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Introducing Swims: An Interview With Alex Eskeland

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The Norwegian brand Swims has recently been grabbing our attention, due to the innovative product range they offer alongside the original concept of the brand. With the brand collaborating with John Lobb in 2009, and after a special collaboration with Armani in 2012, the brand is going from strength and strength as they continue to develop their product range. Stocked online at Mr Porter, Farfetch and even Selfridges, we wanted to dive deeper into the brand.

Therefore, we sat down with CEO Alex Eskeland to talk all things Swims.

swims 1

Explain the original concept behind the brand…

It’s actually a funny story, because our founder comes from a very traditional Norwegian family and his Grandad was a big businessman who dressed very conservatively in formal attire, but he always wore Galoshes. So Johan (the founder) obviously thought this was a pretty funky thing so he took his Grandad’s Galoshes with him when he moved to Paris to attend the Parisian School of Design. That almost then became his signature, to always wear his Grandad’s Galoshes on top of his converse.

swims 2

Then when he finished college, he just felt that there was an opportunity because this product is just too brilliant to just go away… because at that point it was something that was associated with just the older generation. But believe it or not, 50 years ago a galosh was a real style staple and everybody would have one. So Johan modernized the design of it, he threw in some funky strong colours, beautiful packaging and then we sort of moved into top end distribution because traditionally they were always something that was sold in shoe parlors and cobblers, but we went to Pitti Uomo and people actually understood it.

classic royal navyclassic camo green

Who’s your core customer?

We’ve found out that our core customer is of course someone who cares about his shoes, and many of them would be wearing suits for work. They tend to be bankers, lawyers, real estate guys… which is a pretty attractive clientele. Because of this, we tried to analyse and think what else do these guys wear when they wear our Galoshes, so what else could we build around the Galosh which will simplify their daily life and take part in it… so then the galosh became an umbrella, which then became a car coat etc.… and we turned this into a really nice business.

The only problem is we only had business 6 months of each year; we wouldn’t have any sales in the summer. So then our design philosophy developed into taking classic silhouettes and classic products and interpreting them in our way… using modern production technology, modern materials and the whole mission was to add some kind of function over what the original style didn’t have.  So then we jumped into one of the most classic products for men, which is the loafer, and by using rubber and nylon and high tech materials we could make a shoe with a completely different set of functionalities than the originals. But it still has a very safe look.

Would you say you put more emphasis on function or fashion when developing shoes?

I think there’s an equal balance. I think form has to follow function in a way, and what Scandinavia is famous for is very minimalistic but functional design. I don’t think there’s any point in putting something out there when it doesn’t have a function. So that’s also in our DNA, and I think we have been able to add in some Italian flair too with our products because a lot of other Scandinavian brands will be using colours such as black, white, and grey but we sort of wanted to make it more of a playful thing which is less pretentious.

So you’ve now developed outerwear, what else are you working on to expand the brand?

We look at our target client as almost having two universes. Most of us unfortunately have to work every day, and most jobs are in the big cities, so in the big city environment the Galosh is almost like the centre of the swims universe and then we have expanded that into umbrellas, car coats, apparel, some less formal shoes for weekends etc. Then we all work hard, and what motivates us is the amazing memories we have from holidays, occasions, easy summer living, so in that universe the loafer is very central and then from there it would be natural to obviously expand in to swimwear too.

So is the loafer the best seller?

For summer yes. By far.

penny loafer navywave loafer burgundy

What made you branch out into Apparel?

Outside of Scandinavia we have been mostly successful with footwear, but it’s because we understood it would take some time to perfect technical apparel. It’s something that takes time to develop and we’re still a young country (established in 2005). So by taking our time to develop the apparel side of the business, which is half of our business in Scandinavia, we now we think it’s good enough to expand it and show the rest of the world. It’s all about timing for us, I think we just needed to develop some momentum on the loafer and the galosh to get our brand out there and get some press, and then it was time to launch the apparel and the feedback has really been amazing.

