This was the decade that Sweden saw a dramatic rise in the number of working mothers and the women’s movement became a global concept. We discovered the joys of TV dinners and grilled cheese sandwiches with pineapple and banana.
The oil crisis had us in its grip, we moved to the country and listened to protest songs – or watched M.A.S.H and How the West Was Won, and were fans of ABBA and Rod Stewart. We either loved or loathed disco.
Corduroy jackets, bell-bottoms, platform heels and t-shirts with slogans like “Atomic power? No thanks” were all the rage.
We celebrated when a parent’s right to spank their child was explicitly prohibited in Sweden in 1979.
The Yuppies were here and a briefcase was an essential accessory. We enjoyed couples’ dinners and ate French cuisine – “two crossed asparagus on a sauce mirror”. Bread machines and microwaves invaded many homes.
We talked about the Cold War and the Chernobyl disaster in 1986. “Dallas” was must-see TV, we went to rock and pop festivals with Bruce Springsteen and Madonna, and started buying CDs. Almost everyone was puzzled by the Rubik’s Cube and couldn’t put it down.
We all dressed for success, which meant wearing a t-shirt under a jacket, tube socks paired with brightly coloured pumps or an oversized top tucked into loose-fitting jeans.
Children’s leisure activities got more sophisticated and involved skateboards and surfboards, and language courses abroad.
Everyone now had a PC and a mobile phone.
We hung out in coffee shops, learned to drink caffé latte, and ate panini and oversized muffins. At home, we wok-fried noodles and ate tacos.
We talked about the financial crisis, and grieved together for Lady Di and the MS Estonia. We started to read Harry Potter, watched reality shows on TV, tried to keep our Tamagotchis alive and were inseparable from our Game Boy.
Hair gel was essential, and we couldn’t get enough of plaid shirts and floral dresses with big lace collars. Beverly Hills, 90210 was a major source of fashion inspiration.
In Sweden, the introduction of a tax deduction for home help sparked a furious debate about modern-day maids. At the same time, the ‘Dad’s Month’ was introduced in parental insurance, which means that one month’s parental leave is reserved for the father and can’t be transferred to the mother.
For a long time, Sweden was unique in using parental insurance as a way of encouraging a more equal society, but today there’s a ‘Dad’s Month’ in Australia, Germany, Norway and Finland.
We survived the millennium bug and got vaccinated against swine flu. We talked about global warming, Barack Obama, and the tsunami that engulfed South-East Asia and killed 300,000 people. Everyone turned into a fashionista. Every self-respecting newspaper had a fashion pundit with a large photo byline and every fashion pundit started a blog – and then we all did.
All the girls paired leggings with a white blouse and all the on-trend guys wore hats – all the time. No self-respecting person ever wore Crocs, yet strangely they sold like hot cakes.
We danced to Britney Spears, Robyn and Gnarls Barkley.
We ate locally sourced, Fairtrade and organic. Or GI. Or LCHF.
Children were suddenly spending a little too much time in front of their computers or TVs, and we tried to get them moving with summer camps and sporting activities.
We learned to Skype with people as soon as they got broadband. Video calls were reality, not sci-fi, and all phones were smart. In 2000, we sent eight SMS per person a month. By 2009, that figure had reached 156.
This year – 2016 – we have a special reason to be proud of our stripy roots. The world is constantly changing and we’re changing along with it, but our philosophy is the same as it was 40 years ago.
We’re dedicated to making high-quality clothes that stand up to play and adventure, and can be inherited by the next little one or buddy when the time comes. Or why not sell them as second-hand? Every name added to one of our name labels helps to reduce our environmental impact. We make clothes for play in all weathers and we aim to continue to make everyday life easier for all parents.
We make clothes that let children be children and we intend to go on doing that for at least another 40 years!
“It seems like it’s always existed. And I have always loved it.”
