Elísabet Elfa has always loved being outdoors. It’s where she gets her energy from; it’s where she feels most free. When she was just a child she’d head off into the outdoors in big hand-me-down jackets and trousers and explore. But most outdoor clothes back then were really boxy and bulky. Not at all feminine. So Elísabet Elfa took matters into her own hands.
“I would cut stuff up and tailor things to make them more feminine. One year I even made fleece jackets for my friends.”
Despite focusing her studies on natural sciences at school in Iceland, during a year out before university Elísabet Elfa chose to follow her heart into design school.
“I took a year off to pursue more creative things and I realised that design was closer to my heart than science. And there was no going back after that. Today I feel like I get paid to do my hobby.”
Elísabet Elfa signed up for design school and this lead to an internship and then a job. And here she is, just a few years later working as a designer at Fjällräven. And it’s a job she loves. She loves seeing her sketches and creations become real products that we all love to wear.
“I love the first part, the creation; finding solutions. But it’s also the most torturing. You present something to your colleagues and they see just one sketch. They don’t see that waste paper basket full of sketches that went before it. It takes lots of tries before you can present something you truly believe in. It’s frustrating. But the end result is super rewarding.”
But the design process starts long before any sketches take form.
A brief comes through to the design team from the management team. It details what collections the designers should focus on and what kind of products they should add to the line. The designers have a bit of wiggle room of course. They come with their own input and say what they’d like to add or take away. It’s a collaborative process.
“They decide maybe 80% or so and then we bounce back on whether it’s relevant or not,” says Elísabet Elfa.
After the concept comes research, lots of it. Elísabet Elfa and the other designers head out into the field. They talk to people wearing Fjällräven products. They see how they currently use them. They brainstorm ways of improving them and look for gaps in our product range.
“Sometimes people use our products in ways we hadn’t expected. And this gives us ideas to work from.”
All the while they need to think about sustainability and creating durable, long-lasting products both in terms of fabric and style. And they also have to think about moving the Fjällräven brand forward, so it stands out from the competition.
Once the designers are filled with ideas and inspiration they start sketching and consult constantly with Johan Skullman, our technical expert, and our product development team to discuss materials and functions.
“Will this work? Can we do that? We discuss as a team. We decide if something is relevant or not or if we should highlight something more than we have. We look at whether the material is right for the product. As a designer, you get to argue for your product and its future. There’s a lot of discussion. Even though one designer does one project, you’re never alone. We work as a team to make sure every product is the best it can be.”
Once the design is approved the pattern and product development team get more involved. The whole team, designers included, prototype together. The development team coordinates and communicates with suppliers while the pattern team gets down to cutting out a pattern and testing fits.
The materials are also tested for durability, sustainability and chemicals. We have pretty strict requirements in these areas, so this stage is really important. After this comes colour checking. The supplier makes the colours our designers asked for and then we have feedback rounds to ensure they look exactly as our designers had planned.
The process ends with a final round of feedback and maybe even the odd visit to a supplier particularly with first and second prototypes. But when everyone is satisfied the product goes into production.
There is usually some final field-testing at this point with our team of product testers. They view the products from a practical perspective and, importantly, without a Fjällräven bias. This is our last opportunity for fine-tuning and small tweaks.
“It’s a long process and I’ve learned that you can’t be 100% satisfied from the beginning,” says Elísabet Elfa.
“I’m learning to give myself room for a product to grow. I don’t need to have a great idea from the beginning. It’s like making a big puzzle. We work as a team and all the pieces come together in the end.”
So does Elísabet Elfa have any advice for young designers out there, looking to break into the outdoor industry?
“Be active and pursue your hobbies. Do the kind of activities you want to design products for. This will help you understand them better. And do lots of sports to get a good range of knowledge. I think it’s better to be pretty good at a lot of sports than exceptional at just one. And then get out in the marketplace. Make sure you’re seen and heard. Apply for internships and try to meet face to face. This job is about creativity and passion. People want to see your love for what you do. If you truly love it, you’ll go far.”