It’s a tough job, but someone’s got to do it. Expanding Classic out of Scandinavia and across the globe is no easy task. But, says Carl Hård af Segerstad, Fjällräven Event Manager, it’s also a lot of fun.
Classic started in 2005. Back then Fjällräven wasn’t the global brand it is today. In fact, outside of Sweden it was hardly known at all. So the focus of the first Classic was to inspire more Swedes to experience Swedish nature. And up north, in Lapland, where Classic Sweden takes places, it’s truly wild. It’s pure escapism.
“The Swedish mountains are really special. Even without climbing very high you can see for miles. That’s really rare. Usually other mountains block your view. But being in the Swedish mountains is like being on the ocean. You can see all the way to the horizon,” says Carl.
There were just 152 finishes of the first Classic and all of them were Swedish. 10 years later there were 2,136 finishes from a whole host of different countries.
By 2010, the event team at Fjällräven was already thinking about what they could do next. What they could do to inspire more people to experience nature. First they re-launched Fjällräven Polar – a journey of a lifetime driving dogsleds for 300km over Arctic tundra. Then they looked at Classic. Could the event be improved in any way? Should it be expanded? In the end they decided to try the concept in a new country: Denmark.
“Expanding Classic was a natural evolution. We were using Classic to inspire more people to experience nature. But we knew the difficulties of travelling all the way to the north of Sweden were preventing some people from joining us. So we looked for somewhere that offered easier access, but where the Classic concept could live on.”
Now anyone that’s been to, or even just flown over, Denmark will know that it’s pretty flat. And you’re never more than a few kilometres from some form of civilisation. Free camping isn’t possible either. So why Denmark? Isn’t the vast, epic free-camping landscape found in northern Sweden part and parcel of the Classic concept?
“I think we needed a contrast to the Swedish mountains,” says Carl. “The reasoning behind Classic always has been and always will be the same: to inspire people to get outdoors. But Classic for us isn’t all about mountains and dramatic scenery. Classic Denmark’s focus is on easy access, social interaction and a friendly, welcoming and laidback atmosphere. It’s not that it’s an easy walk – it’s still 75km – but Classic Denmark really brings people together. It’s really special in that sense. And it’s thanks largely to the passion of our Danish team.”
It’s this idea that anyone should be able to try trekking – anyone should be able to put on a backpack, lace up some walking boots and get out and explore whatever nature is on their doorstep – that makes Classic what it is.
“There are other trekking events out there, but what’s specific with Classic, I think, is the non-competitive aspect. People come together to do an outdoor activity without worrying about comparisons or hunting down personal bests.”
That and the community spirit. Most people register in small groups, of two to six. But then when they start walking they often walk as bigger groups or break off into splinter groups with new people.
“Everyone has the same goal but there is no pretence or prestige. It’s all just about having fun and enjoying life on the trail.”
And the figures show just how popular the Danish Classic has become. In 2013, the year of the first Classic Denmark, there were just a couple of hundred participants, mainly Danes and a few Swedes. But last year, 2016, there were 600 participants – a 300% increase in three years – with people coming from 16 different countries, plenty of them outside of Europe.
“In Denmark we weren’t sure what affect the more relaxed and in no-way-remote setting would have on numbers. But the event has grown beyond all expectations in its three short years. This is proof, I think, that the concept works. Even though this is something you can do pretty much any day of the week yourself without paying anything, the fact that someone has sorted out the logistics, the food and camping, even a party at the finish, is something people really appreciate.”
And it keeps them coming back. The number of returning ‘Classicers’ in 2016 in Sweden was 389. And two of them returned for their tenth time.
So the team felt that if the concept can be expanded to Denmark, it could be expanded to other countries too, even those outside of Scandinavia. The US had been on the team’s radar for a while, not least because of the spectacular trekking. It’s also a key growth market for Fjällräven. But we noticed that although our presence in the US is growing, few Americans make the trip across the pond to join us for Classic. So we decided to go there instead.
“The goal with Classic USA is actually to get more Americans out exploring and trekking in their own nature. Of course we want everyone that wants to join to feel included, but we really want to show American’s how great the Classic concept of trekking can be.”
Hong Kong, though, may seem like an incongruous choice. But for anyone that’s ever trekked there before, it shouldn’t seem like such a reach. Yes, Hong Kong is best known for its buzzing city complete with shiny glass skyscrapers, night markets and seemingly never-sleeping harbour. But nature, mostly in the form of nature reserves, makes up about 75% of Hong Kong.
Furthermore, we’re growing in Asia. Thanks to Kånken more and more people in Asia know who we are and what we stand for. People from Thailand, Taiwan and South Korea are some of the biggest growth groups at Fjällräven Classic Sweden. And although we love having people from all over the world coming to visit us, we’d quite like to offer them spectacular trekking right on their doorstep (it’s also a nice excuse for us to go trekking somewhere new, too).
But expanding into two new markets, where we’re no longer the local experts has had its fair share of ups and downs. We know the Classic concept works. And over the years we’ve accumulated a whole load of trekking knowledge, both from working with experts and from personal experience. But trekking in Colorado and Hong Kong, well let’s just say we’re novices. So we sought the help of experts: our local teams.
“Expanding Classic to the US and Asia has been really interesting actually. It’s great to work with people from different cultures and to get to know how things work. But working with people in different time zones is tricky. There are a lot of early mornings with Asia and late nights with the US. And you always have to be humble – they are the locals and they have better local knowledge and expertise. But we have to balance this with the core values, concepts and beliefs of Fjällräven and, more specifically, Classic. And that’s not always easy.”
The Classic process begins in close co-operation with our local sales and marketing representatives where the event is going to be established. Then together we find an event partner that can handle and drive the operation hands-on. Then we bring them to Sweden and Denmark and show them the existing events so they get a good feeling for what Fjällräven Classic is and what it’s supposed to achieve. Next we find the right locations, set the route and get the necessary permits. It’s Fjällräven International’s job to also build up the website, create graphic material and produce common assets like the medals. This is to ensure the Classic concept is maintained globally and all Classic participants can feel they’re part of the greater Classic family. It’s a lot of work. And it’s taken a good few years to get all the details ironed out.
But for Carl it’s all worth it. He loves inspiring others to get out and spend more time outdoors. “This is my personal mission and to do this as my job and to do it all over the world is just fantastic. I believe it’s really important to experience nature. Because you can’t care for and protect something you’ve never experienced and right now, I feel, we need to take better care of our planet. Plus, I get to test all the routes – and that’s really the best part. To be outside in nature in inspiring locations all over the world.”
Some people might think he has one of the best jobs in the world. And Carl’s passion for getting out and exploring nature by his own means is truly infectious. It totally sums up the spirit of Classic. For us, Classic has always been about inspiration and empowerment. For people, regardless of experience, to get out and trek. To carry what they need on their backs. To live simply. To meet likeminded people and to enjoy and marvel at nature. We hope to see you on the Classic trail.