Could you introduce us to Stenströms?
Stenströms is more than 120 years old. The brand actually started even earlier than that with kind a shop in Helsingborg in the south of Sweden. The founder of the company, August Stenströms, started as a retail business in 1883 and it made a name for itself fairly quickly for being a very good tailor. In 1899 Stenströms then started a professional production for shirtmaking. Since the 1950s we have been producing ladies wear too. Stenströms has been run as a family company from the beginning and in all that time has had just three families in charge, it is a very family-driven company.
In terms of the style, I always say that Stenströms shirts you could wear seven days a week, it’s as good for business as the weekend, the shirts have a soft, nice feeling and the collars and cuffs are made in a way so they aren’t too stiff. The product is a little bit formal but still informal, the shirts feel good and are very wearable. Stenströms shirts are made from the finest materials from the best suppliers in Europe including fabric from the best Italian mills, mother-of-pearl buttons and special top fused interlining. We work in a very sophisticated way.
We have a royal warrant for both the king and queen of Sweden. In fact, we supply more or less the full royal family with our product, it’s something we’re very proud of. They are paying customers, we don’t give it to them for free, which makes it really special as a relationship. We have worked with the current King Carl XVI Gustaf since he became the monarch and we also worked with his father, who I think visited our shop in Helsingborg as it’s near to the royal family’s summer residence.
Did you find it quite daunting designing for a company with such a long history?
I actually have been with the company for 26 years and started in sales. I grew up in the company had my education here working with a guy that had spent more than 42 years in the shirt business. I was raised here, so I know Stenströms inside out. A lot of employees have been with us for many, many years.
Could you tell us about Stenströms’ 1899 heritage shirts?
The 1899 line exemplifies what it means to produce a shirt in the best way you can, without limit using the finest materials, details and finishes. It’s a small line that we make in a small factory we own in Estonia. 1899 is the year August Stenströms turned his successful tailoring shop into a shirt production factory. There are a few extra steps in making the 1899, for example we use handcrafted natural mother of pearl buttons, denser stitching – nine per centimeter, the bottom and side seams are strengthened and we split the yoke to give the shirt a better fit. It’s small, small details that make the shirt a little bit more unique.
Our normal provenance is excellent but with the 99 we don’t need to consider price as much, it’s just the best materials available.
Can you explain how Stenströms is focusing on sustainability?
To start with, our products are really made to last. Sometimes we see shirts for repairs that have been around for many, many years and have been passed down through three generations of men. In fact, I was looking at the tuxedo shirt yesterday that was more than 40 years old. Apart from that, the long staple cotton we work with is the best in the world: Supima cotton from American and Sea Island cotton from the Caribbean islands and Giza cotton from Egypt. Our suppliers are working really hard with the question of sustainability and are really careful with how they grow and harvest cotton. One of our big suppliers is Albini and they’re really looking into new technical ways of making the process more sustainable as well as using recycled cotton and other recycled fabrics. For next season’s 1899 line we are going to use Merino wool in the shirting because it is a sustainable fabric, and we’ve also just launched 100 per cent organic cotton shirting.
Many people single out the clothing industry as being polluting and, of course, it is but it’s less so if you avoid polyamide and other plastic fibres. The use of polyamide fabrics is increasing but cotton is still on the same level. We’re not producing more cotton than the year before; it’s a stable business. With every year, I think Stenströms is getting better and better in how we approach sustainability including bringing organic cotton into our production. We are changing and updating the components of all of our products and step-by-step, we are getting there. It would be better for business if our products didn’t last so long! But we really take responsibility.
Who is the Stenströms customer?
We are a brand really for all stages of life because you might get a Stenströms shirt when you graduate from school, or for communion. Then at university and when you start working – we sell shirts to men from nine to 80 years old.
With everyone still working from home in the UK can you recommend items from the Stenströms collection to fit with that lifestyle?
Stenströms is not just a shirt maker and this has become increasingly important over the past year. Today we are more like a shirt brand. Around 10 to 15 years ago, I started to introduce things such as cashmere sweaters and merino wool to wear with our shirts. We’re even launching a tracksuit and sweatpants – made in our own way of course. We also make a kind of leisure shirt for which we use more or less the same fabrics as in the normal collection, but they are pre washed to make them a little bit softer and more casual. These products are selling quite well where the formal shirts aren’t doing as well right now because people are working at home and don’t want to wear a business shirt.
At the moment, I’m working on the spring 2022 collection and for that I need to believe that we are going to want to dress up and look good again. We can’t just look casual forever, we need also to put on the tie and create moments. All the parties and gatherings we haven’t been able to have – it’s a disaster for human beings – we like to look good. Everyone feels a little bit more special when you put on a tuxedo or a nice suit and tie – we need to get back to dressing up to feel good.
Stenströms has been around now for just more than 120 years, what are your plans for the next 120 years?
Recently, we’ve been really successful – in the past 10 to 15 years, we’ve increased by around 15 to 20%, each and every year. Things were looking great too until the end of February 2020, it would have been our best year ever, especially as we expanded more into retail in places like the UK. I think when this Covid story is over we can continue growing. Our shirts fit well into the future – Stenströms is a brand with tradition and a unique product but that keeps changing and improving. There aren’t many brands that can do what we do – they are either cheap and volume driven, or extremely exclusive and handmade – so I think we have a good spot in the market. If you want a good product and are willing to pay a little bit extra we make right product. I think people will appreciate these things more in the future as people are thinking more about sustainability.
Finally, who are your style icons?
My grandfather has always been a source of inspiration for me. He has great style and always dressed very well, with a tie and suit. I think he started my interest in clothes and design. Even if he was not a rich man, he always looked good.