LONDON — Albin Johansson and Max Svärdh still consider Axel Arigato to be a small brand, despite its global success selling footwear in more than 150 markets.
More growth is on the agenda, and the ambitions are big: The brand is planning to launch sunglasses in June, do a collaboration with streetwear entrepreneur Anwar Carrots, and focus on women’s wear.
Axel Arigato has been ramping up expansion after a $7.5 million investment from specialist fund Vaultier7, which took a stake in 2018. At the time, Johansson said the money would be put toward consolidating the brand’s multichannel approach, strengthening online and wholesale, scaling internationally and building on the success of its London flagship in Soho, a “cultural hub” of music and art events, and collaborations with other emerging brands.
The collaboration with Carrots will launch on June 22 and the collection will consist of streetwear styles in vibrant green and orange colorways.
“We still consider Axel Arigato to be rather unknown, so we want to build our foundation and brand,” said Svärdh. “To be honest we don’t have a planning mind-set of two years ahead, it’s not really suitable.”
While the duo is busy working on new projects, the focus will remain on digital sales as well as the Objects product range, which launched in 2016 and is the brand’s way of flexing the founders’ interests and their knack for spotting trends.
“We produce items, but we also buy from the brands we stand behind that are doing interesting stuff. It could be anything from a basketball to a herb grinder, which we launched last year and it’s been one of our best-selling objects. It’s a perfect example of how we portray and communicate humor,” said Johansson.
That range also helps the founders stay connected to their customer and show off the brand’s unique voice, which they say is grounded in humor. “We’re constantly evolving and changing, and we need to be a voice among our customers, so humor is an important part of our communications,” said Johansson, who describes Axel Arigato as a digital-first brand.
While online sales have made up the majority of their business, the founders are focusing on wholesale — which is increasingly becoming a bigger part of their business — and on physical stores.
Their Soho flagship is also used as an events space, and Svärdh says they will often invite artists to use it to launch new songs. For them, it’s not just a store, but a way to immerse their customers in the brand and was inspired by modern-day art galleries. Unfortunately, the store is ceasing its operations until March 31st, due to coronavirus.
“We are following advice from WHO and local authorities, the safety of our customers, staff and general public will remain our main priority. Being a digitally native brand, we feel fortunate that online has been our biggest sales channel since Day One. We’re utilizing this period to reconnect with our customers and take a moment to assess how we work and continue to bring joy to our local community during these testing times,” the founders said.
While they are still talking about expanding their physical presence in France, Germany and the U.S. in 2021, the founders are investing right now in research and development and creating a more sustainable practice.
“Just a few weeks ago, we did a launch of our range of sustainable shoes, which are made from apple leather, and the polyester we use comes from recycled water bottles,” Johansson said, adding that, currently, all their flat sole shoes are made of 20 percent recycled rubber.
Leather is still a bestseller for the brand, but Axel Arigato is also looking to create more technical shoes. They will be launching a silhouette soon that merges a retro skater sole with a technical side panel.
They are also taking their best-selling and classic silhouettes and adapting them for women, adding details such as ponyhair or metallic flaps, details which they said have been eliciting a positive reaction so far.
“Women’s is definitely a focus point for us on the floor, and when we adapt a bit, customers come to us,” they said. “We let the consumers decide and it’s just up to us to follow. We are the followers now.”