Boss Women: An interview with Emeli Mårtensson

With ‚Boss Women’ we empower and encourage women to be unapologetically ambitious. We have planned some truly epic interviews with women we adore and admire.

Next up is Emeli Mårtensson, founder of the internationally known fashion label 5PREVIEW. We discuss the challenges of being a boss woman, what inspires her and what’s that one advice that equips us to create success.

Tell us something about your brand 5Preview, the new SS20 collection „do-it-yourself“ and most importantly about yourself.

Emeli: I’m Emeli, 40 years old and I live in Stockholm. I see whole Europe as my ”stage”. Family and friends are all spread out. I founded 5PREVIEW in Rome where I lived at the time, 12 years ago, and it has been a great adventure learning everything from scratch, making mistakes, learning from them and making new ones. An ongoing trial and error. I’m a creative soul that likes to work with my hands and new ideas. I have a lot of them, all the time, I’m a little restless I’d say. I’ve worked as CEO and Creative Director for 5preview with approximately 10 employees. We’ve made two collections a year. The one that is out now ”JUST-DO-IT-YOURSELF” is all about sustainability and what it really means, for me, for others and for the fashion business. It resulted in a little book, with the same name as the collection, with DIY tutorials on how to make the garments yourself instead of buying them from us. Not commercial, but the only way to make fashion sustainable. We don’t need to buy new clothes, we need to use the ones that are already around – Recycle and upcycle! We need to make clothes important again instead of consuming.

How did you balance being a mother and a professional? What have you sacrificed (both personally and professionally) at each stage of your career?

Emeli: I think becoming a mother made me make a priority scale, where family and myself comes first (it doesn’t mean that I play with LEGO all the time, but if my child is sick I need to be able to stay at home with him). It’s just like the oxygen masks in the airplanes: You need to put yours on first to be able to help others. At an early stage of my maternity leave (in Sweden for eight months, or at least for me, my husband was looking after our child for six months) I still thought I could answer emails and keep things running. Then I realized that it was impossible and not even necessary. It’s important to surround yourself with people that can handle your tasks. It’s so overwhelming to give birth to a little creature. After a while though work made me feel like a normal human being again. During that time my work was all about creativity. This gave me a lot of energy. So: having a child made me slow down. I’m working 50-75 % ever since. 

How do you think being a female has impacted—as both a barrier and a benefit—your success in the fashion industry?

Emeli: That’s a hard question. To start with, I don’t see myself as a female. When it comes to work, I’m a person and a human being and it’s more about what I create than what gender I am. I never saw it as a barrier, neither as a benefit. I worked with a lot of men, women and nonbinary persons during the last couple of years and it never came up as an issue. Since the beginning of my ‘fashion career’ in my early twenties, when I worked for a big Italian commercial fashion brand, the focus was always on my work and my designs. As a Swede I was strange and different from the others, so I kind of walked my own way. The thing that made an impact on my career though, was the fact that I was not worrying too much about what others do, say and instead follow my own instincts.

What are some traits you think great leaders possess?

Emeli: Humbleness and respect I guess, to actually see the people around you and not only the profit you can make out of them.

What’s the single piece of advice you’d give to any woman in the fashion industry or beyond struggling to grow within her career? 

Emeli: Don’t compromise if you know what you’re doing. Listen to advise. Learn all different parts of the process, try to get the whole picture. Avoid toxic people and situations, it’s not worth it. But if I have to choose one I’d say: Try to find a sustainable situation for yourself, if you fail there will be no career at all. 

What figure(s) have most influenced your path?

Emeli: The positive ones that made me believe in myself. The ones that filled me with energy in a meeting instead of completely drain me. My husband always believed in what I’m doing, even if he’s not always good at showing it, that’s a good ”base”. My first boss told me that ”everything I touch becomes gold” and I still believe in that (even if it’s not completely true) haha. 

What’s next for you now?

Emeli: A fashion detox. As I’m leaving 5PREVIEW in a couple of months I want to stay away from everything that is ”fashion” after almost 20 years in the business. Right now I’m slowing down, looking for possibilities, trying not to optimize all the time. Taking my time. And in the meantime I’m working with my hands, staying away from computers and other screens, doing art (or whatever you call it!) nice non-commercial things that make me happy. I’m also writing a lot. 

Pcs by Fredrik Ottosson