03 02 16
The Sleep Shirt
Alexandra Suhner Isenberg is the founder of our favorite new pajama brand to wear all day, The Sleep Shirt. She lives and works in Sweden with her husband and two children.
Q / Hi Alexandra! How do you usually start your day? Any routine that gets you up?
A / I get woken up by my children (2 toddlers) or my husband’s alarm around 6:30am and I always feel like I need more sleep, even though I almost always get at least 8 hours. We get the kids ready and then they leave with my husband and I make coffee and tackle emails (before I am dressed, I like working in my nightshirt).
Q / Do you have a daily uniform or is there anything you carry with you every day? If so, why is it important to you?
A / I have a daily uniform, it is a Sleep Shirt (big surprise!) with skinny jeans, and in winter I’ll throw a sweater on top. I do not like thinking about what to wear on a daily basis and I need a uniform that is practical. Plus it is important to be representing the brand!
Q / Is there a time of day that you feel most productive?
A / Mornings! I am a morning person. I normally get more done from 7am to 10am then I do in the rest of the day.
Q / What is your favorite place to work?
A / At home, in my home office. I have a standing desk in a bright office and I have a door straight out to my backyard so I can let my dog, Wanda, in and out when she needs.
Q / How do you try to balance your time?
A / With great difficulty! I really loathe that I am a morning person but everything starts to happen at night for me. I work from Europe most of the time, so the emails from North America don’t start rolling in until around the time I am ready to quit for the day. The plan is to try and get through my to-do list by the time the kids come home, and then I only answer urgent inquiries after that. Unfortunately, that rarely seems to work as there is always something that comes up. I am, however, quite good at taking weekends off. The only thing I’ll do on a Saturday or Sunday is Instagram.
Q / How do you keep yourself organized with all the projects you have going on?
A / Lots of lists and spreadsheets! We are a small company and the only way to stay organized is to write everything down and plan meticulously. I already know what I am doing in 2017.
Q / What is something you are good at? Something you struggle with?
A / I am good at writing lists, being organized and at being proactive about things that could be improved. I am not very good at keeping calm when people (meaning suppliers or customers) do something wrong or mess something up, which is why it is good to have a team to work with…we can discuss our reaction before we react.
Q / What do you enjoy most about your career? What are the most challenging things about it?
A / I love that I work for myself and that we get to decide, to an extent, what we want to do. The problem with having your own company, however, is that you are never off. I do envy friends with 9 to 5 jobs who go home and forget work, and who can take holidays without checking emails. That is a also a luxury.
Q / Is there anything you will never take seriously in terms of your work?
A / Hmm…well, I take the company very seriously as we (the team) have dedicated a lot of resources to making it work and I care about it a great deal, but I also remember that we aren’t saving lives. Sometimes if a mistake is made, you just need to move on and remember that no one is going to die because of it (I hope!)
Q / Something that’s very important to you in you work?
A / Trying to maintain a level of ethics in the way that we work with our suppliers, our demands, and how we work as a team. I don’t push people’s prices down, we agree to fair terms with our suppliers, and I don’t have unrealistic expectations from my team.
“I love that I work for myself and that we get to decide, to an extent, what we want to do. The problem with having your own company, however, is that you are never off. I do envy friends with 9 to 5 jobs who go home and forget work, and who can take holidays without checking emails. That is a also a luxury.”
Q / Where do you go to be quiet and think?
A / I go for a jog with my dog.
Q / How does your home and environment influence the kind and quality of work you produce?
A / Generally the Swedes have quite minimal, functional environments, but that are very good looking. We try and take that approach to our sleepwear. Everything needs to be easy to sleep in (with the exception of a few items that are made to be easy to lounge in, like a robe), it needs to be functional (very few frivolous details and easy to care for) but it also needs to look good. From an aesthetic perspective, we like clean lines and classic fabrics. There are actually surprisingly few brands that do classic shapes in simple cotton or linen fabrics.
Q / Where did you grow up and what led you to your current home. How would you say these places shaped your perception of work?
A / I grew up in Vancouver, lived in Paris and London, and am now based in a small city in Southern Sweden (Växjö.) We are here because my husband grew up here, his family is here, and the quality of life in Sweden is fantastic. It means I have to travel a lot for business but I prefer that to living in a city whose location is practical from a business perspective, but doesn’t make me happy. I think it is so easy to get caught up in career expectations and money when you live in a big city, and everyone is so “success” driven, but they also have a warped idea of what success should be. In a small city, you’ve got a smaller pool of people to choose from for friends, and you find yourself becoming friends with people who are older or younger and from completely different backgrounds and industries. This means I don’t talk about work all the time and I really like that. I am also out of the rat race and I don’t miss it at all!
Q / How did the idea come about to start The Sleep Shirt?
A / I found a vintage men’s chemise in Spitalfield’s market in London and that was the inspiration behind the Short Sleep Shirt and Long Sleep Shirt in Blue Oxford Stripe, which continue to be our best selling items. We’ve expanded to include a larger range of sleepwear but our core is still the nightshirt in classic men’s shirting fabrics.
Q / Can you go a bit into your design process?
