Whatever the weather: Tretorn

The storied Swedish sneaker and outerwear company may be the choice of royalty but has never stopped innovating, says brand spokesperson Filip Weibull-Göransson

Style 20 Oct 2020


Tretorn has been a beloved part of Swedish culture since 1891

Can you introduce us to Tretorn?

Tretorn was founded in Helsingborg in the south of Sweden in 1891 by the Dunker family. Helsingborg is the location of our headquarters today. Henry Dunker, who took over the business from his father Johan in 1894, was a kind of a special man: a pioneer in many ways – in product and in corporate social responsibility. He introduced healthcare and a kindergarten for his employees among other things: he was quite forward-thinking and that spirit lives in the brand and the company still. When Tretorn was founded in 1891 it was very much a rubber company and manufactured galoshes, shoes and rubber boots for farmers and fishermen. In 1900, Tretorn started to produce sneakers. We are the second-oldest sneaker brand in the world – we held a Jubilee for the sneaker this summer.

In 1902 we started making tennis balls, which connected us even more to sport. And I think the big shift came in 1967 when Björn Borg wore our Nylite tennis shoes at Wimbledon, both on and off the court – so emphasizing their lifestyle and professional use. That’s where we started to see real change in the brand. It went from rubber and boots to more fashion and lifestyle. Especially when Nylite sneakers were included in The Original Preppy Handbook in 1980, as a must-have product. It was then that it really started to make a massive impact on celebrity life in the US: Hollywood stars and presidents, etc. In the 60s, we started to produce our Wings Collection, which comes from sailing and is a range of rain jackets and rubber boots. And in 2016 we launched Eco Essentials, a key moment in our sustainable journey – a collection of rainwear made with sustainable fabrics.

Tretorn has long been known for its expertise in making stylish and functional rubber boots
Tretorn has long been known for its expertise in making stylish and functional rubber boots

It seems that Tretorn has a kind of unique place in Swedish culture, style and society. Would you say that’s true?

Most Swedes have some kind of relationship with Tretorn. It’s a brand that’s been present for such a long time and many people have a very early memory of it: putting on their first Tretorn rubber boots and rain jacket as a child and then getting the sneakers when they’re a little older. The other side is that Henry Dunker had no children, so founded The Henry and Gerda Dunker Foundation, which has funded a lot of buildings in Helsingborg, including the Dunkers Culture House, the main cultural institute in the town. Dunker’s legacy has impacted Helsingborg and the south of Sweden dramatically.

Tretorn also has a very strong heritage with farmers. We were the first ones to make rubber boots and the Castor boot is still one of our most iconic products. Before that they had wooden shoes and farmers’ feet would rot in them to the point sometimes that they would have to amputate. So it was a game changer for farmers when the rubber boots arrived and since then the relationship with the brand has been very strong. In fact, we had rubber boots which had a wooden sole so that farmers could still have the feel of the wooden shoe but remain waterproof. Today we still get calls from farmers if we change something – they get very attached to the boots.

Tretorn is known for its innovations, how does the brand continue to innovate?

We’re an old company but we’re very entrepreneurially driven and that leads to innovation. As a culture we want to do stuff and learn from it, rather then just talking about it. We try, we explore, we do. We break new ground to see what we can learn because we are very curious. We always strive to be a bit better with each new collection, it never ends. Sometimes it’s a bit scary – but I think you just have to try rather than wait.

Tretorn was founded in Sweden in 1891
Tretorn was founded in Sweden in 1891

When it comes to sustainability, for example, I think we have seen our greatest innovations in that sphere so far. We invest a lot of time and resources and have brought in people with very niche expertise. We try to think outside the box all the time when it comes to fabrics and materials – how can we reuse waste, prolong the lifecycle of a product and make it repairable while maintaining the product quality. Looking into new kinds of material, maybe from vegan or vegetable sources or canvas and natural rubber. Innovation in materials progresses so quickly at the moment that we have a few things in the pipeline coming up that I can’t talk about but they’re really groundbreaking. I think as well as continuing to explore and evolve, we also want to make people understand more about what we do and how we do it – increase transparency.

Can you tell us about some of the famous people who have worn Tretorn over the years?

It’s quite a mixed bag, it goes from artists to musicians. Of course, the Swedish royal family have been wearing Tretorn for quite some time. They are very picky when it comes to sustainability and our commitment is one of the reasons Tretorn is appreciated by Princesses Victoria, Sophia and also King Carl XVI Gustaf. The British royal family, including Queen Elizabeth and Princess Margaret, also wore Tretorn a long time ago. Tennis players include Björn Borg, of course, but also Martina Navratilova. When it comes to actors we have Natalie Portman, Reese Witherspoon, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Ben Affleck. In music, there’s The Jackson 5, Billy Joel, Aretha Franklin and, of course, ABBA.

Collaboration seems to be an important part of the brand, how do you decide who to collaborate with?

We have had the privilege of being approached for collaboration by amazing brands all over the world. Now we are actually starting to look for people to collaborate with – both within our own industry, but also in other exciting industries such as interesting events, automotives, environmental issues organisations, or amazing people and artists. I think it’s quite interesting to look outside your own world, because there’s a lot we can learn when it comes to innovation. Forestry companies in Sweden, for example, can teach us how to work with trees or wood. I think the most important thing for collaborations is that both parties learn something. Our last collaboration was with designer Nigel Cabourn and we learned a lot from him about materials, fabrics, sustainability and vintage style.

Tretorn shoes and outerwear are worn by everyone from royalty to Hollywood stars
Tretorn is worn by everyone from royalty to Hollywood stars

How does Tretorn combine function with style?

I think Tretorn is a brand that combines a lot of contrasts – city life and nature, function and style. We don’t develop extreme function products that are meant to climb Mount Everest. We are more for an everyday outdoor life. Maybe for hiking two or three days at the bottom of Mount Everest, but more for walking the dog, picking up the children, everyday life. We say Tretorn was born out of Scandinavian weather because it’s a little bit like England – the weather changes quickly and can be raining, sunny, windy. Wearing Tretorn means you don’t have to be limited by the weather, you can go out into nature and at the same time feel comfortable and stylish if you go to work in the city.

What are the ambitions for the future of Tretorn?

Tretorn is on a very interesting journey. Of course we have challenges with the pandemic, but the plan is to grow quite extensively with our new CEO. We’re trying to work more directly with our consumers. One year ago we started doing ecommerce, and we also just opened our first store here in Helsingborg so we can meet our consumers in real life, learn from them and also create a kind of brand home. Otherwise it’s to continue to innovate and continue to push ourselves to make a true difference in how we interact with nature. I think everybody has been very dedicated to being part of a company that wants to grow and to innovate. So our other goal is to have a lot of fun, because that’s also what it’s about.