These are the words of Gunila Axén, the creator of our classic stripe. She began her career in design as a student at Beckmans College of Design and, at the age of 74, she’s nowhere near the end of it. Over the years, she’s been a trendsetter, not only with her PO.P designs, but also thanks to her membership of the classic Swedish 10-gruppen design group. She’s also been an influential figure for generations of designers for many years as Professor of Textile design at the University College of Arts, Crafts and Design.
“The stripe is still one of the most stylish designs in my view. I think it all started with a picture I saw of Picasso wearing one of those classic Breton striped tees.”
Perhaps you sense the same timelessness when you go in to one of our shops?
“It’s part of our design motto to stay relevant and modern, but to steer clear of short-term fashion trends,” says Karina Lundell.
“When we started with stripes, Marimekko was already using them, but they’d opted for block stripes, so I made a deliberate choice to avoid those,” recalls Gunila.
Narrow stripes became her signature instead, with the now-classic formula as a pattern unit.
“But this isn’t actually the original stripe. My first collection was for older children. It had a different pattern unit and we discovered it wasn’t suitable for smaller garments. Because I wanted stripes for younger children too, we adapted the pattern unit to the one used to this day.”
“Polarn O. Pyret has always had the feel of a family business,” says Katarina af Klintberg. “We never hesitated to test all the clothes on our own children. My son was 13 when the first collection was released and it made him squirm with embarrassment. He later confessed to lying to his friends by telling them he got paid to wear striped clothes,” recalls Katarina.
“These things go in waves, like everything else. I remember when my son was in his 20s and stripes were back in fashion – he got a bit of extra street cred because his mum was responsible,” smiles Gunila.
“And when my son’s first child was born, my son dressed him in stripes before he’d even left the maternity ward, and I remember thinking that now he’d found his way home,” laughs Katarina. “That little boy is 16 now and I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if he turned up one day wearing stripes of his own free will.”
40 years after it all started, it feels as if the stripe has an eternal life. It runs back into the past and on into the future. Generation after generation. Our stripes will never fade.
Anyone who’s ever attempted to dress a two-year-old while the clock’s ticking knows there are some situations you’d prefer not to face. Especially every morning.
The growing numbers of working mothers discovered they were effectively holding down two jobs, as housework didn’t magically disappear.
“Making life easier for women with children was a key element of the PO.P philosophy from the very beginning,” explains Christel Kinning. “It felt as if this was Gunila’s and Katarina’s mantra, and it hovered over the entire company far into the 1990s. We wanted everything we did to live up to that.”
Introducing elasticated waistbands for young children was one way to make life easier for mums. So was standing by our core values, year after year, that all clothes should be durable enough to be handed down, and making this even easier by producing unisex clothes. In the same spirit, we have never compromised on making easy-care clothes in basic colours.
“Another way of making life easier for women with children was giving them somewhere they could buy all childrenswear items in one place, everything from socks and underwear to outerwear,” reports Gunila Axén.
“We did everything we could to minimise the time women were forced to spend on housework. Everyone at the company shared this vision,” says Christel Kinning.
“I remember once calling Mikael Solberg, one of the then owners, and asking him ‘What are you doing?’
‘I’m making life easier for women,’ he replied, ‘I’m frying meatballs for the children!’”.
Those words are indicative of their times, but modern fathers have moved on.
These days, it’s equally important to both parents not to spend too much time on housework. And still just as important to us to do what we can to help them. Not to free up more time for our careers. But to create as much time as possible to spend with our children – and do other things besides getting them dressed and undressed.
Sport and fashion may not always seem like an obvious combination – except when it comes to sponsorship. But putting a Polarn O. Pyret logo on an ice hockey shirt felt…underwhelming.
Someone had a brilliant idea.
“The referees wear (vertically) striped shirts. Let’s turn them around!”
No sooner said than done. Every referee in the Swedish Hockey League 2006 got a shirt with the classic PO.P stripes instead of their usual shirts and after each match one player was named ‘the most sporting player’.
“The concept of decency has always been associated with Polarn O. Pyret’s clothes, production conditions and quality over the years. It felt completely right to acknowledge the player who’d shown fair play during the match,” recalls Mikael Solberg.
