Some brands simply have staying power. Take Sandgrens, a company that has been making clogs by hand in the forests of Småland, Sweden since the early 1900’s, for instance. With fifty percent of small businesses failing in five years or less, it’s pretty amazing to think about a company that has survived well over one hundred years expertly honing their clog-making craft.
“We’ve actually traced Sandgrens’ history back even further to 1846,” shares Dave Giese, the current owner and President of Sandgrens. “It was an arduous project of tracking down old newspaper articles, internet research and talking with Sandgrens’ Brothers descendants. It is possible that the company history went back further. But back then records weren’t kept like they are now.”
Giese, who is a commercial pilot by training, knew nothing about fashion before stepping into his wife’s family’s business. “My wife and I got married in 2006. But, I first went to the factory in 2005 and that is when I fell in love with the product,” recalls Giese.
It all started with Sven Carlson (Giese’s father-in-law), who in the 1950s produced clogs at the iconic Sandgrens Brothers factory. Sven quickly learned the ropes and found himself head of production. Since then, Sven has devoted his entire lifetime to the artistry of Swedish clogs with his clogs held as the standard to which all others are compared.
Sven’s passion was later passed down to his son, Christer Carlson, who is the clog master today. “Unfortunately, Sven became unable to continue his life’s passion recently. For the last couple of years, he is officially retired, due to being in his early 90’s,” states Giese.
Christer is currently passing the torch to his son Christoffer. He tells me, “It means a lot to me to pass on my knowledge and my passion for clogs.” Christoffer recently left his medical career to start working with his dad in the factory again. Giese adds, “He has always had the passion for making clogs and frequently helped out in the factory when he was a child and young man.”
After not being in the factory for about 10 years, Christoffer felt that carrying on the tradition and sharing the passion for clogs is something worth holding on too. Giese continues, “Christoffer loves it and plans to make his career change permanent.”
Giese stepped into his wife’s family business officially during the height of the financial crisis in 2009. “Christer was here in the USA for our son’s birth when it became clear to me that I needed to do something to keep the legacy alive,” explains Giese. “The crisis was difficult for all businesses but help was particularly needed with Sandgrens. I talked to Christer for an hour, worked out a deal and began working the next day. With a week old baby at home, it was a little tough initially. But it’s been worth every minute.”
Since Giese has come on board Sandgrens has grown ten times and continues to grow exponentially. When I ask him what the most valuable lesson he has learned stepping into an area of business he knew nothing about, he tells me, “If you know who you are, believe in it and never lose sight of your core values, the rest will take care of itself. For us at Sandgrens that is having the highest quality clogs available, providing exceptional customer service, and believing in our history and tradition as a hand-made Swedish brand.”
It had been several years since I had last worn a pair of Sandgrens clogs, but I was recently re-reminded of the quality, comfort, and the impeccable craftsmanship.
“Every pair of clogs is made by hand and takes 24 hours. Our leathers are sourced from the top American and Italian tanneries and our bases are sourced with European lime wood as well as Spanish pine wood,” Giese explains. I also love the fact that Sandgrens just updated their entire website. The end result is a simplified user experience with a clean, fresh aesthetic.
When I ask Giese what he is most proud of keeping this amazing tradition alive he tells me, “We are most proud to have such a wonderful team of employees, our true family. They keep the tradition alive day-in and day-out. Nothing would be possible without them.” Looking ahead towards the future Giese continues, “We will remain true to our heritage of preserving traditional Swedish footwear and continue to grow here in America and select foreign markets.”