Matilda Djerf at the drawing table.
“You’ll find a time in your life when you feel like you belong.”
In a world where “fast fashion” is the norm, many consumers seek brands focused on sustainable practices, timeless fashion, and community involvement. Matilda Djerf is a Swedish designer, model and founder of essentials fashion brand Djerf Avenue.
The brand was founded in 2019 with the goal of creating a fashion brand that would stand the test of time. In just their first year of operation, they have already made waves in the fashion industry with their unique designs and commitment to sustainability.
Djerf Avenue’s collection of wardrobe basics are made in Portugal, Italy and Sweden and Matilda engages in every step of the process. Since shipping their debut line from a rented warehouse in Sweden, the brand has grown exponentially. With more than USD $2 million in revenue in its first year, Djerf Avenue now has multiplied that figure, with offices in both Sweden and the USA.
Authenticity is a major priority at Djerf Avenue, where models and photos are never retouched, and the items you see are the real pieces you will receive after placing an order. Matilda is the one designing the pieces, and she takes inspiration from her travels, Swedish roots, and personal style. Details are carefully considered, from the fabric choice to the silhouette.
On new couches at the Djerf Avenue Sweden office and surrounded by close coworkers, Matilda took a moment to sit down and talk about the brand.
Matilda at the Stockholm office.
Gustaf Lundberg Toresson: How did you get started as a creator?
Matilda Djerf: It all started in 2016 when I traveled to the Caribbean with my boyfriend, Rasmus, who is now the CEO of Djerf Avenue. While traveling, I started a blog for my family and friends. I brought just one, small camera on that trip, and we shot bikini looks and posted them on Instagram. Next thing I knew, I had 3,000 followers. It was major. A lot of followers to have in 2016.
We went back to Sweden for six months after that, and then to Bali and Australia for six months. That’s when I hit 100,000 followers and when I got back to Sweden, I had a decision to make: I could either go back to my job at a juice bar or try making a living on Instagram and see what happens. I decided I could always get another job if this didn’t work out, but it did work out.
Lundberg Toresson: You jumped into social media almost full-time immediately. What did you learn from the early days and what mistakes did you make?
Djerf: At first, I posted photos when I traveled, and then took on brand partnerships. I did some modeling jobs just to be able to fund travel. So, when I came back to Sweden, I was putting a lot of time into it, but I’d say it didn’t feel like a full-time job until 2018.
In the early days, I was learning how to build relationships with brands and how to make the content perform well. I also had to learn invoicing and other basic business things.
The biggest mistake I made was probably taking on too many jobs for free. When I got started, brands weren’t really paying micro-influencers. Because it was such a new industry I think that people just didn’t know what to pay or know the worth of the work. At the end of the day though, it’s a job, and more people learned it should be taken seriously. Even if you are a micro-influencer, you’re still exposing your followers to their products.
Lundberg Toresson: Where is your audience based?
Djerf: When I started out, it was a lot of Australians because I was partnering with Australian brands. Now it’s the US, UK and France. Australia is still up there on the list. Sweden is maybe number four on the list of followers for Instagram.
Many people ask me why I have so many followers from the US when I’m from Sweden. I don’t really know. I guess it’s because I speak English on my channel. Partly because I’ve met so many new friends while I’ve been traveling, and many of them don’t understand Swedish. I wanted to update my friends in English, so it became natural.
Lundberg Toresson: On your channels, you’ve also spoken about mental health and your eating disorder. What was your thinking behind that?
Djerf: I think I made that decision when I started gaining a following. At that point, I realized what I was saying and putting out there was actually being heard by tons of people. I wanted to use that to reach and I’ve thought that if my experiences and difficulties that I’ve gone through can help just one person, I think it’s worth it.
I’ve also always wanted to be the person I needed when I went through my eating disorder. It’s a thing that so many people go through, but you feel so alone when you’re in it. I’ve spoken out about it, and I wanted to be a safe space for other people.
Lundberg Toresson: How did you transition from a creator to a full-time entrepreneur and starting Djerf Avenue?
Djerf: I made some design collaborations with two Australian and one Swedish brand. And during that time, I felt like I brought so much to the table. I had so much insight and felt like I wasn’t getting as much in return. I wanted to decide where items were produced, what models to use, and how to shoot the model photos, as well as whether or not to retouch. But I wasn’t allowed into that decision-making.