Stripes and stripes obviously go together, but stripes and spots can be surprisingly amusing sometimes. Many of you may recall the classic image of a Dalmatian in a PO.P-stripe dog top.
“At one time, we were using the stripe anywhere and everywhere as a way of staking our claim to it,” explains Christel Kinning. “We even went as far as making a striped top for dogs as part of a Christmas campaign. This was long before the fashion houses had thought of dog clothes and it was a ridiculous hit! The contrast of a stripy top on a spotty dog was irresistible – everyone loved that picture!”
Tops for dogs might be an innovative concept, but they never went into large-scale production. An innovative concept that did, however, was trousers designed for differently shaped behinds. We launched them with a now-legendary image. Not of the actual trousers, but the behinds they were designed to fit. Birthday suit bare.
“We talked about pear-, apple- and leek-shaped behinds in the ads,” recalls Bie Seipel. “There was a specific style of trousers to suit each shape. It’s pretty obvious when you think about it: We’re all different shapes, why shouldn’t our trousers be different too?”
They were a huge hit.
“Customers who’d never found the right fit jeans before loved their T42s and since they were made in such fantastic quality fabric, you could wear them forever – provided you didn’t change shape,” laughs Bie.
“Yes, the jeans just got better and better the more you used them, because they were made of unwashed denim and people who still have them say they’re best now – 30 years later!” puts in Christina Röstlund, who sold thousands of these popular jeans over the years in our shop in Gävle.
No-one can say for sure. We know of many garments made in the early 1970s that are still going strong. They’ve either been loved by generation after generation, or by one person for decades. Some say they get better and better with age.
Our garments have always been made to be handed down from child to child, especially between sisters and brothers. This obviously makes good ecological and economical sense.
Mikael Solberg recalls a comparison they once made between PO.P garments and similar budget alternatives.
“This happened after we discovered that Polarn O. Pyret was one of the Swedish second-hand market’s best-selling clothing label. On average, people selling second-hand PO.P clothes recovered 50% of the original purchase price. If the garment had been worn by two children before it was re-sold, the net cost was even lower than the cost of a budget garment, which is also unlikely to last long enough to be re-used.
One of the key ideas behind our basic colours and unisex prints is enabling siblings to inherit clothes from one another. Regardless of whether it was previously worn by a girl or a boy, a garment in good condition should obviously be used again and again by child after child. That’s why our name labels have multiple lines. Some people think they should have even more!
This spirit of durability has infused PO.P from the very beginning. Bie Seipel, one of our first Marketing Directors, was asked how long she thinks a garment should last.
“20 years. At least,” answers Bie, who just happens to be wearing a 40-year-old PO.P t-shirt with a design by Lasse Åberg.
“I ended up a bit obsessed by developing the durability of our garments,” confesses Elisabeth Fahlström. “My son once managed to ruin a beaver nylon overall by sliding in it, even though beaver nylon was by far the strongest material on the market when he was young...
“You wouldn’t believe how hard we worked to develop testing methods. We couldn’t just let children test the durability; we also used a method previously unknown to the test lab in China which involved using a Martindale Abrasion and Pilling Tester.
“It was easier once the first textile engineers arrived in the mid-2000s and we built an in-house test lab.”
Perhaps they laid the foundation for us continuing to be one of the Swedish second-hand market’s best-selling clothing label.
You are currently able to make a complaint about any garment you’ve bought from us for a period of three years. But you can also buy mending patches and mend them yourself if they should tear after that. And spare foot straps to avoid gaps between trousers and shoes. Because no-one really knows just how long you can wear a PO.P garment. Now that’s what we call durability.
We have our stripy reasons and chequered causes to be proud. Our stripe hasn’t changed since 1976. Not in the least. But others things have.
We may no longer sell checked smocks or clothes for adults, but we’re still just as insistent that a top or a pair of trousers should last a long time for children to be children in. We still sew overlocking, extra soft seams that don’t chafe, we still use fabrics with a high gram weight for durability and the fit of each garment is still adapted for boys and girls, not girls or boys. And our stripe is always available in red and blue, season after season.
