April 29, 2013 by Ville Raivio
’37 years old, founder of Skoaktiebolaget. I started working when I was 18 and never stopped. I guess I’m what you’d call “self-educated”. My wife used to think I was a bit crazy, I mean not that many men have more shoes than their spouses, but now she puts up with my passion for shoes and is actually starting to replace her “fashion” shoes with Carmina shoes. My kids are too young to care, but kids seem to have knack for stepping on your newly polished shoes. I come from a family of entrepreneurs and they have always been very supportive. Maybe they raised an eyebrow or two when I mentioned that my new venture was to start up a shoe store, but they know how ridiculously stubborn I am when I got my mind set on doing something, so I don’t think anyone really considered dissuading me.
All pictures taken in Skoaktiebolaget’s retail store
I received Bernhard Roetzel’s book “Gentleman” as a gift from a friend, and that was a real turning point for me. I acquired more books on the topic and I found it so fascinating to read about classic style; the history, the manufacturing process, what prerequisites a good fit, et cetera. All the small rites attached to this lifestyle is also fascinating; polishing your shoes for that impeccable shine, tying the perfect “imperfect” tie knot each morning, ironing your shirts, et cetera. I think there is a time for fashion for everyone, but after a certain point in life we become weary of fickle things, like fashion, and look towards other ways to express style. Classic style is often so much more subtle and therefor more interesting. To me at least, it has more depth and nuance than fashion.
My starting point was “Handmade Shoes for Men” by Mr. Vass. This was almost over a decade ago when the amount of knowledge on the Internet was still pretty limited. Not long after that, though, I found forums like AskAndy and Styleforum. But being a hands-on guy, I knew I had to go out there and see shoes being made, not just read about it in a book or research online. My first visit at a shoe factory was about five years ago when I visited Gaziano & Girling for the first time. Tony and Dean have been very educative and helpful. The visits at Carmina are also always rewarding, Mr. José Albaladejo is very eager to listen to our ideas and suggestions and he has a wealth of knowledge to share. Another fun factory visit was our latest trip to Bologna and Enzo Bonafé, where they still hand-welt their shoes, this is a process I’ve studied at the G&G factory for bespoke shoes, but never for ready-to-wear, it’s insane how much time that goes into a pair of ready-to-wear Bonafé shoes.
I would describe [my style] as quite conservative, but I do love a little bit of playfulness in details. I love navy suits, preferably double breasted, and with sportscoats I favor bold patterns because I find it settles my tall and slim frame. Also, generous trouser cuffs are a big help when you’re as tall as I am. I don’t wear jewelry, bracelets or necklaces that are so popular these days. I wear my wedding ring and on rare occasions a watch. When it comes to accessories I’m a bit ascetic. I have made a lot of garments from Graham Browne of London, they are great chaps to work with, but the drawback is of course that they are very busy, and rarely have the opportunity to travel to Stockholm. I have also worked with Bauer, the last remaining bespoke tailoring house in Stockholm, and Annika Heed who runs a very small bespoke operation out of haberdashery Hans Allde. My latest project is with Napoli Su Misura, they travel regularly to Stockholm which is very convenient, and I love the Neapolitan tailoring style so it will be very fun to see how this develops.
For work, I prefer Oxfords, you can’t beat that smart, elegant look in a professional environment. I also really, really love split toe shoes and I could not resist a wonderful split toe derby with a Norvegese construction when we developed our new Bonafé collection arriving in April. I think our clients really “feel” that what we’re doing at Skoaktiebolaget is something special. When it comes to online sales we like to have dialogue with our clients before they make a purchase in order to ensure a good fit, style and everything else you would experience when visiting our store on Humlegårdsgatan. We’re not looking for huge volumes; we’d rather build a long and lasting relationship with our clients and develop our business together with them.
To be honest, I was really frustrated that the selection of premium shoes available in Stockholm was so meager before. Almost two million people live in Stockholm, so it was just absurd that the variety was so poor. Hence the idea had been brewing for a while, and when opportunity presented itself, there was no hesitation what so ever, Skoaktiebolaget went from the drawing board to reality in just a few months. The vision with Skoaktiebolaget has always been to create a leading premium shoe store, not only in Sweden, but worldwide. I think we have come a long way in this short time, but there is still much work to do. Our main goal right now is to improve our existing concept. Another important goal is to try and reach more clients in the Nordic countries and not only the US, where the lion’s share of our export goes to.
Mr Löf with SAB’s co-owner Daniel Tung
We have been received brilliantly! What delights me the most is the overwhelmingly positive feedback my team has received with regards to customer care; both from in-store clients and mail order clients. The response from the US has been especially overwhelming, it’s amazing how many shoes we ship to the other side of the Atlantic each month.
Basically, classical men’s clothes and shoes are my hobbies. Because I run a couple of businesses besides Skoaktiebolaget, and also have small kids, I don’t really have much “free” time, although I consider a lot of what I do for work relaxation…I don’t know if that makes any sense, but working with what I love is a special kind of freedom. I also try to spend as much time as possible at our summer house in the Stockholm Archipelago, the serenity of the countryside is an important change of scenery from an otherwise very hectic city life.
Over the years I’ve first and foremost come to the insight that most people buy shoes with their gut. You can try to persuade people and go into discussions about the financial, environmental and aesthetic perks of premium shoes, but what it all comes down to is your gut, you have to be able to feel for a pair of shoes. It’s like love; it doesn’t always make a lot of sense.’
Pictures: © Kjell B. Persson