The sneaker industry is overcrowded with traditional sneaker brands, emerging brands, and now even luxury brands fighting for a slice of the pie. But, that did not stop Albin Johansson and Max Svärdh – the founders of the Swedish sneaker brand Axel Arigato – from wriggling their brainchild right into the center of the billion-dollar sneaker industry. So, how did Axel Arigato’s bird-embossed sneakers develop a cult following in just eight short years? How does a brand so young hold the power to disrupt the sneaker industry?
As the sneaker brand fixes itself on Level Shoes’ shelves, Savoir Flair sat down with Albin Johansson – one-half of the brilliant duo behind Axel Arigato – to discuss the brand’s success, its sustainability efforts, and what sets Level Shoes apart from other concept stores in the region.
How did the name Axel Arigato come about? Does it hold any special significance?
Back in 2013, when we started to work on it, there were a lot of designers putting their names on the brand, which we didn’t want to do. We wanted to play around with the concept in a (sort of) ironic way. And at that time we questioned quite a lot about the industry, consumer behavior, and trends. And ‘Arigato’ means ‘thank you’ in Japanese, but it also translates to ‘difficult to exist.’ So, it was a way for us to express something valuable because it was not easily found. And that was the foundation of the brand.
How does Axel Arigato fit into the current streetwear landscape? What sets it apart from other sneaker brands?
Streetwear has become quite mainstream today. First of all, it’s not only the traditional streetwear brands that are working with streetwear. Almost everybody today owns a pair of sneakers and a hoodie, which is also why so many brands are offering these products. What we like about streetwear is that it is always changing, always adopting new trends, not sticking to the old. That is something we embraced at Axel Arigato, because for us, what we do tomorrow is more important than what we did yesterday.
In regards to sneakers brands or streetwear brands, we have always been very consumer-friendly, we drive our values towards the customers. Apart from that, we have a ‘drop of the week’ concept where we launch a new product every week so there is always something that is happening. Even on social media, we try not to have a monologue, but a dialogue with our community where our followers are interacting and having conversations with their friends.
Where does sustainability fit in Axel Arigato’s business model?
It fits everywhere. Sustainability is something we all have to look into now to see how our environmental impacts can be reduced. Sustainability obviously begins with the sourcing of materials, but it so much beyond that. You need to take a closer look into your production, not only the environmental impact but also the working conditions of the staff and the logistics. Sustainability is a more holistic approach. That is one of the reasons why we based our production unit in Portugal. It was mainly the infrastructure around shoe production available there; you have everything from making shoe boxes, making laces, assembling the shoes, the transportation. Our sustainability efforts also encompass how we work in the office, our stores, what kind of energy do we consume. In fact, we are about to release our first sustainability report, which will help us better analyze our environmental impacts across the supply chain.
What according to you makes a sneaker truly sustainable?
Sustainability begins with the materials that go into your shoe, but it hardly ends there. If you’re hunting for a truly sustainable pair of sneakers you need to look into where and how the shoes are produced. Also, the quality of the shoe. If your sneakers are not made from good quality materials they automatically are the least sustainable as they won’t be durable. Another thing to keep in mind is to invest in a timeless, minimal style as opposed to trending pieces. It is important to understand whether the pair of sneakers has a long life or a second life.
What are the key pointers that shoppers should keep in mind when investing in sustainable sneakers?
Firstly, it is vital to ask yourself whether you really like the product and how often can you actually wear it. Purchasing a product because it’s heavily discounted or a certain color or trend is not a mindful approach. You also need to look into the materials used to make the sneakers and whether they have been produced ethically.
What sneaker trends do you believe will define 2021?
What we have observed is that comfort has been a key sales driver throughout the last year and continues to take precedence.
You are very selective about your distribution. What makes Level Shoes the ideal stockist for Axel Arigato? What according to you sets Level Shoes apart from other concept stores in the region?
Level Shoes is built on the same fundamental as us, which is shoes first. We also love how Level Shoes has adopted this mixed concept where they don’t only showcase luxury and high-priced products – that’s rare. It’s something we feel fits the consumers today as everything is not price-focused anymore. It’s a lot about the brand values, the product, the trend. Plus, Level Shoes has a customization corner, which very cool. Another thing we love about Level Shoes is how they are constantly adapting to change, coming up with new concepts. They truly have a unique approach to conceptualization and assortment of products. We believe Level shoes is a really unique store.