Leja Kress Joins Tim Richardson on Your Basket Is Empty Podcast
In this episode Leja and Tim share their passion for 80s new wave and post-punk music. Tim sat down with her to learn how the band she formed with her husband and twin sister led to the creation of the agency, what they’ve learned in 20 years of operation, how to maintain relevance, building culture, and who would be in her ideal line up for a show at CBGBs, circa 1985.
We are pleased to announce that we have seen outstanding work by our team which has resulted in the promotions of two Swedes!
Kate Williams, Head of Finance and Operations
A longtime Sweden friend and collaborator in her previous career as a content producer, Kate joined Sweden in April of 2019 as Studio Manager and quickly became an indispensable member of our team. Kate has helped us to navigate some tricky operational challenges as we became a fully remote studio this past March and her promotion is well deserved.
Victoria Clark, Client Director
Now coming up on her third year at Sweden, Victoria started out as Editorial Project Manager for our work with W Hotels, then went on to the role of Account and New Business Manager before being promoted to Client Director. In her new role, Victoria handles all sales activity for the Sweden in addition to facilitating account growth by nurturing our existing client relationships. Victoria’s unwavering care and enthusiasm for our clients will continue to make her a great trusted advisor to our clients.
Our Core Values
We are happy to share our company values with you.
Talent, intelligence, and experience may sometimes seem like the most important traits in a company, but you can’t get anywhere without grit. For us, the key to creating thoughtful end results is born from that primal passion and die-hard perseverance to make things happen. Grit is the self control to think things through to find the best way, not just the most attractive way. Grit is the willingness to grow as the industry grows around us. Grit is the inspiration we take and give from the people and projects around us, working hard to let passion lead us all forward.
Though we would all love to lead with positivity, our industry and our world needs realism and decisiveness. Positivity can be a hard thing to muster since our brains are hard-wired to look for and focus on threats, so we strive to act positively towards every person’s ideas but practice cautious positivity with every project. We believe a healthy dose of pessimism and cynicism will keep your brand sharp, mitigate risk, and help you stay ahead of the curve, but the willingness to stay positive, and say “yes, let’s try” is an essential step in keeping us all working hard towards the same goal.
“True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.” Contrary to many big business values, we think being humble, unpretentious, and even a little introverted can be a real value. We create a service around benefiting our clients and their customers, so it’s important to have empathy for each client. They know their product, landscape and industry, and it is our job to listen, absorb, and create what they need.
For Sweden Unlimited, life and work are not about proving yourself –it’s about improving yourself. We don’t believe you are stuck with the talents you are born with, you can always get better, learn more, and grow towards a goal. For us, it’s not about demonstrating skills but developing skills, not performing better than others but performing better than you did in the past.
This mindset is vital for our particular industry involving tech and the ever-evolving digital landscape. In our world, tech changes fast, but strategies, user adoption, and UX patterns change faster. We are constantly in meetings where someone says, “oh, that’s not possible,” but then googles it, revealing that it now is. We strive to keep growing even if it sometimes feels uncomfortable and to always stay positive about what may be possible.
Collaboration is something we value resolutely. What we do can be complicated, and there is no way any one person can have all the answers. A team of two will double the chances of problem-solving, and a team of ten will increase those chances tenfold. Collaboration is the interfacing of our varied experiences and skills. It is the ability to communicate with the client. Above all, collaboration is the key to creating unique, successful outcomes and solutions.
At the core of accountability are reliability and personal responsibility. We value the ability of our staff to honor commitments and be reliable to clients and each other. The idea that “showing up is 80% of success” may be true, but if you are not dependable, dedicated, and accountable, the trust is off – and so is the whole deal. We value those who show up and continue to show up with passion and perseverance.
Style what makes us excited about the clients we work with. It’s a determining factor in how we hire, and it’s essentially what our clients come to us for – a new style, a better style, a unique style. Everything from our work, to our way of communicating, to the feel in the office – having style is crucial. But style isn’t the superficial things that you own or how you dress, it’s how you stand out, how you make things look, so people look twice, and how you tell a story that keeps everyone listening.
