I don’t know what it was that first caught my eye when I received the invitation for Fjällräven’s Kånken Art global product launch. Was it the words “free cocktails” or “Swedish bowl food”? Or possibly the fact that the “ambassador of Sweden requested the pleasure of [my] company”?
Not a day goes by that I don’t receive press releases that “might be of interest to [my] audience” or invitations for press/blog events. But it’s rare that they indeed offer something more meaningful to me, my audience and the brand that I have worked hard and long for to establish. Of course the unique chance to set foot inside the Swedish ambassador’s private residence was a tempting reason in itself, but what really persuaded me was that it wasn’t just a cynical commercial promotion.
Fjällräven Kånken, part of Sweden’s DNA
Yes, of course the essence of the event was to promote a new product. However, what I enjoyed most about this evening were not the distinctive Swedish cloudberry & gin cocktails (although I admit they tasted pretty good) or the prospect of getting my hands on one of the brand-new Kånken bags, but the personal stories of the other guests and even our host, the ambassador, relating to these world-famous backpacks.
I am sure you either own one of the iconic Kånken backpacks yourself or at least have seen someone wearing them in the streets. It’s hard to miss these colourful compact bags, recognisable by the cute logo of a sleeping arctic fox – Fjällräven is Swedish for arctic fox. Until last Thursday I had no idea how important these bags were for Swedes, but I’m now convinced they are ingrained in Sweden’s DNA.
The entrance of the Swedish ambassador’s private residence. The Swedish flag made out of Fjällräven Kånken bags. They are definitely part of Sweden’s DNA!
Surrounded by Swedes, I kept hearing how they all had grown up with these bags, initially designed as school bags. Witnessing the literal pain of carrying heavy school bags by children, Fjällräven founder Åke Nordin designed the first Kånken bag in 1978 to help lift the burden and help resolve the growing back pain problems in school children. Åke’s main focus points for all the products he designed, had always been ergonomics and practicality.
Unsurprisingly his backpack soon became a nationwide success. The ambassador told us with great enthusiasm that he was proud he had seen the evolution and success of this world-famous backpack from the very beginning as a young boy. Although he hasn’t always felt that way, he confessed to us, as his first associations with the bag were obviously school-related. Now, over 40 years later the designs of the bags haven’t changed much. Their two large straps allow you to carry the bag on your shoulder as a backpack and the small strap on top makes it possible to carry it just in your hand if you wish. Coming from an outdoor brand, they are of course also made from durable and water-resistant fabric. But what I like most about the bag is the cushioned pad inside it at the back, adding comfort for the wearer by preventing objects from the bag sticking in your back.
Inside the ambassador’s home. It’s quite something, right?
From nature to art
The success of the Kånken bag didn’t go unrecognised. In 2016 Svensk Form, the Swedish Society of Crafts and Design, listed Kånken as applied art, putting it right next to music, film and literary pieces. How often do you hear of a bag being recognised as a piece of art?
But the backpack’s associations with art doesn’t quite stop there. 2019 marks the introduction of the Kånken Art special edition, the latest additions to the vast collection of Sweden’s most famous outdoor brand, Fjällräven. For this special occasion, the company invited two Swedish artists to create designs in response to nature, drawn from their own memories and relationship to nature and the outdoors. And again, it were these stories that struck me most, making the designs and products ever more meaningful to me after hearing their creators’ personal stories behind them. Let me briefly introduce the designers here to you!
I had the pleasure of speaking to Cecilia personally at the beginning of the evening. We discovered we share a mutual love for the British metal band Judas Priest and children’s books – I used to work on children’s book as an editor and Cecilia is a children’s books illustrator and author. (You can view her work here.)
Cecilia has a close relationship with nature, but also has special memories of going out in nature with her own Kånken bag. Memories of going out to collect twigs, leaves, pinecones and wild mushrooms and stuffing them in her backpack. But also of losing her backpack one day on one of those foraging trips. Only to miraculously find it back again later!
Nature has always been the main focus in Cecilia’s drawings and stories. And she works best whilst surrounded by the inspiring woodlands around her house in the north of Sweden. She usually tells her children’s stories through animals, making them relatable for children but also to create awareness of the importance of the environment. The main protagonist of her debut book, a badger who’s a former captain but then gets scared of water, also features in her two Kånken Art designs: the Blue Fable and Green Fable. And if you look up close, you will also recognise her foraging treasures in the design. I loved Cecilia’s quote about her designs, of how she hopes that they will inspire their users to go find their own narratives and adventures in nature.
Cecilia did some live drawing during the event!
Graphic designer Erik Olovsson unfortunately couldn’t make it to the event, but they showed us a lovely video of him working in the studio and explaining his thoughts behind his two Kånken Art designs: Spring landscape and Summer landscape.
Before I learned his thoughts on them, I thought he had applied a camouflage design. But his designs turned out to be so much more. They are actually layers representing his memories of nature. Memories of how he went into nature with his grandparents as a boy and seeing a layer of majestic mountains, with another layer of tall green trees standing in front of the mountains, and a layer of blue lakes at the front. Here’s a snapshot I took of his 3D visual representation of these layers in nature. Compare them to the flattened design of the backpacks in the photo underneath it. Don’t you think that Erik’s personal story opens up a whole new interpretation and appreciation of his beautiful design?
Spring Landscape by Erik Olovsson
And from art to nature
From the very start of its existence in the 1960s, Fjällräven has supported environmental projects. To be able to raise awareness and funds for sustainable environmental projects on a larger scale, they have recently launched The Arctic Fox Initiative. Part of their funds will come from the sales of these Kånken Art backpacks. So, if you weren’t already tempted to buy one because of their beautiful designs, knowing you’re supporting a good cause might persuade you! The Fjällräven Kånken Art bags are for sale from 15 February 2019.
Since attending the event, I’ve been trying to think of a typical and tangible Dutch product I’ve grown up with and which would still have great importance to Dutch people today. I honestly can’t think of anything. Could you think of something relating to the country you’ve grown up in?
I’d love to hear your thoughts, thanks! Zarina xx
Disclaimer: although I was invited to this exclusive event and was given one of the bags, there were no expectations from me to write about it. As always, this article reflects my personal and honest opinion. If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you know I hardly write posts related to product promotions. I only write about products and people I believe in and I was genuinely touched by the firm belief in the brand and these new products by everybody involved. I spoke to some of the Fjällräven employees who were there, from the head of international PR to those responsible for logistics, and they all seemed very enthusiastic and sincere. Therefore I am very happy to support Fjällräven and The Arctic Fox Initiative.