24 Minutes with Albin Johansson and Max Svärdh, the founders of contemporary label Axel Arigato


By Joan Kong

24 Minutes with Albin Johansson and Max Svärdh, the founders of contemporary label Axel Arigato

The sneaker industry is undoubtedly a crowded market, but there’s a Swedish brand that already has a piece of that pie, and it’s all thanks to social media and word-of-mouth. Enter Axel Arigato—a contemporary Swedish fashion label that started out as a sneaker brand with one simple mission: To disrupt the industry by foregoing seasonal collections and traditional sales channels. Its focus? Engaging with customers directly via a digital-first approach. Staying true to its Scandi roots, its design aesthetic is all about refined athleticism, and its offerings—which now include ready-to-wear and accessories—are pulled together with a sustainable focus.

Since it was established in 2014, the brand has since garnered over 566k followers on Instagram, and it counts It-listers including Bella Hadid, Justin Bieber, Chris Evans, and Margot Robbie as some of its clients.

Below, CEO Albin Johansson and creative director Max Svärdh give us an insight into the world of Axel Arigato, and how they’re taking things one step at a time:

Let’s go back to the start. How did the name ‘Axel Arigato’ come about?

Albin Johansson (AJ): We wanted to create a literary figure to shift the focus from ourselves. The individuality of the name meant that no one could associate the name with anything else and it would be free to create its own value and image.


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Tell us more about the origins of the brand.

AJ: We founded the brand in 2014 in our hometown Gothenburg and started working on it about a year before that. We were both working with e-commerce and wanted to create something new that was different from what already existed in the market at that point. Basically we didn’t believe that the traditional distribution model was the future nor did we think high quality products needed to cost as much as they did at that point.

In order to differentiate ourselves from other brands we decided to begin with only selling through our website and work with word-of-mouth and marketing through social media to increase brand awareness. We also started immediately with our concept ”Drop of the Week” which allows us to forego traditional seasons and launch at least one new product every week.


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What do you think makes the Axel Arigato sneakers stand out in a sea of minimal kicks?

AJ: For us, Axel Arigato is so much more than just products, it is the combination of several parameters that makes us unique. We are very particular with each aspect of the brand—the products, the packaging, the experience we provide be it online or in-store, the content that we produce on a daily basis, and even down to the distribution. If we can create all these unique elements at an honest price point that we’re offering, we do believe that we’re creating great value for our customers.


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Max Svärdh (MS): In terms of products, we love the balance of timeless core and newness. What makes our brand interesting is the variety of products. From the get-go, we aimed to create products that could seamlessly walk between different worlds and transition from day to night, from professional to social life.

Has the COVID-19 pandemic affected your business?

AJ: Although we temporarily closed our physical stores, traffic to the website grew and the social media strategy shifted to engage even more online. We hosted a series of digital events, increased focus on TikTok and improved our digital marketing overall. It has given the team new energy and we’re confident that we will come out of this even stronger. At the end of the day, Axel Arigato is a digitally native brand and we didn’t have to adapt that much—we were already working with a digital mindset at a fast speed.

What’s the biggest challenge when it comes to launching and sustaining a sneaker brand in such a competitive market?

AJ: In a world that is rapidly changing, it is very important that you know your audience and act responsively to different changes, otherwise why be in the business at all? That has been the Axel Arigato spirit from day one. MS: You constantly need to reinvent yourself, which is one of the biggest challenges in fashion but also the most interesting one. As a brand, you always need to have your finger on the pulse.



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