"Swedish melancholy at its driest."
As far as corporate slogans go, it's a weird one. Its intentions are opaque: is this earnest defeatism or gleeful pride in the perverse tactic of marketing a consumer product around glumness?
After talking with the team behind Stutterheim, the Swedish raincoat company to which the tag line belongs, the answer seems to be a bit of both. Founded in 2010 by Alexander Stutterheim, a former copywriter and single father, the brand pairs its rubberized cotton jackets with a vocal celebration of sorrow and the creative work it begets. At times it comes off serious, as when Stutterheim writes about his own emotional wellbeing on the company blog or his Instagram. Sometimes it's cheeky: the company gives out an annual award — now in its fifth year — to the "Most Melancholic Person of the Year."
Given Stutterheim's background, it's easy to write off the obsession with gloom as a clever marketing ploy. What could be more distinctive, in a landscape of brands claiming their products will make you cooler, sexier, happier? On a Skype call from Sweden, he insisted that wasn't the goal, though. As a copywriter, Stutterheim got fed up with compromising his ideas for clients and wanted to find a hobby that he could do on his own terms. Around that time, he discovered the old raincoat his grandfather used to wear while fishing on the ocean tucked away in his family home.
"It was a bit small on me, but I thought in that second, 'This is a very cool raincoat. I need to buy one when I get back to Stockholm,'" Stutterheim said. "When I got back with my raincoat, I went to department stores and hunting stores and I couldn't find it. It was Gore-Tex all over."
So the project was born. He took out a bank loan to finance the production of 100 black raincoats — all made in Sweden, hand numbered and signed by the seamstresses — and documented the process on Facebook. After going through seven prototypes, Stutterheim landed on one he liked and opened up shop in his living room, which he tricked out for the occasion with an old fashioned cash register and Ingmar Bergman movie posters. The jackets sold out in 24 hours. He lost an incredible amount of money.
"I wondered, what is an honest price for an honest product? I didn't care about production costs. I sold them for 1500 Swedish kronor. It turned out that the production cost and material cost were 1700, so it was a completely stupid thing," Stutterheim said.
It's funny now. When Stutterheim's coats caught the eye of retailers in Stockholm and Berlin, he was unconvinced that people would continue to buy at a retail markup three times what he sold his first batch for, but they did. Since then, the company has added a number of big names to its wholesale roster — Selfridges, Dover Street Market, Harvey Nichols and Barneys — and sales, which jumped from 11 million Swedish kronor in 2013 to 23 million last year, are on track to come in at 55 million for 2015. While fashion editors and celebrities like West and Robyn are trucking around in Stutterheim coats, its fan base also includes older people who need something practical to wear out berry picking.
Stutterheim admits he doesn't always feel prepared to keep up with the fast-paced growth of the company he started. He's not a business guy, he says, so he built up a team to handle public relations, distribution and production strategy, budgets and finances. Just as the brand started to get big, Stutterheim left Stockholm for the more peaceful countryside.
In April, the company also brought on a trained designer: Patric Wallertz, who spent time at H&M and, most recently, the menswear brand Uniforms for the Dedicated. Since buyers as well as returning customers crave newness, the question at hand is how to expand Stutterheim's product range without straying too far from the raincoats that made it famous — especially as the brand strives to build fan bases in markets where it's still a virtual unknown. Stutterheim sells bucket hats and tote bags on its website, and there's potential for complementary categories like sweaters and luggage.
That puzzle doesn't exactly have an answer yet, although the seeds are there. When we spoke in May, Wallertz was still finding his footing at the company, having spent the last two weeks traveling to find new suppliers that can handle different products.
"We're a raincoat company and we'll continue to be that, but we'll add on other forms of coats — not raincoats, but coats, and we will most likely split up the collections in male and female versions," Wallertz said. "Today we're unisex, but we will start working more specifically for men's and women's styles."
Onward and upward it is, but perhaps not so despondently as before.