Q&A: Anton Sandqvist, Founder of Swedish Bag Brand Sandqvist
The Swedish designer and outdoor enthusiast talks design, motorcycles and vintage inspirations for his namesake brand
As the story goes, in 2004 mechanical engineer Anton Sandqvist first began building backpacks in his Stockholm basement as a creative outlet and design experiment. Early iterations drew inspiration from vintage outdoor packs and Swedish military gear, blending tried and true silhouettes with updated, elevated materials. In time, and with the help of his brother Daniel and their childhood friend Sebastian Westin, Sandqvist became a brand, and drew a global audience. Together the three lifelong outdoorsmen created a cohesive brand identity shaped equally by a youth spent hiking, fishing, skiing and exploring the Swedish countryside with the experience of living and working in Sweden's center of culture and fashion.
Today, with close to two hundred styles spread across 10 material-based collections, Sandqvist continues to lean on this ingrained appreciation for the pristine Nordic landscape. The result is a distinctly Scandinavian aesthetic that's at once sophisticated and rugged, attractive and functional, making many of their bags as applicable in urban settings as in the outdoors. And so, a keen eye is as likely to spot a Sandqvist bag on the back of a fashion editor in Tokyo or bike commuter in New York as an avid hiker in Vancouver.
We recently caught up with Anton Sandqvist to learn more about his experience as a designer, what we'll see in the upcoming SS16 collection, and how he spends his spare time. For the visual TL;DR version, watch this video.
What designers or architects have inspired you over the years?
One designer who influenced me is Jan Wilsgaard, who was head of design at Volvo from 1950 to 1991. He created several classic Volvo cars such as the Amazon, the 140, 240 and 740 series, which all have a feel of everyday functionality, durability and some held-back simplistic Scandinavian style.
You have some experience with industrial design yourself, too. Right?
Yes, I did some furniture for myself in the past—a concrete and copper pipe lamp, a plywood coffee table, and a kitchen sink cast in concrete. With the lamp, I made and sold some 10 pieces. But then I started with the bags and had no time to make furniture anymore.
And you're into motorcycles now. What is it about them that appeals to you most?
Through motorcycles I get an outlet for my engineering creativity. I studied mechanical engineering at university and I really enjoy solving technical problems—as long as they are mechanical, not digital. I love welding, machining, tuning engines and those kind of things. So the tinkering part of the motorcycle hobby is my main thing, but I do like to ride them too of course.
What other hobbies or activities are you interested at the moment? What do you feel you gain from being outside?
I like all kinds of outdoor activities, like ski hiking and long distance ice skating in the winter, and fly fishing, climbing, hiking, and canoeing in the summer. For one I gain exercise—I hate to go to gyms, so all the exercise I ever get is from riding a bicycle to work every day, all year around, and from those outdoor occasions.
And then I think I empty my head from it, leaving all problems behind. I actually don’t think so much about what I gain, I just have always done outdoor stuff and need it for my well being.
Talk a bit about designing products that are as at home in the city as they are in nature?
I am a big fan of old outdoor backpacks, the look they had before they became super technical. Some of Sandqvist’s early backpack styles, like Hans and Roald, are inspired by such simple and durable old packs. And since we focus on daypack size (we don’t make large backpacks for longer hikes) we always put a laptop pocket inside, so they naturally become equally well usable for the city life as well as for hikes in the nature.
I don’t think so much about what I gain, I just have always done outdoor stuff and need it for my well being.
So many brands “innovate” by adding more, often redundant, features. How do you approach designing from season to season with Sandqvist?
We of course work hard to be innovative and to develop our expression and design, but our way is not to do it by adding more features. We work with new materials, new shapes, new colorways, new types of bags. Today we have 10 different bag collections in our line, all having a slightly different look and purpose, but we always stay true to our core values: Durability, simplicity, function and style.
What is your favorite piece in the current lineup?
I like the Roald Ground. I have used this style for a long time as my everyday bag and I really like it’s new version in our new poly-cotton material. Lots of backpack for the buck, too.
Sweden has many rich traditions surrounding the holidays and New Years. Do you have a favorite?
I have a personal tradition to go by myself to our cabin in Härjedalen in Northwest Sweden between Christmas and New Year, to have some relaxation after the busy Christmas season. Then I usually do my favorite hike to Sonfjället mountain and overnight in the small rescue cabin there. As the sun sets around 1400 in the afternoon here this time of year, I mostly do the hike in darkness, with a headlight and hopefully some help from the moon light.
One year I woke up from some noise outside the cabin and when I looked out through the door, the cabin was surrounded by a flock of many hundreds of reindeer. This winter hike is my personal christmas tradition.