When Annie Pettersson founded Eton Shirts in Sweden in 1928, she had a clear objective – to create the perfect men’s dress shirt. Melding style, quality and craftsmanship, Eton Shirts has evolved into a global brand, selling both off-the-rack shirts and accessories, as well as custom shirts across more than 50 counties.
Since then, shirts ultimately remain the company’s core product, with simplicity in sizing and limited, timeless styles. But the company has also expanded its range to include additional supplementary products such as T-shirts, polo shirts and swim shorts.
In the 1990s, Eton Shirts caused waves across the world with the pioneering of the non-iron shirt – a game-changer for the industry.
“That was one way of combining something that a customer needs, but at the same time never compromising on the product quality, design, esthetics or luster,” CEO David Thörewik tells The CEO Magazine.
It is this emphasis on innovation, of constantly looking for ways to improve its products, that truly sets Eton Shirts apart from its competitors.
“For nearly 100 years we’ve worked with the ambition to create the best shirt there is, focusing on design, fit and fabrics, and even as we’ve expanded our offerings, those ambitions remain the same,” Thörewik reveals.
“At the same time, we have been continuously driven by innovation, and the desire to evolve and take the next step, both at a product level and in the full-service experience level.”
“For nearly 100 years we’ve worked with the ambition to create the best shirt there is, focusing on design, fit and fabrics, and – even as we have expanded our offerings – those ambitions remain the same.”
One particularly inventive and playful concept was the company’s ‘Index Shirt’. Launched in 2022, the shirt’s price was tied to the Nasdaq index and was a way for Eton to innovate and connect with buyers.
“We know that for many of our customers, finance is a part of their life,” Thörewik says. “So it was a way of connecting our product to their business life, or something they do privately. I think it was a beautiful project.”
Now as it starts another year, Eton Shirts is looking to finesse its processes to become more efficient in everything it does behind the scenes, while also exploring exciting new opportunities made possible with the help of AI.
“We have utilized a lot of digital tools over the last few years to further improve our operations. Right now we are exploring how AI can enhance this even further,” he explains.
“You shouldn’t go out into deep water, but AI will probably revolutionize what we’re doing. The same thing that happened with digitalization will happen with AI and I’m very keen on making sure that we are utilizing that in the right way, in the right areas, at the right time.”
When Thörewik took on the role of CEO five years ago, he brought with him extensive experience garnered over two decades spent working in the fashion industry.
“I am Swedish; I’ve known Eton for my entire life and I’ve been within this industry for my entire life, more or less,” he says. “I’m fascinated by this industry. I work in fashion because I love it.”
Thörewik had always followed Eton Shirts from afar, impressed that it was one of a handful of Swedish fashion brands that had successfully managed to grow internationally.
“I think there is a bright and interesting journey ahead of us,” he reflects. “I believe that brand hype comes and goes, but consistency and quality are attractive at all times; the shirt is a part of a universal dress code – you find it all over the world.”
“I think there is a bright and interesting journey ahead of us.”
To uphold the products’ incredibly high quality, a reliance on trusted suppliers – many of whom have been part of the Eton family for decades – is essential.
“It’s a shared vision of quality, and what you want to achieve at the end of the day,” he points out. “That to me is a part of our partnership, too – that you have the same end goal in mind. We’re quite careful and selective when we onboard a new partner. And, when we do so, we have the ambition of working together for a long time.”
Thörewik explains that the ideal scenario is to find suppliers who can grow alongside Eton Shirts, with whom it can tackle challenges such as digitalization and sustainability.
“We make sure to invest a lot of time, communication and then a high level of transparency in our relationships,” he says. “By doing so, you create trust. And by having that trust in place you can overcome almost anything.”
With its full supply chain based in Europe, the company has a small number of suppliers that it works alongside, and which Eton Shirts prefers to view as partners.
“We are focused on deepening our relationships with our suppliers, approaching challenges as well as opportunities and strategies with a win–win outlook and high level of transparency,” he confirms. “So it’s always looking at how we can work even better together.”
Navigating hurdles is something that every company must endure, but Thörewik believes it has been Eton’s ability to weather many storms over its decades of business that is one of the characteristics that continue to make the company so strong today.
“My perspective is that all times come with their own sets of challenges,” he says. “And I think it’s about surpassing people’s expectations – in terms of products, services and the full customer experience – so that you have that foundation, irrespective of whatever challenges come your way.”
As for the culture that underpins the company, Thörewik explains that there is an emphasis on cross-departmental collaboration and, as with its suppliers, a shared set of values and transparency.
“Personally, I believe that the one-man band within a business, those times are over,” he notes. “I think it’s all about how we, as an organization, collectively engage in our vision, strategies and objectives. How we do that is what determines our success.”
“We have nearly 100 years behind us, and I believe that we definitely have more than 100 years ahead of us.”
With a sense of pride and optimism rooted deeply in the company culture, thanks in part to its enduring heritage, Eton is always looking to the future, as well as acknowledging and learning from the past.
“Culture is determining our execution and operational excellence,” Thörewik enthuses. “Every day I am impressed by the knowledge within our team, the dedication of the individuals at Eton to the brand and a continued curiosity that means there’s always room for improvement.”
It’s clear that Eton Shirts is always getting bigger and better: 2022 saw a 59 percent increase in revenue with 1.1 million shirts sold. But Thörewik is adamant that this number will only increase over the next five years, with plans to continue expanding by entering new markets.
“We see increased physical retail expansion in some established markets, and are thrilled to have set into action a plan to evolve our retail space concept, offering our customers an updated experience,” he says. “We’re starting with a few key cities: Stockholm and New York.”
In terms of what he envisages for the long-term future, Thörewik is confident that the company has a strong foundation.
“We are committed to continuing our legacy of beautiful and timeless pieces of superior quality that people can be proud to wear, and that we can be proud to make,” he affirms.
“We have nearly 100 years behind us, and I believe that we definitely have more than 100 years ahead of us. Our ambition is to continuously improve and adapt to our customer’s needs, while maintaining a global mindset for customer relevance.”