“Four or five years ago when I was looking for hiking equipment, I saw it on eBay and thought, ‘Who makes this stuff that sells used for almost as much as brand-new?'” That was manager Matthew Landry’s introduction to Fjallraven, the Swedish brand that just opened its own store on Main Street.
Fjallraven has been big on its own turf since the 1960s–“it’s the largest clothing brand in Sweden,” Landry says. But while backpacks and hardy outerwear have been sold in American stores for years, its profile has been fairly low. Now a small office outside of Boulder is scouting real estate to seed the country with more Fjallraven stores. They’ve opened in Seattle, Portland, Boston, and other northern cities synonymous with well-educated, progressive-minded pools of money.
Landlord Reza Rahmani has an eye for hip businesses that are about to blossom. Like Shinola, also a Rahmani tenant, Fjallraven gear is elegant, well designed, sustainable, and expensive, and the company has the deep pockets and international marketing machinery needed to play the long game.
Fjallraven occupies the ground floor of the 213 Main St. building that Rahmani bought last year, and once renovation is complete will expand into the basement. Landry says the Detroit ophthalmologist “has been really great making sure the storefront looks good” and believes in the brand: “He’s bought his whole family stuff.”
It’s three doors down from the Raven Club, but Fjallraven has nothing to do with the bird. The name means “arctic fox” and isn’t that hard to pronounce if your vocabulary can take on “fjord.” Occasionally Landry slips up and pronounces it the Swedish way, “f’yall-RAHven,” but in the U.S. they’ve decided to use the more familiar “RAYven.”
Landry, only twenty-five, is a Greenpeace-award-winning environmental activist who likes tailored menswear and who happens to wear it well–in slim-fitting pants, sweater, and Allen Edmond brogues, he looks like he’d be at home at a prep-school fundraiser. Fjallraven found him, via LinkedIn, managing a Brooks Brothers store in Detroit. “I wasn’t looking for a job,” he says, adding “I have a pretty strange background.”
As a teenager in Indiana, Landry started the Michigan City Beyond Coal campaign–energy issues, he explains, are “one of the things my generation has to solve.” When he was studying engineering at Purdue, “people began to say. ‘Maybe you should try organizing. You’re really good at this.’ So I traveled around the country doing four or five other campaigns.” But he also liked retail and along the way worked for Levi’s and J.Crew and somehow “ended up on the management track at Brooks Brothers. I knew how to hire and fire, how to rent a space, get the payroll system set up, all the back-end stuff.”
Fjallraven is best known for its iconic Kanken backpack. Its boxy shape was ergonomically engineered years ago for Swedish schoolchildren to best distribute the weight of three or four books, and it was kept to a size that could not take on more weight than a small back could bear. They’re sold in “about forty colors, with more coming in all the time,” Landry says, for about $75. Parkas are in the $500 range.
Landry gently brings the conversation around to the harm much outdoor wear brings to the environment. A lot of rain gear is sprayed with fluorocarbons, which run off on the ground. Fjallraven has long been manufacturing outerwear that doesn’t use fluorocarbons–instead, it is rainproofed the old-fashioned way, with paraffin and beeswax.
Fjallraven, 213 S. Main, 585-5628. Mon.-Sat. 10 a.m.-8 p.m., Sun. noon-6 p.m. fjallraven.us