To tell this story properly we need to go back to the beginning. It was in 1970 that Fjällräven released its first pair of trousers. Greenland Trousers were made entirely from G-1000, at that point a relatively new material, being launched just two years earlier. The cut was loose, what we might now call “relaxed”. There were pockets on the hips and legs and a draw-cord around the ankles. They came in three colours: “sand”, “dark blue” and “moss green”. They were simple. The cut was nothing special. But they lasted and lasted. They were comfortable. The pockets came in really handy. These were qualities that people came to associate with Fjällräven trousers: functional and durable. And, over the years, they proved to be timeless, largely because Fjällräven founder, Åke Nordin, didn’t design for fashion or to follow the latest trends. He designed mainly for himself. And seeing as he was like many other people that spent a lot of time outdoors hiking, climbing and camping, his products became popular. They were useful, above all else.
“Fashion doesn’t interest me,” he said. “I’ve always done things because I need them myself. I’m not an exceptional type. I’m an ordinary person. And that means when I make things for myself, they meet many other people’s needs, too.”
Our design process works in a similar way today. True, it’s no longer one man’s vision. But we still start with a need or a challenge and work out from there.
These days it’s more of a team effort. Input and ideas come from a variety of different places. They could arise from customer feedback via social media; a request from the sales team, seeing a gap in the market. Sometimes an individual designer wants to try something a little special – a good example of this are our Abisko Trekking Tights.
But when an idea takes hold and the whole team is onboard, it quickly takes root.
“Once we’ve got an idea, I start to sketch,” explains product designer, Sarah Isaksson. “I get inspiration from many different places. I look at what’s out there; at what the competition is doing. I discuss ideas with the pattern makers and product developers. We talk about what exactly is a Fjällräven pair of trousers, because we don’t just want to copy what everyone else is doing. Even if we see a new technique or something that inspires us, we still need to ask ourselves if it’s compatible with Fjällräven. Could we have a pair of trousers using this technique or material? Or is it too far from who we are?”
“And we don’t have to start from zero,” adds pattern maker, Helena Waclaw. “We have a lot of trousers. We start by looking at our range and asking ourselves if we can modernise a style, or combine solutions from a few different styles to make a new one.”
We’re really lucky in this respect. We don’t need to reinvent the wheel each time. We have nearly 50 years of trouser-making experience to draw from. Over the years there have been styles, materials, features and techniques that have come and gone. We’ve made plenty of mistakes. But we learn from them. Of course, we will make many more mistakes. We’re on a journey towards perfection. We don’t think we’ll ever have the perfect pair of trousers. Because we always feel there is room for improvement. But we hope we’re edging closer and closer with each new update and development.
Once the designer’s sketches are finalised, they go over to the product development and pattern teams. The designers run through their ideas, questions are posed and answered. Changes are made. Prototypes start to emerge. First, these could be mock-ups created at our global head office in Stockholm, made using material stock we have here. These mock-ups are mostly to test fit and functions. The buyers start discussions with suppliers about materials, production techniques and prices. “It’s a negotiation. You need to find the right material, the right people to work with and they really have to be experts at what they do.” Shufei Wang, a product developer and buyer at Fjällräven usually sends requests to a selection of suppliers and producers. He needs to benchmark both material results and manufacturing techniques to ensure he gets the best product at the best price. “We start wide then narrow it down. We decide on one option that meets our standards and go forward with that one.”
Once the first prototypes start arriving in the office they go through an intense period of testing. They’ve already passed lab tests with flying colours. But now is the time for field testing. Does that seam rub? Is that pocket necessary? Is there something missing? What about the leg endings – do they work, or do they need improvement? Outdoor expert, Johan Skullman, is responsible for our field test team, a group of men and women that spends many hours out in nature each month. They provide written feedback about a whole range of aspects, covering both form and function. Then of course there’s us, the people that work in the Stockholm office. We get to test products and we’re used as a complement to the official size models too. Our pattern makers try to accommodate for as many body shapes as reasonably possible. And we’re a mixed bunch here in the office.
“We stick to standardised sizing just like H&M or Nike,” says Helena. “We have perhaps 1-2cm of variation, but not more. However we use 38 as our sample size – other brands use a 36. And we look for balanced and proportioned bodies – we don’t want anyone really big or really small. Having said that, as a pattern maker I prefer to have a model that’s a little bit bigger rather than smaller, as it’s easier to see the mistakes when it’s tight, rather than when it’s loose.”
After fittings and field testing, more feedback rounds and amendments, decisions are taken. Products go into production. You start buying and using them. But product development doesn’t end there. We listen to our customers. You are our best product testers and together we can make better products.
“The test team gets the opportunity to test products over a few months. So they can find basic functional faults or issues. But if you want to test ‘wear and tear’, that we can only learn after years of use and for that we need the help of our customers,” says Shufei. “We use this feedback to continually work on our trousers and improve them.”
This feedback – both positive and negative – comes from social media, in-store sales staff, our claims department and Fjällräven employees around the world. It is incredibly valuable and something Fjällräven has nurtured from an early stage. Already in the 1970s, Åke Nordin, was asking his customers to test and give feedback and suggestions on his newly developed products.
“The Keb Trousers are a good example,” says Sarah. “After we launched the first version we got a lot of feedback from customers and via our claims department. Then we upgraded and improved them, fixing several issues. And now we’re working on making even more updates to further improve them for spring/summer 2019. Just because they’re launched doesn’t mean we can’t still make changes. They’re not done forever. There’s always a way to improve and make them even better.”
We hope you agree that our trousers are pretty good as they are. But how does the team manage to make a pair of our Keb Trousers, for example, look good on everyone?
“There just a well-made pair of trousers,” says Helena and laughs. But that’s the truth of it. Around 18 months of development goes into a new pair of Fjällräven trousers and with models like Keb, that have been around in one iteration or another since 2010, it’s closer to a decade worth of small improvements.
“It’s a team effort,” says Sarah. “Both as a team here at Fjällräven, but also as a larger team together with our suppliers. It’s a real collaboration. Together we are better.”
“The suppliers have so much expertise to share. They are experts at what they do, and they can guide us into finding better solutions,” says Helena.
And our design team is being modest. They, too, are experts at what they do. Without those initial sketches, without fitting after fitting, without seemingly endless negotiations on price and quality, without hours in the field in all manner of weather, there wouldn’t be a single pair of Fjällräven trousers. There are more than 70 parts to a pair of Keb Trousers and they need to come together with a good fit, a functional design and hardwearing materials to be called a Fjällräven pair of trousers. But you can be sure that all 70-plus pieces have been thought-through individually and as a whole, to ensure you get the best pair of trousers for your needs. They might not be perfect, but they’re pretty close.
Text: Sarah Benton