A Note from our Founders
Dear Friends of Sweden,
The past few weeks have been a time for listening and reflection. We firmly stand with the Black Lives Matter cause and condemn the injustices inflicted upon George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Mike Ramos, Ahmaud Arbery, Eric Garner, David McAtee, and countless others. It is also vital that we raise our voices and take action to fight for economic equality, equal opportunity & representation, and criminal justice reform.
Our past silence makes us complicit in the injustices that have been inflicted upon people of color and the LGBTQIA community for far too long. While our company is small, we feel it is our obligation to give back for all the privileges that have been afforded to us. We need to take accountability for any ignorance we’ve taken part in, and look at our own misses when it comes to equality and diversity.
To support this mission we plan to:
- Donate to Black Lives Matter and other organizations that are committed to causes like police reform and opportunity creation for BIPOC in the creative industry.
- Invest in diversity and sensitivity training for us and our team.
- Update and practice our company values and codes of conduct until we can be sure we have a positive and inspiring culture.
- Ensuring that our team members better represent the diversity in our society.
- Offer pro bono services to Black-Owned Businesses that are experiencing financial hardship due to Covid-19.
- Support our hard-working team by declaring Juneteenth a company-wide holiday, as well as encouraging more mental health days to reflect upon the current unrest in our country. (more…)
The Dream Butt With DB Method
We are excited to begin working with the full-body exercise brand, The DB Method, on a number of creative projects including creative campaign and printed collateral.
A Fresh Take on Caviar with Petrossian
Sweden is partnering with the heritage caviar brand, Petrossian, on the complete site redesign, built on Magento 2. Sweden’s redesign will focus on using Petrossian’s classic Parisian identity to bring the brand’s rich history in caviar to life throughout stylistic updates and UX/UI enhancements.
Sweden Unlimited Featured in The Drum
The Drum ran a feature on Sweden titled “Sweden Unlimited goes from pop band to fashion marketers to international collaborators.”
Read the full article here.
The three main players of the creative agency, Sweden Unlimited, started as makers in the music industry, but as they found their respective strengths in digital and fashion, they formed into a trio of successful marketers. Now, nearly two decades later, Sweden Unlimited continues to pave its own way in New York’s marketing industry and beyond.
What started as a band is now a full-fledged agency, one that is growing and that also recently joined a global marketing partnership called the Together Group, strengthening the agency’s reach beyond the US. Founders Richard Agerbeek and twin sisters Alex and Leja Kress have found their strength in marketing content and e-commerce to the fashion and luxury industries, with big name clients such as Chanel, Marc Jacobs, Kate Spade and Aeropostale, among many others. But the road to success had plenty of wide learning curves along the way.
From retro-pop to digital DIY to full-fledged agency
The Kress sisters were part of the New York modeling scene in the 90s when they met Agerbeek. The three decided to make a band on the first wave of nostalgia of the 80s, so they used Casio keyboards and buzz pedals to make Sweden, their pop-ish band that played clubs, bars and galleries.
“We were not in the music industry. We were paid in drink tickets,” said Agerbeek frankly.
While the band gained a modicum of local success, releasing a few recordings, they never reached beyond the New York scene.
“It wasn’t making money,” said Leja Kress.
Luckily, all three had other interests and talents thanks to their educations at NYU and early jobs in photo studios and for an early ISP. Those talents just needed to be uncovered, and in many ways, learned.
“This was about the time the internet started being interesting,” said Leja Kress. “I taught myself HTML. Richard taught himself Photoshop. We had no idea how to do anything.”
Despite that fact, the three, who shared an apartment, managed to land a client, doing a Flash website for a company that made guitar straps. Being completely self-taught, they persevered, spending hours learning more about the technical and design side of the just-burgeoning internet until they figured out how to make it work.
Since most agencies at the time didn’t cater to websites or anything internet related, the then unnamed agency decided to continue their DIY approach to learning how to make websites in New York.
“We had a lot of friends in fashion. We knew a lot of people (in retail). They were excited about a whole new medium,” said Agerbeek.
