Kristina Lindhe's Entrepreneurial Journey
Kristina Lindhe Mentorship
Award-winning entrepreneur Kristina Lindhe, founder and creative director of the Lexington Company, has made an impressive journey with the Lexington Company lifestyle brand since its inception more than 20 years ago. But how did she get here?
Growing up in a small town on the Swedish East Coast with her mom and dad, she was exposed to creativity and craftsmanship from an early age. Kristina's mother was creative and liked to sew and knit. Her grandfather had started a carpentry shop in the basement of the house where they lived.
“I had total access and freedom doing carpentry, knitting, sewing, etc,” Kristina says.
From her childhood, Kristina learned not only to be creative, but also how to be independent from an early age. Something Kristina says has shaped her quite a lot.
When Kristina was around 8 or 9 years old, her father received devastating news about his health that made him encourage her mother to go back to school. He did this because he wanted Kristinas mother to be able to support the two of them after his death. The decision to study forced Kristina's mother to live away from home on weekdays for 6 years.
“I was just interested in being myself,”Kristina on her time in high school.
“Back then, I did not know why my mother started studying,” Kristina says. Of course, I thought it was good that she did, but I also felt sad that she was not home. But I adapted a lot after that so I got used to managing myself.”
These experiences have shaped Kristina and made her a creative teenager who was very independent, social and confident in herself. Being the cool or popular girl at school was not interesting.
“I was just interested in being myself,” she says.
But becoming an entrepreneur was not something Kristina planned for or thought of as a teenager. So finding what she wanted to do took some time. After her father's death and a difficult period marked by grief and depression in the family, Kristina was on her way to college.
“I was very influenced by that small town. Education was something that was very important in my family then. It was obvious that I had to study, but it was not obvious what I would study,” she says.
“The world was so limited for me when it came to choosing a profession. There were 3 choices; engineer, doctor or teacher which my mother was so that felt familiar. Of course, I knew there were other jobs out there, but that was my world. I was not interested in technology, so engineering was not interesting. Medical school was not an option either because my grades plummeted after my dad's death. So, teachers it was. It did not matter what kind of teacher I became, so I applied for different combinations.”
Kristina became a Swedish and geography teacher, but during her maternity leave from her teaching job, she tried to run two summer interior design stores. That was when she realized she could actually make a living by doing what she’s passionate about — design. She also noticed, she had a feel for spotting trends and timing.
For a while, she tried to export wool blankets from Norrland. This provided insights, experiences and valuable European contacts which later proved to be very useful.
When Kristina, together with 3 friends and her husband Tommy, decided to start Lexington in 1997, it was "all in" right from the start for her. She stopped all other projects because Lexington would become an international brand to be reckoned with. The first collection consisted of throws and sheets made on shirt fabrics.
“If you have a shirt on you that is of good quality and is well sewn, it feels amazing against the body when you wear it,” Kristina explains. “We wanted to bring that same feeling of into the bedroom. You spend a third of your life sleeping in bed, so it's stupid if you do not do it as well as possible.”
Things were very hard at the beginning and knowing what she wanted to do wasn’t enough. Kristina had to find someone who could make what I wanted. “There’s a big difference between companies that make textiles for the fashion industry and those that do so for interior decorating, so the manufacturers were very skeptical about weaving shirting fabrics for use in bedding,” Kristina says. “It took a lot of persuasions and travels to accomplish this, but I finally found some courageous suppliers who dared to believe in a young, energetic and slightly crazy entrepreneur. They are still our partners today, and I count several of them among my personal friends”
The company was listed on the stock exchange in 2015 making Kristina Lindhe the first female CEO and founder of a listed company in Sweden.
But that was not the only thing unique about Lexington. The popular New England style was big in the fashion industry, but not in interior design. Kristina had discovered a gap.
“We combined our love for light, which is very Scandinavian, with the New England lifestyle. It was a combination that wasn’t well represented in the interior design world at the time,” Kristina says.
“The concept is likeable, and it´s quite clean design-wise. It’s also fresh and includes high-quality, sustainable, long-lasting products that can be incorporated into your home and wardrobe easily. You can create a dream with our products, and that attracted various consumers regardless of where they live.”
In the spring of 1997, everything was ready for launch and Kristina took care of all the company's chores on her own. A year later, she began hiring salespeople and contacting suitable distributors.
Since then, the success story has been a fact. Kristina's husband joined the company full time and relieved Kristina of tasks such as sales and export so that she could focus on design and production.
“There is always a good side and a not-so-good side in the entrepreneurial journey.”
The company was listed on the stock exchange in 2015, as to enable a continued investment in the creation and development of ideas. With the listing, Kristina, a mother of three and wife, became the first female CEO and founder of a listed company in Sweden. Kristina thinks this all would have been harder to achieve without the support she had at home.
"I am married to a supportive man who believes in equality. I think it has been difficult for most women in my generation to find a husband like that,” Kristina says.
Although she believes that has changed for women today, she down think that lack of support at home does affect your career.
“The family is a shared responsibility that requires great teamwork and respect for one another to work,” she says. “Tommy and I have always had that. I was the one who went to many business fairs. You do not move the fair date because a child has an ear infection. You go anyway, even if when it is not fun to leave you child for a business trip. However, I felt comfort knowing Tommy could handle it. I do not think it was always fun for the children either, but I think they look at this in a different way now that they are adults.”
Kristina Lindhe's entrepreneurial journey has attracted attention and she has been the recipient of a variety of recognitions and awards. Among other things, she has been named Entrepreneur of the Year by EY and received the Swedish Royal Patriotic Society "Business Medal" from Princess Christina. She has always loved sharing her experiences with young entrepreneurs which she has done as a speaker in the industry, an inspirer in the Prince Daniel Fellowship and a mentor in mentoring in SACCNY's.
Driven by her strong commitment to gender equality in the business world, she has now founded a scholarship together with Lexington.
“There is always a good side and a not-so-good side in the entrepreneurial journey. I think the good side has prevailed over time.”