‘It was an old style of shoe I remembered from my childhood in Sweden during the 1970s,’ says Emy Blixt, recalling a wooden-soled, clog-like sandal which was ‘very, very trendy here - there was a cool mum from my village who used to wear them.’
And, thanks to Blixt, this style of footwear is once again extremely fashionable. An English teacher with no fashion experience, 10 years ago she decided she needed a change of career, and reviving what was for her a classic style seemed like a smart idea. Blixt knew she was on to something when she tracked down 500 dead-stock pairs from the back of an old shop, freighted them to Stockholm and sold them all to friends and their friends in a matter of weeks. Clearly, more would have to be made, and Hasbeens, later renamed Swedish Hasbeens, was created.
‘There’s something that’s very Swedish about the style,’ Blixt explains. ‘It fits into sustainable thinking, being made with wood and leather. But aesthetically it takes a Swedish approach too: the look is a little bit fashion and a little bit down to earth, which is actually a hard balance to strike and this gives it a wide appeal. It’s also a democratic product, not just for the rich but for everyone, and the style has survived to become something of a standard.’
Blixt is no longer alone in pursuing this approach to footwear. In recent years Sweden has seen the launch of equally distinctive yet accessible shoe brands including Gram and Eytys. Gram’s approach has been to fill the gap between shoes and sneakers, with collections based around a basic Derby-type lace-up style with a cushioned, typically white outsole while the uppers provide variation in colour, material and pattern. Like sneakers, these are lightweight options for your feet and each style is named after its weight in grams. ‘Our roots lie in the Scandinavian design aesthetic,’ the company says, pointing to the clean lines, attention to detail and simplicity of the shoes.
Eytys is a sneaker brand created by Max Schiller and Jonathan Hirschfeld, the latter having trained in fashion retail and design with Swedish company Acne Studios, which has quickly become a cult label. Like Swedish Hasbeens, Eytys has built its reputation more or less on a single product – in this case, a unisex platform sneaker with a thick rubber and cork sole and a minimalist, deck shoe-like upper. The company says it doesn’t identify with the trend for outrageously expensive sneakers and the company’s approach seems to be cementing its popularity. Not that building the business has been without its troubles: the cargo ship MOL Comfort, carrying its entire first collection, broke in half and sank in the middle of the Indian Ocean (thankfully no lives were lost – only stock).
Riding the wave
Neither has Swedish Hasbeens’ journey been completely straightforward. In 2011 Swedish fashion retail giant H&M placed a dream order with the company (at the time still called Hasbeens) which would put them firmly on the fashion map. But before finalising its request for 50,000 pairs H&M insisted that the shoemaker’s name had a firm legal footing. This meant buying the name Hasbeen from another organisation (owned by a former Disneyland employee) and, to drive home the brand’s origins, ‘Swedish’ was added to the name. This has paid off, as the shoes are now sold in 400 stores in 20 countries; it has two of its own stores in Stockholm and plans to open in London and New York.
‘There are more and more footwear brands coming out of Sweden now, and I think they all benefit from finding that non-extreme middle ground that is so popular here,’ says Blixt. ‘We don’t want anything too “nice”, but we don’t want anything too ugly either, and more and more people around the world are attracted to this approach.’