The sneaker label Axel Arigato is continuing to expand in Germany and internationally. The brand first started digitally in the direct-to-consumer business, before continuing to grow in wholesale and with its own stores in recent years.

    At the opening of their newest store in Berlin Mitte on Friday, the two founders, Creative Director Max Svärdh and Managing Director Albin Johansson, spoke about why they value their physical presence despite growing digitally. They talk about the fashion business, their plans for the future and how brands stay relevant.

    Axel Arigato also owes its initial success as a direct-to-consumer brand to clever social media marketing. What was your recipe for success in three words?

    Svardh:Timing, dialogue and humor. We started Instagram early and with humor, like a good friend communicates with our customers.

    How would you describe your business model now?

    Johanson: We started as a direct selling brand, but I don’t think that’s the only option today and maybe that will change in the future. We want to be a brand and what is best for this brand today and tomorrow?

    I would say we are almost an established retailer, we need to be where our customers are. Sometimes it’s best to open our own stores, like here in Mitte, sometimes it’s best to work with our wholesale partner:innen. Sometimes we work online, sometimes through marketplaces. It’s a complicated business model, but that’s what everyone in this industry does.

    Axel Arigato in figures

    • Founding year: 2014
    • Investor: The majority was taken over by the investment company Eurazeo in 2020 for 56 million euros.
    • Collection size: Around 300 sneaker models per season, around 300 styles in menswear and womenswear in total
    • Instagram followers: a million
    • drops: Axel Arigato releases a new style every week
    • Production: in Europe with a focus on Porto, Portugal
    • Selling points: 7 stores, 11 department stores, 250 points of sale, available online in more than 134 countries
    • Retail Prices: 220 to 250 euros for a pair of sneakers and up to 650 euros for a down parka

    Her current investor is Eurazeo, a private equity fund that has also invested in luxury brands like Moncler and Farfetch and still has a stake in Vestiaire Collective. What has changed for Axel Arigato since you got the investors?

    Svardh: From my point of view very little. I assume yours too?

    Johanson: Yes, they are not directly involved in our work, but of course we have a close relationship with them. You have already gone through many growth processes. We’re a growth brand, but none of us have worked at a company this big. They’re helping us with this part: what’s going to happen that we haven’t thought of yet? Then we can work proactively on it.

    The current retail landscape is challenging, with many fashion brands also closing stores. Why did you decide to open another store in Germany?

    Johanson: We both love retail. This is our way of connecting with customers in a completely different way that is not possible via digital channels. We want to put a lot of energy into the brand and for us it’s very much about the physical connection, the community and the experiences.

    Svardh: It’s about the feeling. You can create feelings digitally to some degree, but not to the same extent as in a physical space. According to our philosophy, building a brand is very closely linked to a physical space.

    Axel Arigato flagship in Berlin. Photo: Benoit Florençon

    Are you planning to open more stores in Germany?

    Johanson: We are open to opening more stores in Germany. We think it’s an important and interesting market. Of course we want to increase our presence here, but we are still at the beginning of our journey.

    Which cities could be interesting after Munich and Berlin?

    Johanson: There are several cities we are considering. Hamburg, of course, Frankfurt, the Ruhr area,…

    Svardh: Also Europe as a whole. We have started to enter the European market and we still have a long way to go. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a country where we already have a store or a new country, such as a store in Amsterdam. We were looking around Amsterdam, was that during or after the Covid pandemic?

    Johanson: Both. We looked around Berlin for maybe five years, we also looked around Amsterdam for several years. Great premises don’t appear immediately when you start looking, it’s important to have ears and eyes for the market. Everything is changing, you can see that now with Covid and people working from home more. How does that affect the way they get around, how does it affect where they choose to spend their time? We want to be a relevant brand in relevant places.

    Speaking of staying relevant, what do you think is important for a brand right now?

    Johanson: I think that applies to everyone in the fashion industry: the willingness and the speed to change. If you don’t, you won’t be relevant. You also have to think very long-term: will you still be there next year or in ten years? Risk is the be-all and end-all. If you don’t take risks, I think you’re dead. If we look at brands that have been around a lot longer than we have, they’ve taken risks, but calculated risks. Without the willingness to do so, it is difficult to be relevant in the long term.

    What was the last time you took a risk that you are now proud of?

    Svardh: Risks can be taken on anything from our product to attempting a pop-up or a new concept in design as we create new spaces. It can apply to all areas of the business, so the risks can vary.

    How is the brand doing in Germany?

    Johanson: Germany is one of the countries that is doing best for us at the moment. And why? If you just look at the economy it doesn’t seem like one of the best countries because of energy prices and everything that’s happening right now. But things are going well and all categories are doing well. Ready-to-wear is growing faster than shoes, but shoes are still our big thing. We feel that what we have been doing in Munich and now in Berlin, which is increasing our presence with events and content, is also leading to higher brand awareness.

    What kind of events are you trying to reach people with?

    Svardh: We do many different events, from big to small. Yesterday we held our second DJ course in Paris, like a music academy. You can register online and participate for free. And that’s different than the party you’re going to see here tonight.

    Johanson: We also have an event in Stockholm tonight. With a really good artist.

    Svardh: The mentality of being more than just a transaction is what we have been very focused on. And then space, space is a luxury, not having products everywhere. It’s about the shopping experience we want to offer.

    Is everything you don’t have in store shipped online?

    Svardh: We have these omniscreens at the entrance. So if we don’t have the size or the color here you can go to the website through this screen and someone in the store will help you place an order and have it shipped to your home.

    How is business going for you in general? There is some concern about what the future will bring. How do you see fashion retail at the moment?

    Johanson: Exciting. Some may find it hard and difficult, but there are also many opportunities. Not every brand or company will survive, but those who go back to their roots – their customers – will emerge stronger. That is our hope and that is what we are working towards. In the third quarter we had growth of more than 70 percent.

    What’s next?

    Svardh: That’s a big question. On the product side we’re expanding, we’ve hired more design people from much bigger brands whose work we’ll see next season. We work more on meaning and purpose than on the range: Who is the product intended for, what purpose does it serve?

    And for the business side?

    Johanson: Europe is our home market, where we have built up the greatest awareness and the most extensive distribution. We really want to become more of a global brand, even though we have a presence, we need to get a deeper foothold in North America, but also in Asia. Growing is fun and looks good, but it’s also painful the bigger you get when you’re not in control of things. That’s how we feel. We have been on this journey for eight years.

    Svardh: It feels like 20 (laughs).

    Johanson: It’s tough, but a lot of fun. It’s no longer the brand that just the two of us had and then with a few friends. No, today we have 220 employees and we want to keep growing, but it has to be done in the right way.

    Svardh: It’s a different kind of machine than it was four years ago or two years ago.