“We were not too precious about our own creative,” added Alex Kress. “We were excited to help out brands and translating brands.”
Their popularity in the fashion space took off, and their Tribeca apartment started gaining traction as a meeting place.
“We had Diane von Furstenberg and Nicole Miller in our apartment. We started hiring employees. It was odd having them come into our home,” said Leja Kress, adding that initially they didn’t want to grow huge so they could concentrate on really good work.
As they got more savvy, they got to collaborate with more creative makers, helping translate their visions to a digital format. “There was more of a challenge to get that right,” added Agerbeek, who is now married to Leja Kress.
They took the challenge and ran with it, gaining more brands and clients along the way and expanding their capabilities from just website and e-commerce builders to a true creative and digital agency, opening an office that now has over 20 employees in New York. They have never forgotten where they came from and the countless hours of learning it took to get there.
“We think of ourselves more as educators, trying to solve a problem for (clients),” stated Leja Kress. “We started so long ago and felt so honored to have clients.”
Added Alex Kress: “We’re still impressed by these people, but we manage expectations. We have lots of conversations (with clients). We don’t shrug off a crazy idea, but we’re not here as yes men. We help execute a vision.”
Agerbeek said three words describe Sweden Unlimited: “Empathy, creativity and grit. Grit really describes us. We’ve suffered so many setbacks over the years, clients have walked out, we’ve lost people to poaching talent. But we’re like the Energizer Bunny.”
Leja Kress added the term ‘adaptability’ to their descriptor. “Richard has been good at seeing into the future. He’s the one who said he was going to become a web designer, and added content creation. We can pivot and look at the landscape around us and learn how to do what we need to do. We have to pivot to stay relevant. We’re still figuring a lot of stuff out, but we’re still excited about every single project.
While they might occasionally still dabble in music – Alex has a duo with her husband – they are all about looking forward. They were certainly at the forefront of women-led businesses, and even more so considering the twins learned to code.
“I was coding before Karlie Kloss, before it was cool for girls to code,” said Leja Kress, adding that the two have had to overcome a lot to get attention for their technical and leadership prowess.
Joining an international partnership for more strength together
Their collective years in the digital and fashion space has earned the crew at Sweden Unlimited much respect. Though, as an independent agency, they had a limitation in the scope of work they could handle, but recently they made a big move – they became one of ten award-winning, owner-led consultancies and agencies to join forces and combine their companies in a share swap to form a new collective for strategy, e-commerce and digital experiences, branded the Together Group.
Together Group, with its headquarters in London, will build upon its members’ track records with international premium, luxury and lifestyle brands. The group’s initial focus will be on purpose-driven and digital transformation for fashion, beauty, hospitality, other premium consumer and lifestyle brands, and retailers. From there it will expand into other verticals, including financial services, energy, utilities and automotive.
“We are building an agile Champions League team of owner-led agencies – combining purpose-driven strategic transformation with brand-led creative power, highly experienced technological execution and effective activation of people. But the most important differentiation is our collaborative culture,” said Dr. Christian Kurtzke, Together Group’s chief executive officer.
Rather than taking the agency away from its independent roots, being a part of the Together Group gives Sweden Unlimited access to more capabilities.
“We’ve had many discussions with the team at Together Group about how we’ll work with all of the agencies in the group and are so excited to be part of building an entirely new framework for agency collaboration. We will be operating under custom implementations of Agency Agile and the Entrepreneurial Operating System (EOS) – two systems we’ve been interested in for years but never had to opportunity to put in place. These aligned principles will allow us to all work together and foster true collaboration by retaining entrepreneurial autonomy, while gaining the benefits and power that comes from being in a group,” said Sweden in an email exchange.
Sweden Unlimited will maintain its offices in New York’s Soho neighborhood, but the agency stated that “joining Together Group has allowed us to realize our dreams of quickly scaling Sweden to become an international brand and having a shared operating system with other specialty agencies to build something even bigger: a new kind of digital transformation and incubation partner for leading brands and retailers of the future.”
Who knows, maybe being part of a global brand will allow some retro-80s jamming with others.