We had the pleasure to meet and talk with the amazing Christina Forsberg from SCANDINAVIALIST about August Sandgren. A brief interview about our work and our journey...
Thank you Christina Forsberg for your professionalism, great style and remarkable personality.
You can read the text below, but you should visit https://www.scandinavialist.com/home/2020/8/6/interview-august-sandgren to see the interview set up as it should be - with images and a beautiful layout.
DON’T YOU JUST LOVE WHEN YOU COME ACROSS SOMETHING THAT YOU DIDN’T REALLY KNOW YOU NEEDED UNTIL YOU STUMBLE-UPON IT? YOU LITERALLY GO: ‘OH MY GOSH, YES!’ THE MOMENT YOU SEE IT, AS IT COMPLETELY RESONATES WITH YOUR WAY OF LIVING AND YOUR SENSE OF AESTHETIC. THAT’S HOW I FELT THE DAY I STUMBLED-UPON AUGUST SANDGREN ON INSTAGRAM A WHILE BACK — THE LIDDED STORAGE BOX I NEVER KNEW I NEEDED, BUT NOW THAT I HAVE IT, I JUST CAN’T IMAGINE MY HOME WITHOUT IT.
It’s as practical and versatile as it is beautiful and minimal, with the added bonus of being ever so sustainable with its timeless look and durable natural materials, and the story behind it all is just as beautiful and inspiring — I’d like you to meet Pia Kirkeskov Andersen, a Dane who I had the pleasure of getting to know in London earlier this year when planning the (now postponed) Danish Design Pavilion for London Design Fair. Pia is not your ordinary creative founder and August Sandgren is not your ordinary design brand — Read about Pia’s journey and how she took the design heritage of an old book binding business and transformed it into a modern exclusive storage brand.
1 // IN A NUTSHELL, CAN YOU TELL US WHAT AUGUST SANDGREN IS?
August Sandgren is a 100 year old company who today makes handcrafted storage objects to meet the storage need of people who care about the aesthetics and neatness of their surroundings. We handcraft all our objects in Portugal and we make them from surplus materials from executive members of the European furniture and fashion industry.
2 // YOU COME FROM A VERY DIFFERENT BUSINESS BACKGROUND, AS A TOP CONSULTANT AT MCKINSEY, WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO LEAVE CONSULTING AND TAKE THE PLUNGE INTO THE DESIGN WORLD?
Maybe in reality McKinsey & Company was the detour. I always wanted to work in the interior and design space, but when I was offered a job with McKinsey & Company after my Masters, I said yes. It felt right to try it out now that I had the opportunity. I loved the challenges and my colleagues there, so the two years planned learning journey became a 10 year career. Looking back, the path might not be that bad. I stayed true to my passion which lead me to go in the design direction eventually, but McKinsey matured me, taught me about business and gave me a priceless support network. In many ways it made me self confident and brave enough to pursue a career in design.
3 // CAN TELL US A BIT MORE ABOUT THE HISTORY AND HERITAGE OF AUGUST SANDGREN AND HOW YOU CAME ACROSS IT?
I was looking for storage for my own home and could not find any small-item storage objects made to be "on display" on my living room table, on my home office desk, on the bedside table or in the hallway. All I could find was plastic and felt boxes, which are great for "under-the-bed" or "basement" storage but not for being used daily and placed in common areas around the house. I did a bit of research among interior designers and they all confirmed that there was an unmet market in this space. As storage is not a new category, I, together with my then business partner, spent a lot of time researching who did storage boxes in the old days. We soon found out that a 100 years ago in Denmark, the bookbinders also made boxes. We then started to research who the best bookbinder was and who would be interested in teaching us the old craftsmanship. We researched and talked to all the best bookbinders in Denmark, leading us to meet many talented craftsmen, however we kept stumbling-upon one name again and again; August Sandgren.
August Sandgren had closed his business in 1993, but the name was still mentioned in all books and by all his colleagues as one of the most distinctive bookbinders Denmark has ever had. So it turns out, August Sandgren was to his craft what Kaare Klint, Arne Jacobsen and Hans J. Wegner were to Danish design furniture: a true icon. His original work is shown at Designmuseum Denmark and at the Royal Danish Library and he is know as one of the founders of the Danish functionalism. When we learned this, there was no way back. We wanted August’s virtues of quality, simplicity and modernity to lead our designs. Unfortunately August himself had passed away a long time a go, but we were lucky to be endorsed by his family to take over the business and with that, his design heritage, old patterns and craftsmanship methods.
