ow's your 2016 going? Feeling revitalized? Reinvigorated? Ready to meet the challenges of a new year? I hit the ground running with a major project at my corporate day job that needed to be created, promoted, assembled, and completed within a week and a half. And then before we could be lulled into thinking the excitement was over, the general manager of my company was eased out and new blood was brought in to lead us to new heights. (Though I will say I am loving this new guy. During his town meeting introduction to the gathered staff he said that his "brand" included the Five Fs: fairness, focus, fun, family, and forgiveness. Actually, I'm a little hazy now on the first three, but I do clearly recall him naming the last two. Primarily because they were such a departure from what one would expect in the culture of a corporation. It was a simple thing to say. But for a lot of us, it was a like a window had been opened and fresh air had blown into the room.) But before my co-workers and I in our corner of the cluster could catch our breaths, our immediate supervisor was given a realignment of his duties. This is someone who'd helped build our department to considerable heights over the past 30 years, but who had also seen it languish as new technologies and new ways of doing things began to develop. It was a classic case of needing to get in step with the times or step aside. And I don't need to tell you that in such situations, digging in one's heels never accomplishes anything. So now those of us who had been doing our duties under one particularly constricted mode of operating are suddenly feeling the freedom to stretch our wings and fly with this new opportunity.
Does that give you an idea what my year has been like? And it's only the third week of January!
As the apocryphal Chinese curse goes, "May you live in interesting times." And so I do.
Featured Designer: Sandgrens Clogs
First, a little background.
Sandgrens Clogs traces its origins to the 19th century when a Swedish tanner first opened his doors. As the company logo states proudly, "Made in Sweden since 1846."
Sandgrens may have been around a long time, but by the time the clog craze swept the world in the 1970s, they were by no means the only maker. Brands such as Olaf Daughters, Sanita, Båstad, Eskil's, and more come to mind. In a 2011 Featured Designer post on ECHID, I interviewed Dave Giese, the then new owner of Ugglebo Clogs, and he provided some clog making history.
"Keep in mind that there were over 200 clog makers in Sweden during the 1970's so I am guessing you might have missed a few of the smaller brands.
Believe it or not, over 1,000,000 pairs of Sandgrens were sold per year at the peak, and yes, our Sandgrens brand was definitely here in the United States! Actually, Ugglebo's founder worked for Sandgrens for 15 years before getting started on his own and founding Ugglebo.
Ugglebo started selling Ugglebo Clogs to Eskil Gidholm (founder of Eskil's Clog Shop) in the late 1960's. Eskil was a great salesman, and I am guessing his authentic Swedish accent helped as well. He started with his own retail shop and also imported Ugglebo Clogs for wholesaling. In the later part of the 1970’s Eskil founded Eskil’s Clog Shop."
That was in August of 2011. By November of 2012 I caught wind of some new developments in the world of wood-soled shoes, and I naturally passed it along on ECHID:
"Ugglebo is changing its name to Sandgrens. From what I've read, it's a brand name that has as much heritage as Ugglebo. And there's some reasoning behind the transition that's been offered:
Both our founder and his son Christer (our current Clog Master) learned the art of clog making at the Sandgrens factory in Sweden during the 1950’s. It was there that clog making became more than just a job; it became an art and a passion for our entire family, now in its 3rd generation."
Next thing I knew, one of people at Sandgrens came knocking on my e-door to see if I'd be interested in bringing my readers up to date with what's been happening with this legendary brand lately. And you know, of course, that I said, "Yes, please!"
I poked around the Sandgrens Clogs website, ogled the fresh looking styles, noted the familiar faces, and proceeded to fire off a handful of questions to the now still owner Dave Giese. It's one thing to be making clogs when the style is all the rage. But I wanted to find out what Sandgrens is up to today. We started our conversation talking about one of the founders of clog making in North America, Sven Carlsson, a craftsman who learned his trade at the Sandgrens factory in Sweden 65 years ago.
Sven and Christer Carlsson
ECHID: Sven Carlsson appears to be one of the handful of people responsible for bringing clog making to this country. What inspired him to travel to the United States from Sweden?
DAVE: Christer’s dad (Sven Carlsson) had huge demand here in the United States in the 1970’s. It was an opportunity to be closer to his customers, save shipping time and costs and meet overall demand. His initial visits to the USA were sales related and, of course, that grew into bringing manufacturing here.
ECHID: And once he got to the U. S., what inspired him to make clogs in this country? Was there even a clog market here at the time?