I was also doing modeling gigs when I started, and was shocked at the way this world worked. One brand edited me three sizes smaller. I seriously questioned it, knowing what these companies were showing online wasn’t what the customer was getting when they ordered the garments.
That’s when Rasmus and I decided to try it out and do it our own way. We just went for it with no business plan or anything.
Lundberg Toresson: What were the first days of starting Djerf Avenue like?
Djerf: That first collection came out of a selfish idea as I wanted to produce items that I missed in my wardrobe. We launched our first collection in December, 2019, and nearly immediately sold out. We didn’t have any space for the products, so we found empty warehouse locations we could rent for the weekend.
For months, we put all the boxes with extra items that didn’t sell in my mom and dad’s apartment and my old room became a storage for boxes. In the beginning, we would have one or two orders a day, so my mom and dad could pack those orders. When we had to restock, we’d find a new location to rent for three days and then go back to Mom and Dad’s apartment. Eventually, we rented an office and a warehouse here in Stockholm.
Our very first hire was my brother’s girlfriend, Agnes. Initially, we bribed her with tea and a cinnamon bun to teach us everything about the industry. She would help us for a couple of hours after working hours and help us figure it all out. She’s now our Head of Production.
That first collection makes up most of our core collection today, which I’m really proud of. I think there are just two items we only did for the first launch, the rest are still part of the core collection.
Lundberg Toresson: What was it like, visiting factories and deciding on who to work with when you didn’t have a lot of experience in that part of the industry?
Djerf: In the beginning, I needed to finance our operations so I was taking every single modeling job I could. We were in Portugal when we found a factory in a different Portuguese city we wanted to work with. We had reached out to many different factories and agencies, but nobody replied, but this one finally replied. They were the first ones to really believe in our idea, and we still work with them today.
I remember when we got our first sample, and could really only see it from a customer’s point of view. Agnes, however, our Head of Production, could really look at it from a designer’s point of view and look at the detailing and the stitching. I’ve had so many clothes myself that I kind of knew when it felt right and felt wrong, what kind of color we needed and materials, but she could better tell me if the quality was good or not. we owe so much to Agnes for helping us out.
Lundberg Toresson: How do you think about building the team at Djerf Avenue?
Djerf: You have to like to work, be a problem solver, and take your own initiatives. I always say that passion is the best personality trait, and you need it to be part of a start-up company.
It is a lot of work, and you need to like that. We have such a great team of people who share the same passion for the brand and vision. We all understand where we want to go with Djerf Avenue. So, when we’re looking for new hires, we always try to find that kind of person who likes to get their hands dirty but also has a lot of passion.
Lundberg Toresson: What advice do you have for someone starting a business with their life partner?
Djerf: I’d say be sure to have clear roles within the business. When we started out, especially on the influencer side, we didn’t have clear roles, and that made it challenging. Set clear roles in the business and have straight-forward communication. The other thing is to turn off work when you get home. We’re not great at this yet, but I think it’s important to have space at home where you’re not working.
Lundberg Toresson: Looking back on your life and what you’ve accomplished, what advice would you have for 18-year-old Matilda?
Djerf: I’d probably say: “you’ll find a time in your life when you feel like you belong.” Growing up, especially in my teenage years, I always felt like I didn’t belong. I felt kind of misplaced. School wasn’t for me and I didn’t fit in – I couldn’t wait to graduate and get away. Going through those feelings in my teenage years probably did have something to do with how I approach everything today.
Lundberg Toresson: What’s the story behind your hair and the recent TikTok trends?
Djerf: I really don’t understand it, but before I was trending on TikTok it was Pinterest. It makes me blush and I’m so flattered, but I don’t know why. My hair has always been a fun thing for me. I’ve never really enjoyed makeup, so I always styled my friends’ hair. Then I cut my curtain bangs in 2017 and people started reposting my photos. Ever since then it’s been a point of subject.
Lundberg Toresson: What’s next from here for Matilda, Rasmus and Djerf Avenue?
Djerf: Well, Djerf Avenue is still growing, which we’re excited about. We have our new website and are launching our re-sell pages. That’s our own marketplace where customers can sell their items to friends and other customers. It’s a safe space where customers can shop from each other, and prices don’t increase a lot. I’ve seen people reselling some of our items online for a crazy high price, and that’s something I do not stand behind, so I wanted to give our customers a meeting point to resell their items. It’s currently available in the US, and we’re working on making it available worldwide.
The conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.
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Matilda Djerf at the drawing table.