4 // HOW DID YOU GO ABOUT TAKING AN OLD BOOK BINDING BUSINESS AND TRANSFORMING IT INTO YOUR OWN UNIQUE DESIGN BRAND?
I think the main driver is August Sandgren himself and of course his patterns and designs. Apart from his virtues of quality, simplicity and modernity mentioned above, he was a curious human being who traveled the world for years to learn from the best craftsmen in Europe. He was also a true collaborator who worked with the best craftsmen of his time. August believed that working together was the only way to improve your work and reach new heights in design. As I continued learning about August and his approach to design, I found myself so proud and humble to have been given the permission to continue his heritage. His virtues and his way of operating has become the guidelines upon which we run the business.
We do, on the other side, not claim to run the business exactly as August did, we have of course modernised it to make the assortment and choice of materials and colours reflect the world we live in today. Fortunately for us, August himself always demanded that his work was modern and up to date, so we still feel we honour his ethos by keeping up the quality and simplicity of our objects.
Our Bookbox is an example of how we portray August himself in our designs — The Bookbox was the first product we launched after taking over the business and this was one of August’s own designs. But rather than serving as protection for precious books, as a book box was used for in the old days, we launched The Bookbox as a versatile storage item in its own right. Today this is our best selling object.
5 // WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR FAVOURITE PART OF THIS JOURNEY AND WHAT HAS BEEN THE MOST CHALLENGING?
My favourite part is forming partnerships to create unique individual objects and to continuously work with my team and our broader network of collaborators. I am constantly amazed by the ownership that people show in their work and the synergies that derives from working together. No thought is better on its own than when discussed with interested and capable people.
The most challenging part is to build a brand from scratch. We inherited a huge legacy but we had to build the brand ourselves. As brand building was completely new to us, we have spent a lot of time trying to find out who we really are. While moving forward we have also moved sideways and sometimes directly backwards. That takes time and costs money and as a startup and a super impatient ex. consultant that can be hard to cope with. Fortunately now it seems like we know who we are and we are taking steps in the right direction. We are still a very long way from reaching our vision of becoming a global exclusive storage object brand, but as long as we move closer every day I’m not complaining.
6 // CAN YOU TELL US A BIT MORE ABOUT YOUR APPROACH TO SUSTAINABILITY AND OTHER BRANDS YOU COLLABORATE WITH?
We believe the most sustainable products are the ones that last for a very long time and is made from natural materials. Our boxes, covers and holders are made to last. We spend a lot of time to ensure that the design is so simple in form and colour that it is completely timeless, as well as being very particular with the production so to ensure that the product itself is durable and long-lasting. We are also very proud of the fact that since January 2020 we only use surplus materials sourced from exclusive members of the furniture and fashion industry. The change from primary materials to surplus materials have been much harder than we thought, as it creates complexity and new ways of operating across the entire supply chain, but it’s worth it because we believe it’s the right thing to do. It’s our small contribution to the planet and the people on it.
Partnerships are the main driver of our business — It can either be one where we craft a box as an object in itself to be part of our partners assortment or it can be a storage object serving as packaging for an exclusive product. We have already worked with companies to create storage boxes for jewellery, watches, silverware, Moreno glass, exclusive whiskey etc., with many new partnerships in the making, that we can’t wait to tell you about.
7 // WHAT ARE YOUR FUTURE ASPIRATIONS FOR AUGUST SANDGREN AND WHERE WOULD YOU WANT TO BE 10 YEARS FROM NOW?
As mentioned above, our vision is to become a leading global exclusive storage object brand offering a functional and aesthetic solution for any storage need you might have.
8 // WHAT IS THE BEST ADVICE YOU HAVE EVER RECEIVED THAT HAS HELPED YOU ALONG THE WAY OF BUILDING AUGUST SANDGREN?
Be patient, work hard and don't give up. I repeat that everyday, because even though this is the best choice I ever made and I love my work, it is also a challenging journey that takes a lot of time. In many ways it helps me to know that my journey, although unique in some ways, is not. Creating a brand takes time, regardless of who you are. If you truly want to do it there is only one way - patience, hard work and belief.