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Axel Arigato co-founders Albin Johansson and Max Svärdh have worked from the bottom-up, in the literal sense.

“The footwear market — that’s where we saw the gap,” Svärdh said on the Glossy Podcast.

“How can a shoe cost this much? We couldn’t understand that,” Johansson added.

But like many companies that start out with just one kind of product, shoes were just the entry point into a broader slate of products, which now include head-to-toe clothing items and a range of accessories. “This is where we’ll create, hopefully, some brand awareness, and then we’ll explore with other categories,” Svärdh said about the founders’ reasoning when launching the brand in 2014.

Despite an ongoing pandemic, the Swedish company has opened two new stores in Germany in recent weeks, and has one in Dubai planned for the first quarter of 2021.

Last month, private equity firm Eurazeo took a majority stake in the company, to the tune of a $66.1 million (56 million euro) investment.

The United States is one massive market it could turn to next. Online sales from the U.S. make up close to 10% of the brand’s digital total, Svärdh estimated.

Here are a few highlights from the conversation, which have been lightly edited for clarity.

Shoes first, then the rest
Svärdh: “The footwear market — that’s where we saw the gap, in terms of what brands were offering. That was both in terms of communication — what they stood for — and also product, and maybe more important at that time: price. It was a huge gap in the price offering between lower-price sneakers and the luxury sector. And that’s what we saw. This is where we’ll create, hopefully, some brand awareness, and then we’ll explore with other categories.”

Johansson: “Yeah, none of us could understand, ‘How can a shoe cost this much?’ We were starting to talk with factories and tanneries, and [researching] all the different components to get an understanding. And then we saw, ‘This is actually doable.’ So we cut a lot of things back and did a product for a good price. That was one of the pillars when we started the brand.”

‘Consumers demand a lot’
Svärdh: “Maybe 10, 15 years ago, a brand in our industry or a company in any other industry could sort of choose what they wanted to do and their customers had to listen. But the power has transitioned into being in the hands of the consumers. And today, the consumers demand a lot, not only on the question of sustainability, but also diversity, inclusion, maybe design; they are much faster [with] what they want. And if, as a brand creative or owner or whatever, you don’t listen to what your customers want, I think that you’re at the beginning of the end.”

On stores
Svärdh: “We actually opened up two additional [stores] in Germany last weekend. And we have signed one for Dubai that will open in the first quarter of 2021. And we want to continue to open up more locations. We think that, once this pandemic and this dreadful time are over, people will be more thirsty for an experience than ever before. Our retail spaces play a very important role for us, in terms of hosting events, meeting our customers, and inviting other brands and partners to collaborate with us.”