Long before terms like focus groups and communities entered the modern vocabulary, Åke Nordin, the founder of Fjällräven, was asking for feedback from Swedish skiers, anglers, hunters, mountaineers and hikers.
As interest grew in the products supplied by the fledgling postal order company Fjällräven, Åke Nordin found himself increasingly struggling for time to test his growing catalogue in field conditions. Despite Åke’s affinity for sleeping outside on the balcony in winter to check the insulation qualities of his sleeping bags, a three-week summer holiday wasn’t enough time for all his other testing. He needed help. As always, he sought out the top experts in each area in question. And who could be more expert about Fjällräven’s products than the company’s own customers? In an advertisement in his 1973 mail-order catalogue, Åke wrote: “When I was a lad, there were no external backpack frames or synthetic lightweight tents.
The backpack I took on my mountain hikes was one I made myself. The Sami herdsmen and other people I met liked the look of it and asked me to make similar ones for them. The same thing happened with my lightweight tent. We didn’t know much back then about the new synthetic fabrics, so it was a matter of trial and error. As you can imagine, there were many leaky nights and damp mornings. Every year since then I’ve continued making mistakes. But in each and every case I’ve learnt something new.”
Bronze, silver or gold?
Åke remembered his father’s words about hon- esty and transparency as he wrote his advert. He was open not only about the fact that his products had shortcomings, but also confessed that his new tents and backpacks were the result of repeated mistakes. Instead of trying to convince consumers how amazing Fjällräven was, he sought their help to make the company better. “Nowadays my job is largely about gathering and listening to other people’s opinions. The feedback that you share with me is my greatest asset as an equipment manufacturer. So please keep on helping!” Åke offered customers Fjällräven club member- ship in return for their input. Everyone who offered useful insights on Fjällräven products received a Bronze Arctic Fox badge.
Experienced mountain hikers who provided useful suggestions for future products received a Silver Arctic Fox (recipients were asked to pay the 15 kronor cost of the badge themselves.) The lucky few who qualified for a Gold Arctic Fox were entitled to free samples of new Fjällräven products for the rest of their lives. But Fjällräven club membership wasn’t easy to come by.
Gold Arctic Foxes had to demonstrate that they had completed multiple demanding expeditions over a prolonged period of time, contributing repeated input to the development and improvement of “lightweight mountain and expeditionary equipment”.
Well before focus groups
Per-Åke Sjöman, the Greenland expedition leader, was the first to be awarded a Golden Arctic Fox. The police constable from Stockholm had spent over 200 nights in snow bivouacs, 50 alone on the Greenland expedition. He was a natural choice.
As the years passed, the exclusive club was joined by the Finnish globetrotter, writer and adventurer Christer Boucht, who had crossed Greenland on skis and completed several expe- ditions in the Canadian Arctic. Another was Tore Abrahamsson, a writer, photographer and mountain cabin architect who had devoted his life to exploring the Swedish mountains. Abrahamsson had also put Fjällräven equipment to the test in the Himalayas, on Mexican volcanoes and on three ascents of Kilimanjaro (see his photos on previous page and to the right). Accompanying him on some of these expeditions was his wife, Maj, who was made a Silver Arctic Fox. Further gold club members included Åke Nordin’s old friend Gillis Billing, a materials expert, survival expert and avid mountain climber, and Lars Fält, a former parachute regiment officer and founder of the Swedish Army’s survival school. People who had claimed the wilds of Sweden as their own.
Fjällräven has always stood for helping people to enjoy better outdoor experiences, soliciting feedback from people who really know their stuff.
They and other gold club members received regular invitations to Fjällräven factories to see the production process in action. Their ideas lie at the heart of many Fjällräven products. Meanwhile, the suggestions for improvements continued to arrive from all over Sweden. Well before terms like focus groups and community entered the modern vocabulary, Åke was courting the ideas of Swedish skiers, anglers, hunters, mountaineers and hikers with his mix of openness and modesty.
Feedback is golden
More recently, the gold club has been joined by outdoorsmen Professor Anders Angerbjörn and Anders Tysk. No one in Sweden knows more about Arctic foxes than Anders Angerbjörn. A dedicated student of the species since 1985, he has observed how feeding stations and other measures can help the animals bounce back from the brink of extinction. As part of his job, Angerbjörn has spent countless nights under canvas in the Arctic. All Gold Arctic Foxes are passionate outdoor enthusiasts who have in different ways contrib- uted input and advice to help enhance Fjällräven’s products. As Åke Nordin said long ago, the company’s products are not the work of any single individual but the result of a team effort. The brand has always stood for helping people to enjoy better outdoor experiences, soliciting feedback from people who really know their stuff. People who spend long hours in the natural environment and who share a motivation to see if they can make what’s good even better.