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“We will never be finished”

Tretorn is a brand with a rich heritage and an endless mission. We meet marketing director Fredrik Ekström to discuss the sustainable outlook for the company’s next 125 years.

Words by Nick Rice Photography by Erik Ericsson

Scandinavians are well accustomed to extremity in their seasons. Rain, sleet, snow, icy winds, drizzle – the joy of spring and a bright summer – more rain. Darkness, and from that, light. The transformations of the landscape triggers internal transformations in the people and the weather plays a vital role in the nation’s character. It also determines how Scandinavian’s dress. Which, as the wider world has noticed, is incredibly well with an original and highly distinctive style.

Creating this signature sartorial identity is not such an easy feat when you have to contend with inclement climate conditions. However, the Scandinavians take the weather as it comes. The old adage goes, ‘There is no bad weather, only bad clothing’.

The Swedish brand Tretorn has been proving that saying correct for 127 years now. Speaking to Scandinavian MAN from Stockholm, Fredrik Ekström, head of marketing and communication, Europe, explains,

— We started in 1891, inventing the technique for rubber boots. This was the time when most of the farmers were only wearing wooden clogs and when winter came, people were actually freezing their feet. So, that’s where it all comes from. We started with work and protection wear and gradually moved from there into sports and then into outdoor protection… always keeping the core from Scandinavian elements.

Harsh weather conditions, protective clothing and looking good, do not often make good bed partners, but Tretorn’s boots, galoshes and rainwear combined top rate functionality and a cool minimalist look right from the start. When the company moved into the sports world, most notably tennis, the same principles applied; Reliable performance allied with a strikingly simple aesthetic.

Over the years Tretorn sneakers graced the feet of Swedish tennis sensation Björn Borg and crossed over into streetwear culture, the iconic Nylite tennis shoe being a favourite. Billy Joel matched a suit and tie with a pair of battered up Tretorn Nylites on the cover of his multi-grammy-winning 52nd Street album and Nylites were widely embraced as the off-kilter choice for comfort and cool.

Fast forward to the present day and while adidas Stan Smiths are the typical choice of millennial hordes and the mid-life crisis dads, Tretorn Nylites and other models are the much cooler cous- in – less obvious, more discerning, and from a company with almost five decades more know-how.

Tretorn started manufacturing sneakers in 1900, and with the 120th anniversary not far off, the brand is relaunching ‘Heritage Archive Sneakers’ from 1900, 1955, 1961 and 1967. When the 2020 milestone arrives Tretorn will also bring back the Official Swedish Olympic sneaker from the Summer Olympics in Mexico City in 1968. Expanding on the plans for 2020 Ekström says,

— During the year we’ll have 12 co-labs, one every month with selected high-end retailers, celebrating different times of Tretorn history and one selected brand to interpret the future. So, it’s going to be a big year for us.

Another key anniversary for Tretorn took place in 2016, when the brand celebrated 125 years in business. To mark the achievement Tretorn established their Eco Essentials Initiative. Sustainable development is one of the fastest growing global sectors and utterly crucial if the tide is to be turned against the countless destructive practices jeopardising our planet. The Eco Essentials Initiative acts as a platform, whereby the company sets extremely high sustainable goals for its products to qualify as part of the eco line. This in turn appeals to the environ- mentally conscious consumer and Tretorn act as an exemplar for good environmental stewardship in manufacturing. Explaining its formation Ekström says,

— Tretorn was celebrating 125 years and we said, ‘Where do we want to be in the next 125 years? Who will be the next people sitting in our chairs, working for the brand and trying to figure out where they will want to be? Is there anything we want to add to the brand and move into the future with?’

The first goal was to make 50 per cent of Tretorn’s rainwear products part of the Eco Essentials collection by 2020. The leftover project kicked things off and Tretorn tackled waste issues by purchasing small ends of fabric from the sample rooms of factories that were about to be tossed away. In a collaboration with Swedish eco-friendly retailer The Nature Company, Tretorn made 400 jackets using the material scraps and they sold out in 11 days.

— It was a massive consumer response. So, we kept on going and after that we did the ghost net project, where we collected fishing nets in Korea and recycled them to become new fabric and new jackets, which had the same success. Now we’re launching a biodegradable jacket made of sugar beet starch and a PLA [Polylactic acid] where even the zipper is made of plant-based starch, Ekström says.

Being a hit with the end buyer is obviously essential, but what about success with regard to the company as a whole – how it functions, the guiding ethos and the contribution to the world? Reflecting on this for a moment, Ekström replies with conviction,

— Success is when we do something a little bit better today than we did it yesterday. It could definitely be monetary success, but most important is the quality of success. Can we manage to make the everyday life for a consumer a little bit better? That is success.

Ekström’s passionate belief that brands can have a tangible impact in combating climate change gives cause for some optimism in an industry that is often cited as the world’s second biggest polluter, after oil.

— Every brand has a responsibility to act as a human being. And humans can’t live on this planet if we’re not doing our best to help what can’t help itself. This could be a fragile environmental region or as big as the whole climate change issue. We have the mindset that we will never be finished. We will never reach the end goal because there will always be more new stuff to do, so we will keep on going.