The future is yours to create: Josephine Sondlo

Josephine Sondlo 7

Fifth in our new series is Josephine Sondlo, founder of Sizwe Studios in Stockholm. She talks about her habit of repetition, how to be smarter working with brands, and why goal setting is important 

A little bit about me

I was born and raised in Stockholm, Sweden, and while food and drinks have always been a central part in my life, I never really wanted to work in the industry. I started working in the industry as a means to pay my rent. At first it was just a way to earn money, but it quickly became something so much more. 

Challenges make me happy. Be it a competition challenge or figuring out the perfect lighting in a venue, I’m one of those ADHD-kids who just has to pick things apart to understand them and then reassemble them into something better. 

“I have this weird infatuation with repeating things over, and over, and over, until I get it right.”

I’m restless and kind of impatient which are terrible traits in a relationship, but excellent ones when you are working in the industry. I’m also insanely curious and I really love the process of going from not knowing anything about something, to knowing everything about it. I have this weird infatuation with repeating things over, and over, and over, until I get it right. 

How I approach my work

The best piece of advice I’ve been given is: ‘There is joy in repetition’. Ever since I was a kid, I’ve been really bad at being patient and trusting the process – I want things to happen now and it took a really long time to realise that the people who are at the top of their industries became so after years, and years, of honing their skills. My dear friend and mentor Johan Evers kind of opened my eyes to that. 

I think we’re generally pretty bad at setting goals, however small or big, in our bars or for our personal progression. If I don’t have something to work towards, I get super bored. I’m in the process of opening my own bar. But that’s the easy one. Like my end goal is to do something with IKEA and to change the world. 

“I think we’re generally pretty bad at setting goals… in our bars or for our personal progression.”

To motivate me at work, employers can give me a working environment that is safe and sustainable, because I’ve come to the point where I’m too old to not feel great at work, I guess. But also, give me some responsibility that is mine – like being in charge of a tea program, or figuring out how to solve a problem pertaining to systems, service or business. I believe that if you give your employees some autonomy, the results that they are going to come back are going to be amazing.  

Brands are important supporters, but while do tonnes for us, I think they could do more when it comes to addressing the more problematic parts of our industry. But I think that us bartenders need to be smarter about working with brands as well. A lot of bartenders like to refer to bigger brands as ‘evil’, but these are the only brands that can help you make lasting change or have actual impact. If you want to change the world, you’d better figure out a way to utilise these brands and have them open some doors for you. 

My thoughts on mentorship

I used to be more into cool bartenders who did cool stuff, but I’m starting to lean into the people who have progressed from being award-winning bartenders to successful business owners. Sure, it’s super impressive to run a 50-best bar, but its way more impressive to build a sustainable business. I have huge respect for Dave Mulligan of 1661 because how he’s built that bar and that business is super impressive. Johan Evers of A Bar Called Gemma here in Stockholm is another person I look up to who I’m also super lucky to have as a mentor. Will Guidara, most definitely.  

Outside of the industry I would say my biggest inspiration is probably Maya Angelou and I dream that I could do just 5% of what she did and stood for as a POC in American culture. 

“I’m starting to lean into the people who have progressed from being award-winning bartenders to successful business owners.”

Role models to me are the people who lead the way in how to be a hospitality professional. Not necessarily the ones who have access to the coolest machines or endless amounts of money. I’d rather say that to me a role model is someone who helps others to be brave, someone who shows you that the things you want to do or dream of are not impossible. Emilio di Salvo of Satan’s Whiskers is probably a person that fits into that category for me, with his everlasting quest of, ‘There must be a better way to do this’.  

I think that the leaders in the industry have the responsibility of mentoring, sharing their work and curating the coming generation so that they get not as good as, but better than them. I would love to see some kind of summit or initiative where instead of workshops where we talk about our bars, we talk about our systems of service and hospitality and create a platform with resources that can be used and implemented in any bar. 

My hopes for the future

If I could change one thing about our industry it would be the destructive side of it, because it is literally killing us. 

I think bartenders hold so much more power than we can imagine – we could change the world, to be honest. 

For the bar community to grow together and make sure our voices are heard, we need to take better care of each other, we need to look out more for each other – we need to get healthier and less toxic. 

I want to know that I in some way, inspired someone to try harder and be better. And I want to, in some way, change the world to the better. It’s unlikely that I’ll save the planet, but I want to know that I at least did something to make the world my kids grow up in a better place.