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Vagabond Shoemakers, the Swedish shoe brand known all over the world, first launched in 1973. But it wasn’t until twenty years later that the brand as we know it today was launched.
“We had the opportunity to take over the brand in the late 80s. Our vision was to build a brand within fashion and sell shoes all over the world. To be able to do that we wanted to learn everything from scratch; so we moved Italy and started a design studio there.
In 1993, we decided to move back to Sweden. We built our design studio and workshop, where all our products are designed and developed to this day,” says co-founder, Vice President and Creative Director for Vagabond Shoemakers Marie Nilsson Peterzén.
Based in Varberg, a sandy town on the south west coast of Sweden, Vagabond has quietly been making a name for itself since then. Aside from establishing their design studio, Vagabond had to figure out the large-scale production side of the business.
Says Marie, “Back when we had our design studio in Italy, we produced all our shoes in Portugal where we also had our own factory. Now our own factory and production office are both located in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, where we produce the majority of our products. We also cooperate with a handful of external suppliers. We have always had the shoemaking in-house.”
She continues, “Leather is a difficult product to work with. The tanneries we work with, however, have to accept and sign our code of conduct and our chemical restriction lists, based on EU’s REACH regulations as well as national requirements on the markets where we are present.
To set the environmental standard for our tanneries, we’ve also joined Leather Working Group. As members, we can be a part of continuous improvements to leather sourcing practices.”
The way they work with leather is only a part of Vagabond’s sustainability practices, and it’s something they’re always working to make better. They have the Shoe Bring Back system implemented in their stores that accepts any shoes and recycles the material.
“We can only become circular if we strive for a long product lifecycle in combination with a solution for material recycling,” explains Marie. “That is what Shoe Bring Back is doing. Ultimately, to close the loop, we buy back post-consumer materials.”
The brand is currently in the process of launching a trial with rubber outsoles made of post-consumer waste, as well as incorporating S.Cafe material into their linings. S.Cafe is a material made from a blend of used coffee grounds and polyester – an innovative and important addition to sustainable textile production.
But of course, production is only half the battle in creating a great shoe; it has to be well-designed and well-made. That’s what Vagabond does particularly well: the harmony between a good looking and high-quality shoe.
It’s a blend of minimalist Scandinavian design, attention to detail, and timeless silhouettes. The shoes are long-lasting and, crucially, well-priced for the quality; likely what has propelled the brand to global popularity.
Unlike many Swedish brands, Vagabond set out from the jump to reach the widest possible market. Part of that was in their move from men’s shoes to women’s shoes as well, but in an unexpected way; they started making unisex shoes. This was in the 90s, when shoe silhouettes for young people were often chunky and gender neutral. The shift made their reach limitless.
“We want to appeal to independent people around the world who care about quality and sustainability,” says Marie, “…we believe that great design does not have to cost a fortune.”
In addition, they strike a balance between hero products, which Marie says are similar around the world, and on-trend pieces that allow them to develop and innovate in a more creative way.
That equilibrium has served the brand well. They now have over 500 employees and a huge range of stores around the world. Although they sell the majority of their shoes online, Vagabond continues to look into ways to improve their retail experience. They have a new concept store opening in Berlin in spring of 2020, which Marie is excited about.
“I’m inspired by people that I meet in the street. People that I read about. People that I work with,” says Marie. Everyone needs shoes, and most of us want a shoe we can wear day-in and day-out, that we know will always look good and protect your feet.
That’s what Vagabond Shoemakers provide, with the benefit of expert attention to the production and design processes. They make shoes you can feel good about buying, and even better about wearing.
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