Children are still children. Who knows, a top from 1976 may still be being worn by someone close to you. Which would make it a smart environmental choice long before we were familiar with the concept. And it means we’ve succeeded in our ambition to always be relevant and never merely trendy.
Actually, there is something that’s changed. The textile industry has evolved and our clothes are now made in more than 60 different factories in a number of different countries. No matter where they’re made, it’s just as important to us that the people making them have good working conditions. Sustainability is about more than quality clothes that can be re-used. We stipulate strict standards for working conditions, sustainable fibres, animal protection, traceability, chemical use and water purification.
“In the 1980s, when we were looking at Italy as a potential market, we were astonished to find that nearly all children’s clothes there were dry clean/hand wash only. This is still the case in a surprisingly large part of the ranges in a number of European countries. How eco-friendly is that?” wonders Mikael Solberg.
Quality and sustainability go hand in hand, and they are both incompatible with using a lot of chemicals.
“As far back as the late 1980s, we launched Nature care/Eco cotton. There were already some naturally dyed cottons on the market, but our mill owner made sure we could make our colours and prints in eco cotton as well. When certain chemicals were eventually banned, we’d stopped using them long before,” reports Elisabeth Fahlström.
Needless to say, we’re still using organic cotton.
In the same spirit, we’re happy to help you buy and sell second-hand PO.P clothes via our website. Some call this competing with ourselves. We say we’re proud of our quality. Just as we’re proud to be one of the Swedish second-hand market’s best-selling clothing label.
(As the exception that proves the rule, we have to admit to using PVC in rain jackets in the past. Something we would never do today.)
Every child in Sweden knows there’s no such thing as bad weather. Rain, wind or snow is never a reason not to play outdoors in a country with more than its fair share of Forest Kindergartens.
It’s not the same in other countries.
“We frequently have to show our Chinese manufacturers a Swedish playground before they can even begin to understand our functionality requirements,” says Anders Wiberg.
“We have a special culture here in Scandinavia,” says Elisabeth Fahlström. “Our children are allowed to be children and play outdoors all year round when they’re in daycare. In Asia/China, on the other hand, children begin preschool activities at an early age and have homework. A three-year-old with homework won’t have the same need of outerwear with high-visibility details… This is why it’s a good thing that the Swedish employees at our Hong Kong office can explain our needs to our Chinese colleagues.”
Few people are more accustomed to bad weather than the people of England.
“I really like the Swedish way of saying there’s no bad weather, only the wrong clothes,” says British Jo Nilsson , Who runs 15 PO.P franchise in the UK with her Swedish husband Mats.
“Our children have had a very Swedish upbringing in that respect. That may be one of the reasons I think our fleece jackets are the best item of clothing in the world. They meet our need to dress our children sensibly and a child’s need not to be hampered by his or her clothes.”
“It’s not just my children who LOVE our famous fleece,” continues Jo. “I think it’s a best-seller because kids love the thumb-holes, the jacket weighs next to nothing, never feels in the way and yet keeps a child warm.”
“These days, it feels completely natural to produce this type of childrenswear, but it was different at the beginning,” recalls Karina Lundell.
“The underlying sportswear and leisurewear concept is directly applicable to children’s reality and we were among the first to take our inspiration there. Then we added the requirement for durability, as functional clothing for adults isn’t really intended for sliding on your behind, climbing trees, crawling in tunnels and wrestling in.”
We constantly ask ourselves: what’s important to children and to parents?
Take beaver nylon, for example, which has to be super strong to give parents the durability they expect, but soft enough to give children the flexibility they need. These days, soft nylon, taped seams and breathable material are all a given.
The layering principle is another example, with a windproof shell jacket and a cosy middle layer. It’s a perfect way to dress a child who’s running in circles one minute and glued to the spot the next.
The bodies of boys and girls are very similar before they reach their teens. We work with clothes for children. So why would we make them different clothes?
“We wanted our children to grow up as people, not boys or girls.”