DAVE: Yes, he actually moved here in the 1970’s at the peak of the clog craze so there was more than adequate demand, particularly teenage fashion.
It seems that after visiting countless times he simply saw the opportunity here and seized it!
Making another clog fan happy in the Sandgrens workshop
ECHID: How did his son Christer come to be a clog maker, too? What inspired him to take that career path? And why? I mean, was it the appeal of creating attractive footwear? Or the sense of supplying a needed demand? Or the desire provide footwear that were beneficial to wearers?
DAVE: Christer grew up making clogs. He started hammering nails with his dad when he was 5 or 6 so it is really something that was simply part of the family. But the demand was so great for the products by the time he was in his late-teens that there really wasn’t much of a decision for Christer. They needed him, and he answered the calling. Clog design and manufacturing is something that Christer grew to love, and it has been his career for a half century.
ECHID: What happened to the (original) Sandgrens in Sweden? Did they go out of business and the Carlssons got the name?
DAVE: When clogs went out of fashion in the 1980’s there were some struggles for all Swedish clog makers. Christer saw an opportunity and bought Sandgrens. Christer continued to sell Sandgrens after his purchase, but with our new designs we certainly have seen an increase in demand.
Sandgrens Clogs new spring collection
ECHID: You and Christer were featured prominently in my post about Ugglebo Clogs five years ago. And then the company became Sandgrens. Can you tell me in a nutshell how that came about?
DAVE: Basically there was a year long decision to re-brand our name and focus on our long history, quality, and Swedish heritage. When a re-branding like this takes place it appears as though one day it just changes, which to some degree from a customer’s perspective, it does. However, there were thousands and thousands of man hours put into the transition, and we have been very happy with the results. Christer’s dad started his clog making career at Sandgrens and continues his clog making today nearly three quarters of a century later. Having Sandgrens and sharing our products is very special to us.
Sandgrens Clogs new spring collection
ECHID: What makes the Sandgrens line distinctive? There are a variety of clog makers active in America and elsewhere in the world. What sets the Sandgrens line apart from them?
DAVE: Quality and craftsmanship no doubt! If I look at a pair of clogs, even a new design that doesn’t have a name on it, I can tell with 90% probability who manufactured the clogs or clog boots.
Christer and his dad are gifted clog makers and they have passed down their skills to all of the members of the Sandgrens team.
The attention to detail in every aspect of production and the demand for a perfect fit of the leather to the wooden base is not something other clog makers take the time to do. We take the time to do things right that others don’t. We also focus on high quality raw materials that other clog makers don’t such as vegetable tanned leathers. Vegetable tanned leathers are very difficult to work with. No other clog makers can match the talent we have, and I can’t actually think of any in the USA or Sweden that even try to work with vegetable tanned leather.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Let me just put my two cents in here. The above image is from the Sandgrens page for New Arrival Clog Boots. And what immediately struck me was the number of color options available. That's just crazy fun! And while I was mousing around on that page, my cursor apparently strayed over different boots in each assortment. So the next time I looked closely, the products displayed looked quite different.
Clogs and clog boots make me delighted to begin with. But clogs and clog boots that come in all sorts of fun colors just make me downright giddy!
But let's get back to the interview.
ECHID: You’ve made a decision to pursue fashion forward clog designs such as clog boots and clog sandals with heels. What inspired you to put that sort of variety in your catalog?
DAVE: We always strive to stay ahead of trend on design without sacrificing comfort. Certainly the clog designs of today are different than they were years ago but what remains is handcrafted footwear that is versatile, comfortable and more fashion forward. We have had a ton of great feedback on our styling and we use this to make sure we have offerings that clog lovers and our customers are looking for. You can expect to see a lot more design innovation from us in the coming year!
ECHID: Tell me about your customers. Are you finding a pattern emerging of what they like about the Sandgrens brand?
DAVE: What we hear nearly every day is that they love our quality and customer service. We have an amazing following of repeat customers and new customers every day.
Our customers' complete satisfaction is our objective and we fulfill this objective by offering quality and focused customer service.
Once again, the Every Clog Has Its Day motto comes to mind: so many shoes, so little time.
Well, I promised you more in this post. But I'm afraid I'll have to postpone the other nine things I wanted to blog about until later. I will share one little bit of shoe related whimsy before I go. Not much I can add to this NPR headline. It pretty much says it all.
Taiwan Now Has A Giant, Shiny, Shoe-Shaped Church
Make the jump to NPR.org to read more.