Ann-Sofie Johansson, the current head of design at H & M Fashion, was born in Sweden in 1967, and began her career with H & M in 1987. She has the distinction of rising from the sales floor to head the global brand.
Of her early career, the Swedish designer always had plans to work at H & M. She tells Draper magazine, “For me [as a teenager], H&M had the coolest fashion, it was like heaven. I wanted to have a pair of big gold earrings because [the singer] Sade had them. I went into H&M and they had everything,” she says, wide-eyed. “I just thought it would be a clever thing to start in the store and work my way in.”
She told CNBC that such a feat today would be nearly impossible. “If you want to work at H&M you have to have a proper design education. I didn’t have that—I had simply taken some classes like pattern making. H&M was my education”
She started on the company’s sales floor in 1987, and three years later she joined a 10-person design team as H & M’s first ever design assistant. By 2008 she had risen to the head of design, a role where she no longer sketches designs on a day to day basis. “When I started fashion was much more dictated by the catwalks and there was only ever one thing that was the big thing of the season. It’s not like that anymore, there’s more freedom and it’s more liberating and more fun.”
Her focus these days is as a creative advisor, and she personally oversees some of the brands more specialized “brand-building” projects. “Day to day my job involves doing a lot of research and keeping up to date with what’s happening, so that we’re always full of new ideas,” she says. “I oversee the collections, make sure that we have the right fashion level, the right colors, will everything look right when it arrives in the shops, and that the balance is right.”
Some of those special projects have included the limited edition Studio range which premiered at Paris Fashion week, and the famous designer collaborations like the sellout she personally helped design, alongside Balenciaga creative director Alexander Wang in November 2014.
Change in the fashion industry With a career spanning many decades, Ann-Sofie Johansson has both witnessed and personally helped to change the fashion industry. When her career with H & M began there was no online marketplace, no computer aided design, and the retailer was only in 9 countries. Today that number is upwards of 35, and she says online shopping has been the biggest change in the industry overall.” It’s so easy to shop online now. Even things that I think are hard to shop online, like shoes, are popular.”
She also sees a much bigger interest in men’s fashion today than in previous years. “We started a men’s trend department a few years ago because we felt a proper demand for it, and menswear is growing at H&M, which is really exciting.” The designer is fond of fashions ever changing and evolving nature because…”it’s always moving forward so you also have to. You’re never finished and that’s what’s fun. It keeps you young.”