework for organizations of all types, to conduct business in a way that is fair and decent for workers. The tanneries we are using are members of the Leather Working Group and are all silver or gold rated. We are also supporting charity organisations such as Pratham in Sweden who believe that ‘knowledge changes lives and aim to do all they can to help ALL children have the right to a good education.”
The business is nearly five years old and has been a real journey for Nina and Tobias. Starting out on the creation of their family firm it is easy to see that it has created a special bond between them, and they have a real passion for their products and truly believe in their business, and the reasons behind it. For them, it is about building the ethical brand at the same time as building the business.
As Nina explains, “Working together creates the bond between us as we are driving towards a common goal. It also exciting and fulfilling to build something that may involve your children in the future too, as we truly believe that we are creating a legacy for their future.”
There is also a recognition that running a family business has its challenges too. “We always work and always talk business, at least that is what our children say, which we obviously need to take on board and we are also able to be very frank towards each other, which can be good sometimes, but frustrating too,” she adds.
Many people within the family business world wear many hats, in the business and out of it, and it is not always easy to get the balance between the family and the business right. Nina and Tobias are well aware of the fact and use sport and travel as a means of separation, something that they all love. “Spending time as a family at weekends is really important for all of us,” continues Nina, “and Tobias still plays tennis which he still loves too.”
This is an exciting time for the business as the brand continues to grow, new products are added to the portfolio and recognition builds globally. The products are beautiful and for Nina it is great to see. “Anyone starting a business wants it to grow and become a success and our journey is continuing. It is important to believe in the product, the concept and the business and remember to take time to reflect on the success at each stage in the journey as well. Believe in yourself and give it time. Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither is a sustainable business,” adds Nina.
Looking back, thinking about advice she would have given herself when starting out, Nina has some wise words. “Both Tobias and I were not really that young when we started HILDEBRAND. What I wish I knew was that it will take time, it will be hard work, but of course also fulfilling when you succeed with something. However, if I knew some of the things that I have learned along the way I am not sure if I would have taken the chance to start this business. Sometimes it is good that you are a bit naive, and just go with the flow and follow your dreams,” concludes Nina.
This has been a real journey of discovery and fulfilment for both Nina and Tobias. Bringing their passions for design and ethical products to a lifetime of association with tennis is creating something special. They are building an entrepreneurial and sustainable business with real purpose.
We look forward to seeing how the journey evolves as they continue to create a business that is setting standards in terms of sustainability, authenticity, and purpose.
Find out more at www.hildebrandsweden.com