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A Conversation With... Albin Johansson and Max Svärdh at Axel Arigato

Nov 03 2019

Minimalist streetwear with global spirit.


From humble beginnings in western Sweden to boasting an enviable portfolio of coveted international stockists and becoming the proud owner of a destination flagship store in London's Soho, Axel Arigato's stratospheric rise to the forefront of international streetwear and sneaker culture has been predicated on two founding principles: a clear-cut concept and straight-up hard work.

To mark the arrival of Axel Arigato's SS18 collection - an important milestone as the brand diversifies their output to deliver a broader range including minimalist sneakers, accessories, and apparel - END. sat down with Managing Director Albin Johansson and Creative Director Max Svärdh.

Covering everything from their roots in Gothenburg to their take on the current sneaker industry, END. gets up to speed with the minds behind one of streetwear's hottest new Scandinavian exports.

END.: Let's start from the beginning - how did you meet?

Albin: We met through common friends. Gothenburg is not a particularly large town, so if you have similar interests and patterns you will most likely end up knowing each other sooner or later.

END.: How did you know you shared the right creative energy to launch a brand?

Albin: Even though our skill sets might be very different, we are quite similar in how we think and act. Both of us tend to make quick decisions and we're not huge fans of meetings and long discussions. We made things happen really quickly and that gave us both confidence in the working relationship at a very early stage.

Max: We've also always had the same vision for the brand which has been important.

END.: What was the initial vision for Axel Arigato, and how true to that vision have you stayed as the brand has grown?

Max: Our vision has always been to offer something contemporary and to be a platform for new ideas and concepts. That means we've had to make sure we don't put the brand in a certain box, but strive for constant change and newness. The key is to work with people that understand the vision and the pillars of the brand to be able to maintain the same energy around the brand at all times.

Albin: As Max said, the key for us has always been change and the idea of Axel Arigato started with us questioning the whole structure of the sneaker business. We felt that existing fashion brands weren’t changing at the same speed as consumers. When launching the brand, we wanted to make something different which led to working with the concept of “Drop of the Week” so that demand for new designs can be fulfilled more quickly and efficiently. In a world that is changing faster and faster every day, it's important to create a culture that enhances this. It’s more important now than ever to know your audience and respond quickly to change, otherwise why be in business? If we're not matching the speed of the consumers then we're not working as a modern brand or according to modern culture.


END.: Axel Arigato has scaled quickly for an independent business in such a competitive market, what has been the best moment for each of you so far?

Max: The opening of our first ever flagship store in London. Going from something that only existed online and translating that into a physical space where we could showcase the real DNA of the brand and offer a tangible visual environment was just an amazing experience. I believe our customers have a deeper understanding of what Axel Arigato is all about now.

Albin: There have been so many moments to remember, but the most remarkable was probably 2-3 days after launching online. Realising we had sold to around 14 countries on three different continents gave us the confidence to continue with what we were doing.

END.: Growing up, what were the brands you were most inspired by and how do you think they have influenced what you’re doing at Axel Arigato?

Albin: I have always admired Nike and how they have stayed relevant for so long and to so many different groups. That’s influenced the way we work and has become one of the core values at Axel Arigato: if we make an amazing product, it will have its own following.

Max: I’m more inspired by the clothing industry in general, rather than specific brands. When I was 17 I started to import jeans and soon after that launched my own e-comm site. These things have shaped me for sure, and still inspire what I do today.


END.: Your London Flagship opened in September 2016 and was designed by Christian Hallerod. Tell us a bit about what it was like working with Christian and what you wanted the space to say about Axel Arigato?

Max: Opening our first flagship store made us rethink what a retail space can be and what we wanted it to offer. We wanted a space that is constantly changing and evolving. I really like the way galleries work - it’s an intentionally clean space with the sole purpose of letting the art stand out. Art galleries are also constantly changing up their content to remain relevant. For me this way of working made sense for the brand, since Axel Arigato is constantly changing and evolving. As a result, the whole store ended up being super minimalist - stripped down to its essence. The colour scheme complements our visual identity, which is very much muted and restrained. Working with Christian was a great experience. It's thrilling to work with someone so talented, and someone who is always ready to push design boundaries.

Albin: We see our store as a destination and it’s important to deliver in terms of experience. We don’t want our customers to come in, pick up a pair of sneakers and leave – we want to create a place you visit to chat, hang out, and shop. Somewhere you walk away from with a memorable experience.

END.: That sense of minimalism is central to the brand's DNA. What does minimalism mean to each of you?

Max: To me, minimalism is where you do something more with less. It's very much a philosophy. It’s an approach. It’s about how you look at things.

Albin: Minimalism provides some versatility and some functionality. It’s very democratic which is something that I think resonates well with our customers. It captures the spirit of our time very well.


END: Where do you look for inspiration?

Max: I look for inspiration in my everyday surroundings. I respond to what I see around me and I’m always inspired to create when I travel and see and meet different people. Things often start with art, music and culture and ends up as fashion.

END.: You cite music as a key point of reference, which artists have been on your radar for this season?

Max: Music is always a big source of inspiration and helps me get into the right mood to create. At the moment I’m into Rodriguez Jr, Future, and Majid Jordan. I tend to listen to a couple of songs on repeat for a few days and then never listen again.

Albin: I've just discovered Majid Jordan, believe it or not.

Axel Arigato is now available at END.