Fall 2004. Anton Sandqvist, a civil engineer with a successful career at an international electronics company and a house outside of Stockholm, contemplated his current situation. His job was interesting and well paid with lots of time for traveling, yet he felt unsettled. Something was missing from his life. He wanted to challenge his imagination and create something significant from the ground up. The strict world of suits didn’t feel like home to him, and he dreamed of a job where he could be himself. So on a whim, Anton bought an industrial sewing machine on the internet. Partly to take up some room in his basement, and partly to see what would come of it.
One night he decided to try his skills at making a bag. The design of the Swiss brand Freitag’s messenger bags appealed to him, but he wanted a bag that could hold a laptop, since he was carrying one around all day for work. The style of the bag had to be robust and casual. Neat enough for work without being too formal. Almost 30 hours of work later, that first bag was finished.
People immediately started asking Anton where he had bought it, and when the fourth person asked the same thing, the idea shook him like an electric current: he could manufacture and sell this type of bag—functional, well-designed and not too expensive.
A few days later Anton found himself (and his new bag) in front of Grandpa, a fashion boutique in Stockholm. He gathered his composure and nerve, then went inside. 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 a good deal of persuasion later, the company agreed to take his order. Several weeks later, a pallet of material was delivered to Anton’s living room, transforming it into a temporary storage area before he sent everything off to Estonia for sewing.
One month later, Anton's basement was filled with 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 during Anton’s time off from his day job. In order to save on shipping costs, he often delivered the bags to the retailers himself on his scooter, but it was getting harder to stay on top of the orders. Deliveries from the manufacturers were filling up his basement. Meanwhile, 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.
People had an office downtown and a wide network of contacts in fashion and the media. In order to make things run more smoothly, Sandqvist’s stock 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, and 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 importantly, the three new partners designated a new direction for the company. Sandqvist's 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 an authentic seventies feel and 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 by the thousands. 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 continued to seek inspiration from his life experiences. He read a book about famed 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 continued 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 came from a defunct 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. By day: more retailers, the first sales agents outside of Sweden, a larger collection, an online store, invoicing, and delivery control. And by night: 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 not to be constrained by worries about paying the rent and supporting their two children. Sandqvist was now ready for its first full-time employee.
By November 2010, Anton finally got his own office and had over 60 bag models in his collection. He was enjoying life to its fullest. When People magazine was put on ice, Daniel also became a full-time employee and, later, Sebastian was hired as well. The Swedish fashion magazines Café and King each awarded the company a design prize—and soon enough Sandqvist had its own retail location in a basement with an entrance opening onto one of Stockholm’s busiest streets. Exactly one year later, Sandqvist’s second store opened in Gothenburg.
Anton’s hobby, born in a suburban basement, had now grown into a company with seven full-time employees. And that one initial retailer had become 350 — 300 of which were abroad. And most importantly: 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 younger son at kindergarten on his way home. "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."