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Swarovski: Creative Innovation Engine

To coincide with the launch of BoF Careers, the global marketplace for fashion talent, we speak to Nadja Swarovski, executive board member of Swarovski, on what drives the company’s culture.
Nadja Swarovski | Photo: Brian Bowen Smith
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WATTENS, Austria — Innovation has been at the heart of Swarovski since its founding in 1895. Daniel Swarovski, a bohemian émigré who settled in the Tyrolean region of Austria, was the first man to perfect the process of machine-cutting crystals.

Almost 120 years later, Swarovski remains a family firm with global headquarters and crystal production facilities in its hometown of Wattens, Austria. But the company’s successful entry into the direct-to-consumer market and expansion into product categories including beauty products, interiors, lighting and own-brand jewellery has driven strong growth. Swarovski now employs more than 25,000 people, turns over €2.38 billion ($3.28 billion) a year with a global network of stores, servicing 170 countries.

Swarovski’s commitment to fostering creative talent, which the company views as imperative to finding novel and exciting applications for its core crystal product, has seen the company launch art initiatives, finance feature films and sponsor the CFDA Awards. Through its culture of constant innovation and its commitment to new talent, Swarovski continues to power global fashion and creativity.

Executive board member Nadja Swarovski explains why innovation is key to Swarovski's past and future.

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BoF: What is your personal link to founder Daniel Swarovski and what does his original mission for the company mean to you today?

NS: Daniel Swarovski used to say, "diamonds are for royalty, but I want to create a stone for every woman, that every woman can afford." This is certainly something that we are picking up in the 21st century. We really see the product as a means of adornment and female empowerment, because we know that jewellery is one of the strongest means of self-expression.

BoF: Do you still think of it as a family business?

NS: It definitely still feels like a family business. The family board consists of three members of the fourth generation and three members of fifth generation, and we have an executive board that has five members from the fifth generation. Being part of a family business has a positive impact, it really emphasises values and consideration for quality, and taking a long-term view.

There is more personal care and consideration, and there is definitely a sense of responsibility for employees. Daniel Swarovski was very concerned about his employees’ well-being. He created housing, schools and medical care and he believed passionately in giving back to the community, all of which we continue to do — it is our responsibility.

BoF: How has Swarovski's enduring relationship with one key product defined it as a company?

NS: You could say that the company's culture reflects the qualities of a crystal. A crystal is clear and it is multi-faceted, so the light reflects better and acts as a lens and a magnifier. This is really how we see ourselves as a company. We take design talent and we magnify it.

Clarity and transparency are also very important to us. We recently stepped up our corporate responsibility programme, strengthening our stance on environmental, sustainability, labour, anti-corruption and human rights issues, through a global commitment to the ten UN Global Compact principles.

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We are also committed to the UN Women’s Empowerment Principles. Most of our employees are women, as are the vast majority of our customers, so we take our obligations to gender equality and women’s wellbeing very seriously.

BoF: Swarovski has brought its know-how and innovation into various sectors such as fashion, the film industry, lighting and interior design. How do these links with creative industries impact the culture at Swarovski, which might otherwise be seen as a manufacturing company?

NS: The difference now is we are communicating what we are doing. Not just with our consumer business, but also in terms of our business-to-business side. The first product, 'the jewellery stone,' was instantly supplied to the fashion world. Charles Worth used Swarovski crystals in dresses he made for Queen Victoria. With the emergence of the silver screen we supplied a lot of costume designers, via our distributors based in New York City. Swarovski has always supplied the creative industries, but, now, all of the initiatives that we do with young designers we communicate.

Supporting emerging talent is so important because that is the source of creativity; and creativity to us is essential in terms of the evolution of the product, or at least in terms of the evolution of the use of the product. Crystal has infinite creative potential as an ingredient within the creative industries, and our collaborations demonstrate how the product can be beautifully used to enhance the work of designers.

Our innovative collaborations with the fashion industry on the business-to-business side impact how our consumer business operates. Our own jewellery line aspires to be as on-trend as the jewellery designers that we supply. Also, the fact that we are working with the fashion industry has affected the speed at which we work. The immediacy of a lot of projects has increased, and that has become a global thing within Swarovski.

BoF: What special characteristics do you seek out in the talent that you hire?

NS: Our team is very diverse, but they all share our deep commitment and pride in the brand and in the work we are doing. It is a very positive and symbiotic relationship. The brand is continuously growing and continuously innovating, so we think there is more and more to be proud of. As for qualities, we really value people who show passion for what they are doing, and who inspire it in others. Creativity and great communication skills are also really important, as are accountability and taking responsibility. But most of all, we look for collaboration instead of competition. There is healthy competition, but collaboration is key – and so much better.

BoF: What are the emerging opportunities that inform the kind of talent you seek?

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NS: What really defines us is continuous innovation — innovation in our business practice and innovation in our products. Our products, technical expertise and communication platforms are evolving, and there is strong growth in our social and digital arenas. In design, our customers' demands are changing all the time, as we cater to different regions and explore new markets: North America, Europe and Asia are all seeing particularly strong growth. There will always be opportunities for passionate, creative and collaborative new talents at Swarovski. Constant innovation was what brought us to where we are today, and it is what will take us into the future.

This post is sponsored by Swarovski. To explore career opportunities at this company, please visit the Swarovski company page on BoF Careers, the global marketplace for fashion talent.

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