Fall 2004. Anton Sandqvist, a civil engineer with a booming career in an international electronics company and a house in Nacka outside of Stockholm, contemplated the current situation. his job was interesting and well-paid with close to 100 days of travel per year, yet something was missing. he wanted to be able to express his creativity, have influence and build something up. The strict world of suits didn’t feel like home to him, and he dreamed of a job where he could be himself. Just for the fun of it, and to fill up some of the space in his basement, Anton bought an industrial sewing machine over the internet.
One night he decided to try his skills at making a bag. The design of the Swiss brand freitag’s messenger bags ap- pealed to him, but he wanted a bag that could hold a laptop, since he was carrying one around all day in his work. The style of the bag had to be robust and casual, not too dressy. almost 30 hours of work later, the bag was finished.
People immediately started asking him where he had bought it, and when the fourth person asked the same thing, a thought flashed through his head: The idea of manufacturing and selling this type of bag—functional, well-designed and not too expensive.
A few days later Anton found himself with his self-produced bag in front of Grandpa in Stockholm, a newly opened fashion store. he built up his courage for a while, and then entered. Luckily, the staff’s reaction was enthusiastic and the store bought ten bags on trial.
That same night Anton searched the web for manufacturers, and finally found one that made bags for the Russian military. Several phone calls and good deal of persuasion later, the company agreed to take his order. after a couple of weeks, a pallet of material was delivered to Anton’s living room, transforming it into a temporary storage room before he sent everything off to Estonia for sewing.
About a month later, the basement held the first 100 Sandqvist bags.
About a year and a half later, in 2006, Sandqvist had a small but established production of bags and about 15 retailers in Sweden, but the business was still run in Anton’s time off from work. in order to save in on shipping costs, an- ton often delivered the bags to the retailers himself, with his scooter, but the new deliveries from the manufacturers were filling up his basement. at the same time, Anton’s younger brother Daniel and his childhood friend Sebastian had built up their pop culture magazine People from a small fanzine to one of Sweden’s biggest free magazines.
They had an office downtown and a wide network of con- tacts in fashion and the media. in order to make things run smoother, Sandqvist’s stock of bags was moved to a storage room at the People office, and Anton changed his schedule at the electronics company, working shorter hours with a lower salary, spending more time at his desk in the storage room. Daniel and Sebastian were offered an ownership stake in the company in exchange for carrying boxes, arranging photo shoots and writing press releases. but most important, the three new colleagues now designates a new direction for the company. Sandqvists design development had been relatively modest—the main focus was still tarpaulin bags which were mostly sold to design stores. at this stage, a brand new collection aimed at men’s fashion retailers was developed. in the cramped storage room of the People office, Anton drew a new bag model, Arne, which became hugely successful.
Arne and the rest of the 2007 collection were designed in artificial leather, for that authentic seventies feel and in order to keep the prices down. The manufacturing process was moved to china, and Arne was accompanied by rune, Meryl and dustin, bags that were produced in thousands of copies. Thanks to the new collection, the bags started to show up in fashion magazines. The three founders were now getting to know and understand the principles of the fashion business. for the first time they participated in the Copenhagen International Fashion Fair, where important contacts were established and the first international orders were made.
Aiming for the next level, a complementary range in real leather was soon launched, and in 2009 the first Sandqvist backpack saw the light of day.
Anton had read a book about the Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen’s journey through the northwest Passage, which had inspired him deeply. Consequently, he created a backpack in durable canvas with straps in vegetable-tanned leather, which carries the legend’s name.
The search for highly skilled leather suppliers led to two factories in india with a long tradition of tanning and sewing leather. one of them was started as a Swedish government aid project with the aim of creating jobs. All of the factory’s machinery comes from a closed down Swedish factory, and its employee gender mix is balanced. Noor and Anjum, a devout muslim couple in their thirties with two young children, own and run the factory. Most of the communication is done through Skype, sometimes from Sandqvist’s snow-covered log cabin in the woods, a distinct contrast to the heat of the Indian plains.
In 2010, Sandqvist continued to grow. In the daytime: more retailers, the first sales agents outside of Sweden, a larger collection, an online store, invoicing, and delivery control. In the nighttime: drawing bags. That summer, Anton made a big decision—to leave behind the security of his part-time job with a fixed monthly salary. his wife Anna persuaded him to challenge his concerns about not being able to pay the rent and support their two children. Sandqvist was ready for its first full-time employee.
In november 2010, Anton finally got his own office and had over 60 bag models in his collection, enjoying life at its fullest. When People magazine was put on ice, Daniel also became a full-time employee and later Sebastian was hired by Sandqvist as well. The Swedish fashion magazines Café and King each awarded the company a design prize—and soon enough they had their own store premises in a basement with an entrance door to one of Stockholm’s busiest streets. Exactly one year later, Sandqvist’s second store opened, in Gothenburg.
Anton’s hobby activity in a suburb basement had now grown into a company with seven full-time employees, and one retailer had become 350 — of which 300 abroad. And most important: Sandqvist was becoming a buzzword among design-conscious customers around the world.
Anton rides his bike through the dark of December, along a row of bare trees, and picks up his second son at kindergarten on his way home. Ideas and thoughts stir in his mind. Sandqvist’s first local manufacturing facility is about to start up. The website is being rebuilt. Two new employees will soon be hired. The sample collection for the fall of 2013, in total over 700 products which will be delivered to eight sales agents all over the world, has to arrive on time. but just a moment later, all thoughts of work vanish, as the first flakes of snow start to fall. »If there’s a heavy snowfall next week, I’ll take the day off and do an overnight tour in the natural reserve of Tyresta and try out our new big backpack,« Anton thinks. »After all, it’s pretty nice to have your own company and be able to do whatever you like.«