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A footwear phenomena

Axel Arigato’s founders Max Svärdh and Albin Johansson about how questioning the whole structure of the fashion business helped them to grow 4000% — in only five years of time.

Words Johan Magnusson

After graduating from business school, Albin Johansson joined one of the Nordics’ largest fashion e-commerce sites, which sparked a fascination for the industry.

When Max Svärdh was 17, he started to import jeans and soon after that launched several e-comm ventures. Without a formal education, he doesn’t design collections in a traditional way, but approach it from a grassroots level.

They met in their mid-twenties through common friends and founded Axel Arigato by questioning the whole structure of the business.

— We felt that existing fashion brands weren’t changing at the same speed as consumers, says Johansson. When launching the brand, we wanted to make something different which led to forgoing traditional sales channels and working after the concept of ”Drop of the Week” so that demand for new designs can be fulfilled more quickly. The response was pretty immediate and we managed to sell to 14 countries within 48 hours of launching. We were fast enough to create relevance in a market without having to depend on advertising with Instagram as our only communication tool. In a world that is changing faster for every day it is very important that you know your audience and act responsive to different changes, otherwise why be in the business? That was the Axel Arigato spirit from day one. Besides that, we have always had a great interest in footwear and saw a gap in the market for an affordable footwear brand with a luxury quality.

— As Albin said, from the start we knew we always wanted to do things differently, says Svärdh. We wanted to start conversations. I think that’s the success of Axel Arigato. We speak to a young demographic and our customers really look for something unique.

Tell us about your aesthetics.

— I do believe Axel Arigato have become synonymous with minimal footwear, says Max Svärdh. We do experiment and try to constantly push ourselves to try out new things. At the same time we always seem to employ the same minimalist design ethos that runs throughout all of the collections and our visual expression. It’s our roots and it’s what we do best. Besides that, we have a very product focused approach and we try to create products that aren’t too abstract. I look for inspiration in my everyday surrounding and the ideas come from the environment that I am in.

How come that you’ve managed to attract 150 of the best retailers in the world?

AJ: It’s a combination of product, unique price point and consistency in distribution. We are very selective about our distribution and carefully handpicking the stores we want to be at. Today we have an amazing list of partnerships and we are happy to work with such strong and established accounts. MS: Also we didn’t open up for wholesale until the third year of business. The notion of selling a timeless, everyday sneaker with a design that will last for 20+ years requires a different attention to detail. We wanted to make sure that the brand reached a level of maturity first.

The growth between 2014 and 2018 was 4000%.

— It all started by Max and myself but today we have two offices with 40 employees so we are able to do much more and take on more exciting projects, says Johansson. Perhaps the most important growth is through a broader range where clothing and accessories have been added to the product offering. UK and Scandinavia are the main drivers at the moment but we have sold to over 150 markets and that’s why we see a huge potential globally.

The range has just been updated with a more balanced range today than ever before and an introduction of two new key silhouettes, with soles developed by themselves from scratch.

— Marathon Runner was introduced earlier this spring and inspired by the skaters and athletes in the early 90s, Catfish is a silhouette that I am super excited about which just launched, says Svärdh.

Following their first flagship, in London, Axel Arigato just opened another one in Stockholm, with a two-floor Copenhagen flagship set to open soon.

— The Stockholm store draws inspiration from the one in London featuring display units made of heavy marble resting on glass podiums, where the glass beneath is crushed while ceilings and walls are kept monochrome. My affection for contemporary-meets- traditional was a point of inspiration for the design. We continue to work with materials that are seen as traditionally luxurious materials, but with a progressive and modern approach. How we present the marble on the broken glass is a reflection of that particular way of thinking, says Svärdh, continuing,

— We have spent 9 months on construction for the two-floor flagship store in Copenhagen, it’s been some what of a nightmare project. Taking on a huge space like this was a challenge. We are big online and don’t roll out stores with the primary reason to sell. What our stores allow us to do is create an intimate universe, so the visual aesthetic is very important to us. It’s easier to feel emotions in real life than on a screen. So we we’re very adamant that it needed to be in a certain way, and we are sure that the result will blow your mind.

— Besides the unique store designs, we are establishing a new type of retail experience where we see our stores as destinations, says Johansson. We don’t want our customers to come in and just pick up a pair of sneakers and leave — we want to create a place you visit to chat, hang out, shop and walk away with a memorable experience. Therefore, all of our stores serves as a curated galleries featuring carefully selected brands, items and events that have been selected as a way of inviting consumers in to our world.

What other launches will we see coming?

— You could say that we’ve pressed the reset button on ready-to-wear, says Svärdh. With a new direction for AW19, we’re offering pieces that feel more authentic to the brand — it should be seen as an extension of our footwear collection. We had to make the ready-to-wear collection a lot smaller to better show what the brand is all about. I think people get the message now. The first pieces of SS20 will be launched late fall. We continue to build on Catfish and Marathon with new iterations and colorways. We have also developed a more formal shoe called the ”Hybrid”. It’s constructed with a technical mesh fabric and a chunky rubber sole. It’s pretty much a mash-up of Axel Arigato tastes in one product. For SS20 RTW, we explore the concept of sportswear with a tailored twist, turning the attention to a more grownup wardrobe and embracing new cuts.

— The ambition has never been to be titled as a pure sneaker brand. We will do whatever we feel like in that particular moment, whether that’s exploring new product categories or launching a record label. It’s about not limiting what we do. Axel Arigato is an idea. It’s a very contemporary way of working. Whatever we do we will make sure to keep the brands identity well rooted in the modern world.

Axel Arigato’s Stockholm store is located at Biblioteksgatan 7, while the address for the coming Copenhagen space is Pilestræde 16.