In 1960, Åke Nordin founded Fjällräven from his basement in the Swedish town of Örnsköldsvik. Nordin was a practical man. He liked to trek, and he liked to be comfortable while doing so, but he could never find exactly the right equipment. Nordin therefore decided to make his own outdoors gear and, after borrowing his mother’s sewing machine, began with lightweight jackets and framed backpacks. Word soon spread among his fellow outdoor enthusiasts, marking the start of the Fjällräven brand.
Fjällräven’s most famous creation, the Kånken backpack, was first made in 1978 for schoolchildren; it is durable, large enough to hold all the essentials, designed not to cause back problems, and features a distinctive top handle for ease of carrying between lessons. Ask anyone in Sweden and it’s likely they’ll recall fond memories of their own Kånken. But while the backpack has remained popular over the decades for its undeniable functionality, the last five years have seen the design capture the hearts of a different audience. If you’re in any of the world’s trendiest neighbourhoods – east Berlin, Brooklyn, Shoreditch or SoFo – the chances are you’ll spot a Kånken before long. Far from being reserved for the schoolyard, this is now a must-have fashion item.
Swedish fashion publication Hemma Magazine describes the Kånken as ‘the ultimate in utilitarian cool’. Tired of heavy branding and passing trends, modern consumers want items which are beautiful, functional and made to last. They’re also looking for authenticity and many Swedish labels, including Fjällräven, also meet this need. At Fjällräven, authenticity lies to a large extent in its commitments to simplicity and sustainability.
This year sees the launch of two new Kånken models. Re-Kånken is made from one single yarn created from recycled plastic bottles, produced using eco-friendly practices and is completely recyclable at the end of its (impressively long) life. Meanwhile, the Kånken Black Edition is an all-black bag made from a heavy-duty version of Fjällräven’s signature G-1000 fabric. While the traditional Kånken is known for its bright colours, this new model provides a more understated option, with leather detailing adding to the smart, luxurious aesthetic. These small changes are perfectly in line with the company’s ethos and they also extend the utilitarian vibe which has won Kånken so many fans.
Fjällräven is not the only brand making practical clothing cool. Stutterheim may only have been founded in 2010, but with over 800 retailers worldwide it is one of Sweden’s most promising clothing labels. And at its core? Raincoats. Of course, it doesn’t deal in just any type of raincoat, but specialises in beautiful, well-cut creations handmade in Sweden. Inspired by the coat worn by founder Alexander Stutterheim’s grandfather in the 1960s, the company has taken the basic raincoat, which is charged with Swedish heritage, and reimagined it for a contemporary, international audience. Stutterheim’s success comes not from ever-changing styles or by embracing trends but from its central values of excellence and simplicity – and at its heart is a desire to simply protect people from bad weather wherever they are, according to head of design Patric Wallertz.
Another Swedish brand conceived as a practical solution to a need is Peak Performance, which was founded by three skiing enthusiasts who wanted high-quality skiwear that didn’t compromise on style. They began to make their own, and their cool but never flashy aesthetic struck a chord with sports enthusiasts the world over. Having expanded into clothing for almost any outdoor activity – from golf and skiing to mountaineering – Peak Performance is today one of the world’s most recognisable specialists in the field. And still the aim remains the same: to allow customers to look stylish, not ostentatious, in clothing whose functionality isn’t compromised.
A similar concept drives J Lindeberg. Describing itself as having ‘one foot in the sports world and one in the fashion world’, the brand produces clothing for skiing and golf as well as activewear, fashion clothing and more. It was one of the first companies to bring a fashion edge to high-performance sportswear, and in the 20 years since its founding it has continued to push the boundaries from both angles – offering timeless and fashion-forward apparel that incorporates advanced developments in performance-wear technology. ‘At J Lindeberg we do not compromise on style in sport or fashion wear,’ says Ali Razzaghi, the brand’s head of design for golf and activewear.
According to J Lindeberg, attention to style must be apparent in its sportswear, and attention to functionality must be seen in its fashion collections. As with Fjällräven, Stutterheim and Peak Performance, form and function go hand in hand. With consumers increasingly looking for clothes that last and which can adapt to our ever-busier lifestyles, it’s no surprise that Sweden’s labels – who lead the way in this arena – are developing such strong reputations.
Once again, the nation’s designers find themselves at the forefront of an emerging trend. When clothing this functional can also be beautiful, there’s no need to comprise.