A / Megan (my partner) and I collect ideas throughout the year, but the real designing starts when we look at fabrics. We figure out our fabric themes and then look at the shapes and see how we can put a collection together. It is quite methodic, we look at the items that are missing in the collection, the things we think we need, and the things we want. Then we put it together. Sometimes there’s a “coup de coeur” fabric or shape, but most of our collections are quite practical. You want to sleep in something good looking but you also need it to be comfortable and easy to wear, right?
“The quality of life in Sweden is fantastic. It means I have to travel a lot for business but I prefer that to living in a city whose location is practical from a business perspective, but doesn’t make me happy.”
Q / Do you keep any collections? If so, how do they influence you creatively?
A / I used to collect some things but I have taken a very minimalist approach to life in recent years, so I don’t buy much. I think the only exciting thing we tend to buy a lot of is Lego. Vintage and new. But that’s for my kids!
Q / Does social media factor into your work at all? Is there anything you find problematic about it?
A / Yes, we use social media like most other brands. It is so hard to have a non-business opinion about social media as I have never had it for personal use only, I have always been using it to promote something (my company, myself…) I’ve started a personal Instagram (@alexandraisenberg) but of course I still need to be careful about representing the brand. Maybe now that Instagram offers multiple logins, I can start something that is 100% personal. It will probably be about Lego.
Q / Do you use the internet on vacation or do you prefer to completely disconnect?
A / I wish I could completely disconnect but unfortunately when you own a company, you don’t have that luxury.
Q / Is there anything in particular that you do to take care of yourself and relax?
A / Sleep! I go to bed early, a lot.
Q / Was there any particular person who led you to change direction and helped shape your career in formative way?
A / So many people have influenced how I work: my mother’s taste and appreciation for fabrics (especially linen.) Louise Wilson (former Course Director for MA Fashion at St. Martins) taught me that it is easier to do “freaky deaky” than real clothes, which is probably why I’ve found myself making real clothes. Maris Lemos, the director of Rainbowwave, who is our sales and PR agency, is the perfect example of someone who values business sense and commercial strategy, but also takes a chance on small brands and appreciates the importance of supporting them. And lastly, Ryan Nicodemus (from The Minimalists) mentored me a few years ago and he taught me to ask the right questions about life – which has certainly affected the way I approach my business as well as my personal life.
Q / How did your parents feel about your career path? Does anyone in your family work in the same industry? Did their perceptions about your career change over time?
A / My mother works in interiors and there are quite a few creative people in my family so no one was surprised this is what I chose, and most have been somewhat supportive. The older generation in my family value the more “traditional” jobs like medicine and law but I’ve never been one to try and impress them.
Q / What’s the worst job you’ve ever had?
A / Working in a dollar store in high school. Not fun!
Q / In what capacity do you work with other people?
A / I am a director in my company and as majority shareholder I am in theory the most senior in the company, so I try and ensure that I am leading the team in the right direction and ensuring we are making the best strategic decisions for our company. However, I would like to think on most matters I am somewhat collaborative, I am always open to suggestions. I like to give the junior members of our team some freedom to work and take charge of their projects. My partner Megan and I generally agree on most things and we’ve yet to disagree on anything that wasn’t a “small” issue, so when we disagree, it can go either way. I think the fact that we weren’t friends before working together means that our relationship is 99% professional, and we don’t worry about hurting feelings if an important decision needs to be made. Running businesses with friends can often lead to problems. Of course you want to get along with your partner in a friendly way, because it would suck to work with someone every day that you didn’t like as a person, but business comes first.
Q / What is the most fulfilling part of your job?
A / Good sales reports! Nice press mentions. And when a customer or a friend writes to you saying they love their nightshirt.
Q / How does your work affect the rest of your life? Personally? Financially? Time-wise?
A / My work used to be such a big part of my life but as I get older I am starting to try and have a clear line between professional life and personal life. That said, the fact that I have to work a lot and that I can never switch off completely has an impact on my personal life. I suppose when you are a creative, you are always looking for inspiration, even when it isn’t consciously, and you probably have higher standard when it comes to aesthetics.
Q / What are you looking forward to this year?
A / On the business side, we would like to grow our sales and increase the selection of sleep products on our web store. We recently launched a collection of incredible Norwegian down duvets, and we are working towards becoming a destination for great bedroom products. On a personal level, I’d like to take a real vacation this summer (meaning no more than 20 minutes of work a day), I want to start renovations on the kitchen, and I want to take at least two afternoons off a month so I can take my kids out of daycare and hang out with them.
“My work used to be such a big part of my life but as I get older I am starting to try and have a clear line between professional life and personal life.”
Q / Lastly, ten of your favorite people, places, and things that we should discover too?
A / Bare floors, I’m over carpets and rugs.
Finsk shoes, look amazing and unbelievably comfortable.
The spa at the Grand Hotel in Stockholm.
Indian food in London (it is probably good in India, too. I just haven’t been yet.)
Canadian winter clothing: Canada Goose and Sorel boots.
Dyson’s cordless vacuum cleaners.
The Long Sleep Shirt, it is the one I always wear.
Mutts. So much better than purebreds.
Entertaining, even if you have to squish everyone around the table.
Heavy metal. But rock, punk, and 60’s garage rock are good, too.