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One with the times

As Swedish shirt manufacturer Eton celebrates 90 years, Creative director Sebastian Dollinger looks back as his own life with the brand and explains how they’ve managed to stay relevant during all these years.

Words Johan Magnusson

Not in their wildest dreams could David and Annie Petterson have imagined that the very first garments they made in their kitchen would be the first steps towards an international business. The year was 1928, and the place was Gånghester, a small town in the Swedish countryside close to the city of Gothenburg, where the headquarters still reside.

Their first export can be dated back to the 1950s to a small shop in England. The first international success happened in the same country, at the iconic department store Harrod’s, where they started selling Etastar, the 100% cotton, non—iron shirt in 1992. It quickly became their bestseller and Eton soon became a brand to know for men of taste all over the world.

— If you work on more or less the same product for such a long time you would be a fool if you could not perfect it, says creative director Sebastian Dollinger. We have developed so much over the years and the knowledge we accumulated by trial and error and the collected success factors makes us pretty unique.

For Dollinger, Eton is far more than just his employer. He has been with the brand more or less all his life. His father, Jan Borghardt, worked 36 years for the company.

— My first memory is from when I was three or four years old and followed him to the factory. I used to play in the basement while he was working. Once, I locked myself in the garbage room and it took a few hours before they found me. I then started as a stock worker in 2000. Two years later, I moved to England and started working at Harrod’s for Eton. The brand, the employers, the factory and the sewing room in Gånghester has always been a big part of my life.

How has that affected your work?

— I represent not just me but also my father and carry the legacy with me every day. For me, that’s something very important. My father didn’t want me to start working for the company, but nevertheless, I was hired. Then my father and I used to argue every week about company related things. It must have driven him mad, but after a few years things eased and I loved getting the chance to work with him and learn from him.

What would you say is so unique about Eton?

— The fact that we are a true specialist that knows our product category better than anyone else. By focusing on a narrow product assortment we can really be best in class. Creatively, we work like any other large fashion house — we don’t just do great basics, but also master contemporary cool. We strive to make the best shirts in the world, whilst keeping the production as sustainable as possible. I want people from all walks of life to find something in our collections — from the very best business looks, to luxurious evening wear, to up—to—date casual shirts in the best possible fabric qualities. We work with style concepts that change every third month so there is always something new and interesting coming from us.

Speaking of new, you celebrated your 90th anniversary with the launch of a made—to—measure service.

— Yes, the basic idea is that we want to provide accessibility to help men create the perfect shirt. We’ve offered custom—made in stores before but this is the first time we’re offering a custom—made experience on etonshirts.com. Of course, we cannot replace a real tailor with an online service, but we do see this as a considerable first step in that direction. The customers will be able to choose from a wide collection of fabrics and make individual choices in the shirt’s design and fit and they are able to choose between different styles of collars, cuffs, breast pocket, both shirt and sleeve length, as well as get your own initials embroidered as a monogram — all in all, a shirt that’s unique to them.

What are your future plans for Eton?

— It’s important to further develop us into a solid luxury brand, to enrich our own retail, both online and offline. Continue working with the best wholesalers in the world and become even better in casual goods whilst — most importantly — having lots of fun while doing it. If we create a work environment where people are happy and you have a great product, success is generally always the result. In 90+ years from now, I hope its run by a team that carries it with the same pride, the same philosophy and work with the same joy as me and my team. For me, that is a big part of company values and making something last.

Related: A softer take on classics

The Soft Classics collection, launches January 2019.
Eton Soft Classics.
The Gånghester factory.