Bie Seipel explains the outlook on children we’ve had from the beginning. In everything from colours and prints to how we display the clothes in the shops.
“We were the first to hang clothes according to size and not divided into boys and girls,” says Karina Lundell. “The strange thing is that 40 years later we’re still virtually the only ones doing this.
“We make clothes for CHILDREN,” she continues. “We don’t even talk about boys and girls. And no-one reacts if a boy chooses a dress or a skirt instead of a top and trousers. Why shouldn’t he? Children have no preconceived ideas, only adults do! We feel an enormous sense of responsibility and have a mission: to let children choose freely and feel comfortable in the clothes they want.
But what’s all this about certain colours being gender-specific? How did it start?
An article in American trade magazine Earnshaw’s Infants Department from 1918 said:
“The generally accepted rule is pink for the boys, and blue for the girls. The reason is that pink, being a more decided and stronger color, is more suitable for the boy, while blue, which is more delicate and dainty, is prettier for the girl.”
No-one had given much thought to which colour suited boys and girls before this. It was customary to dress infants in white regardless of gender far into the 20th century. Possibly blue developed into a boy’s colour because soldiers wore blue uniforms in the First World War.
Pink became a girl’s colour some time during the 1950s.
“But why on earth would you limit children’s range of colours to just two? Or adults, when it comes to that? Children, and adults, can surely be red, blue, brown, yellow, green and whatever they like!” says Bie emphatically.
“We’ve always done what we can to avoid reinforcing gender stereotypes,” comments Christel Kinning. “The clothes in our first collections for newborns were either grey marl or beige, to be as neutral as possible. It’s a ridiculous situation when you don’t dare to prepare for a baby’s arrival for fear of buying the ‘wrong’ colour!”
Never reinforce gender-typical roles. Always think basic colours. The same style of trousers in green, blue AND pink.
“We do our best to avoid gender stereotype prints too,” says Karina Lundell. “We’d rather see a dress decorated with planes than bows!”
‘Bonus’ is an easily recognisable concept for today’s parents. The + in our PO.P+ Customer Club stands for those added extras that make life even more rewarding.
PO.P+ has almost 400,000 members in Sweden. The points and special offers are important, but the most important thing about our customer club is – our customers.
“PO.P+ is a way for us to maintain an ongoing conversation with our customers, without pestering them with questions,” says Petra Stenecker. “We get immediate feedback about what they like and don’t like via e-mails and the sales statistics help us to constantly learn more and more about different target groups.”
Our largest target group is parents. Another is gift buyers. These are frequently grandmothers who bought PO.P for their own children and are now returning to buy for their grandchildren.
“The last time I spent a day working in one of our shops, an older woman came in and spent ages looking round and examining everything. When I asked her if she needed help, she said that no, she didn’t. And then she told me that her grandchild hadn’t even been born yet. There were still a few weeks left, but her daughter had forbidden her to buy any more things for the baby! We told her how much we were looking forward to seeing her once the baby had arrived,” smiles Petra.
Statistics can only tell us so much. The spontaneous feedback we get from our members in all conceivable channels is what we appreciate the most. We especially like the e-mail we got from 200 really fanatic customers:
“Dear Polarn O. Pyret!
We’re a group of 229 PoP-crazy mums. We’d like to make a special request. We have many PoP favourites, but those of us with daughters are especially fond of your gypsy dresses. As we’ve seen so little of them lately, we decided to ask for more. Although we support the re-using of clothes and adore second-hand bargains, we’d be more than willing to pay for new gypsy dresses in your shop. Our specific gypsy requests:
So will we be making all the gypsy dresses they want us to? You never know! We especially like the fact that they ask for car prints for their daughters – these are mums who understand our unisex thinking!
Thank you to all of you who have helped us trace our history by sharing memories or looking through dusty archives.
Thank you to all of you reading about us, supporting us and celebrating with us.
The biggest thank-you of all goes to our customers. You are the ones keeping us new and fresh while remaining true to our heritage and making sure that our stripes never fade.