You mentioned about launching swimwear too?

Yes, this is brand new. The focus is again on quality, because we would never produce anything if we didn’t think we could make a nice collection.

It’s important to note too that the loafer and our shoes almost shouldn’t be labeled as shoes. They’re almost like a gadget, and a lot of retailers label them as accessories rather than shoes. I think we’re always going to be a niche brand and I think that’s why we’ve been successful because we have a very clear message so everything we have to make has to be a little bit quirky or just a little bit funky.

What about the AW14 range, what kind of footwear have you developed for this?

What we tried to do here was align and create a better flow between summer and winter. We’ve developed some classic shapes, replacing leather with a scotch guarded treated nylon to make it water resistant and rain proof. We also wanted to make our AW14 collection extremely light weight, because the boots and the hard wearing fabrics seem to be heavy, and we have to just give the consumer a reason to buy Swims… so we combined them with a trainer sole and because we’re from Norway we need a bit of grip so this is built in too.

charles gunsmokeGeorge_Penny_Loafer_Navy_White_1

For our winter loafers we wanted to create something a bit more rigid, and the inspiration comes much more from a New England type of loafer. So it’s more rugged, but it has all of the practical functions of a loafer… Such as being easy to slip on and off and being comfortable. Think about it, a lot of people now wear loafers because of the practicality. Anywhere you fly from in the US you’ll have to take your shoes off at security, so the loafer is easy to slip on and off. We don’t cross over the seasons too, so for the summer loafer we’ve made it so water can pass through the shoe easily and it can almost be used as an alternative to the flip-flop, but if we created this for our winter loafer it would be useless. So we made it more durable, and more perfect for winter.

slim 5

Our shoes are functional too, you can wear them with shorts in the day and you can dress them up and wear them at dinner too.

What about the bags within your collection?

With bags they’re either very classic like a Longchamp or very sporty like Northface, but them sporty bags almost look like you’re going scuba diving. So our philosophy was ‘why cant you create a classic looking bag but with all the functionality of the very sporty bags.’ We do a 24-hour bag, which is the smaller size, and then a 48-hour bag, which is the bigger option.

weekend brown bagornage weekend bag

Can you tell us a little bit more about the concept for your AW14 outerwear?

So our outerwear is again very technical, it’s pretty much as technical as Northface jackets and they’re hard to compete with. Again, they’re stylish coats though, and we base it around classic styles. We use the thinnest prima loft insulation (prima loft is a very high tech fabric developed by NASA) and we have various compartments within our outerwear. We pay a lot of attention to detailing within the inside of the coats (such as a section for headphone wires, various compartments which are hidden etc.) because this is what guys really want.

SWIMS_Continental_Mac_Black_005 SWIMS_New_York_Coat_Khaki_001

We always stress the importance of good footwear, but how important do you think it is to wear good shoes?

Very important, I think it really defines a gentleman. If you have your footwear in order it really shows.

Anything else you’d like to add? What’s in the pipeline?

I think as a brand we need to continue to be innovative, and sort of keep playfulness within the brand. We need to continue to have fun, and develop the relationships with our key customers and key accounts. I don’t think we’re in a hurry, we just need to let the brand develop naturally. We don’t want to be about having something for everyone, with a full range of products. We want to stay niche.

We would obviously like to take as much part in our customers daily lives, if we can protect there shoes, keep them dry or just make them look good that really is our aim. We’ll continue to experiment with our outerwear range and our range as a whole, but it needs to have a purpose. We’re not going to create a cashmere blazer because that’s not who we are, but we will always continue to experiment with the latest and most innovative fabrics and production methods and I think it’s hard to say what that will turn into.

We’d just like to say a massive thanks to Alex for taking the time out. To shop the full collection, click here.

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Paul McGregor
Paul McGregor

Founder of MFM, and short course lecturer at The London College of Fashion teaching all things marketing. Read my personal blog here.

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