If you’re thinking about changing career paths and diving into something completely different, Bryan Conway is a testament as to why you should do exactly that. The Creative Director of the long-standing fashion label, Tiger of Sweden, is full of boundary-pushing ideas, and you won’t believe how it all started.
Hailing from Ireland, although that isn’t apparent from his strong British accent, Conway has carved out his own unconventional path. It wasn’t until 2011, after spending years studying and working in economics and business, that he dived into the world of fashion — and quite literally never looked back. Traversing through the creative landscapes of different brands, from assisting the Head Pattern Cutter at Giles Deacon via a stint at E.Tautz to starting as an assistant at Burberry, (later going on to be acting Head of Menswear) and then as Senior Designer at JW Anderson, Conway has experienced all levels of the cut-throat industry.
Conway leaves a significant mark when it comes to transforming the narrative and pushing the boundaries within design, and in 2019 he knew it was time to take that work ethic and energy to Tiger of Sweden. Since then, he has given the brand a refreshing makeover, taking it back to its roots while staying in the here and now as much as possible. We chatted over Zoom to get stuck into all things past, present, and future.
On how he went from Economics to Fashion
"I think I did economics because that's what my dad, a lot of his brothers, and everyone in my school studied. I completely sleepwalked into that, and never really questioned why I was doing it. It's a social science, which is so similar to the way I view the world with design. Really, you’re just looking at the way people behave, both individually and as a group, breaking it down, and then reflecting it back to them within something new."
"I was offered a job after leaving university with an Economics degree at the age of 22 (this was 2008, so the financial crisis was really hitting). Whilst I actually loved the work, mostly it was the lifestyle that was completely wrong for me, which I kind of knew it would be. I ended up quitting and going to Camberwell College of Arts in South London. I’d always wanted to be a painter and doing my art foundation, was, I guess, the happiest I've ever been. I realized I had this whole other life that's possible."
"As much as I loved it, back in the day you had to do a degree if you wanted to get somewhere. These days, it's very different with Instagram, etc, you don't need formal education, necessarily. So I went to study fashion in Westminster University. It was incredibly competitive, I'm sure it still is, and from the very start was challenging in a way that studying economics in Dublin, ever was. In the second year, the work ethic was so intense, people were grinding themselves to the bone. It was the only time I questioned myself. I thought, "well, is that me?” But I stuck it out."
On his first experiences in the fashion industry
"I did summer internships with Giles Deacon and other London brands as a pattern cutter but ended up working at the menswear label E.Tautz. I remember I was working there basically trying to come up with a commercial range for him. So more as a merchant advisor. I did a lot related to the business side of fashion really."
"Midway through my fashion degree was when I first connected with Burberry. A friend was working in product development there and they needed an admin assistant — very bottom level."
"You have to get a slice of luck and be in the right place and the right time — and that was it for me at Burberry. I got on with the Head of Menswear who took me to Milan as a design intern. There I met Christopher Bailey and within a month or two, I was brought on to the design team."
"So I was in my final year in Westminster and fully employed by Burberry. Half my week was in the Burberry London studio and the other half at university. Just a really fortuitous break and then I worked hard to make sure that I managed to make the most of the luck I got."
On what drew him to Tiger of Sweden
"I think the time to move company is generally when you’re not desperate to — when you’re in a happy place. I realized that I was in a good position at Burberry, and it was the time to look for something else."
"I was working with Christoffer Lundman at Burberry and we really just clicked. He left to take the job of Creative Director at Tiger of Sweden, and had been asking me to join him to do the menswear there for ages, so the one huge draw was working with him again, even though I was at JW Anderson at the time. The other big pull factor was the potential of Tiger of Sweden. In really simplistic terms, how I looked at it was, 'this could be as big as Burberry'. So after some time at JW Anderson, I ended up joining Tiger as Head of Menswear eventually taking over from Lundman when he left.'"
"Tiger has a long-standing European heritage of over 120 years and really had the potential to do something special."
On his creative charge in Sweden versus London
"Sweden is incredible. With thousands of islands, there's so much light and water and Stockholm just spreads across it. It’s so serene that within fifteen minutes you're at complete peace with yourself. I can just switch off and let my subconscious do things, which is a stupid cliche, but you need it for ideas to flourish."
"In London everything is sped up. You're shifting up a gear or two and then you get hit with quite direct impetus. There's so much culture, even just on the street it’s a total mash-up, but although it’s the opposite to Stockholm, I think they complement each other and I need both."
On Swedish design
"I think what's great about modern Swedish design is that it serves the person first and foremost. Then secondly, almost as important, is that it has to be beautiful."
"Around the turn of the century, Sweden and Japan were all thinking in the same way. In Japan, it was called the Mingei movement and it was finding beauty in the everyday. So just because you are not the aristocracy, doesn't mean that the objects around you that you use, can't be beautiful. It’s about celebrating that kind of beauty in the roughness."
On what makes Tiger of Sweden stand out from the crowd
"A lot of brands and people in Sweden don't want to break the rules of Swedish design i.e. it has to look veneer, minimal and lovely. With Tiger I want to challenge that and break the rules while also keeping our Swedish heritage at the core."
"As such an established brand, there's a lot of history and depth to our sartorial identity. When you merge our ethos, tailoring, and craft with the mindset of the current day, that becomes something really interesting."
On craft and honoring materials
"Craftsmanship is deeply rooted in our brand, and always will be. Our latest FW22 campaign was a mix of models with people who actually work at Tiger in our supply chain and their families, while our genderfluid capsule, ALL collection, was brought to life by our amazing pattern cutters who we've had for 20 years — they’ve been making our suits for such a long time."
"For this summer, we developed a fabric with Swedish traditional weaving manufacturer, Klässbols Linneväveri. With a weaving heritage dating back to the 1920s, they make this linen jacquard which is probably the best in the world — even the Swedish Royal Court use it. Our collaboration highlights the natural quality of linen in unique jacquard weaves but also enhances our journey towards a focus on local production."
"For our FW22 campaign, everyone got a chance to talk about what craft meant to them — whether it's a pair of shoes their gran had or a certain type of pottery. For me this was so important and reminded me that you have to put the people in the process in the center of the story. One guy’s grandma used to hand-knit beautiful wool gloves and mittens up North in Sweden, where he's from, but she can't anymore. So, we decided to make 100 pairs with Swedish Wool hand-knitted by a local knitting group (two of the ladies you can see in the campaign imagery) in an exclusive collaboration with Hemslöjden."
"Without the emotion, what's the point? With fashion, we're not making a commodity that you need anymore. You buy it because you want to, because you love it. Because you feel connected to it."
On what he envisions for Tiger of Sweden’s future
"We've really started to focus on making products that are for a reason, blending different disciplines — and sustainability is a huge part of that. The key part of a collection should be, in a way, kind of timeless, and as a heritage tailoring brand, we lend ourselves well to that."
"Each season we also want to have fun. If it doesn't make you laugh or doesn't make you scratch your head and go, "Is this crazy or is this stupid", you know it’s that fine line between absurd and amazing where the best design is, I think."
"Simply, I just want Tiger to be completely on the forefront of people's minds."
On three words describing Tiger of Sweden
"Beautifully made clothes."
On advice for young designers
"It’s hard work, harder than you think, but if you really love it and you really want it, then it will always be worth it in the end. Don't try and do something you think will work. Just have fun and make yourself laugh."
Find out more about Tiger of Sweden and shop its collections here.