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My fashion life - Johan Ringdal

His grandfather’s practical approach to keeping his feet dry inspired the Swims founder to reinvent galoshes.

Johan Ringdal

Johan Ringdal

Having started your brand with galoshes in 2005, did you ever expect to have a full clothing range?
No, I guess I didn’t when I started out. I was pretty sure about rainwear, but I didn’t anticipate that swimwear and summer loafers would become such a large part of the business [40%]. The beauty of starting a business is the coincidental opportunities that can appear if you stay dynamic, creative and focused.

How did people initially respond to you reinventing galoshes?
For Swims, galoshes were a major success and the sole reason for the company’s existence today. Being the first product, it laid a foundation for innovation, materials and creativity both for us and our clients. Mature markets for galoshes or overshoes, such as Scandinavia, Germany and the US east Coast, were very receptive to the idea and sell-through proved beyond expectations. Shops in markets less familiar with galoshes performed more slowly, such as Spain, Dubai and Greece, but still keep buying due to the obvious functional features of the product (UK stockists include Mr Porter, Selfridges and OD’s in St Helens).

Where did the idea come from?
Coming from Norway, a country with lots of rain and snow, people tend to dress more practically and less elegantly, so the essence of the idea was to merge functionality with elegance. Having lived in Paris and New York I knew that Norway was not the only place with rain and severe downpours. I always used to feel sorry for all the beautiful leather shoes that were sloshing around in rain and dirty streets and the idea [for Swims] was inspired by my grandfather’s galoshes.

Has your grandfather been a particular inspiration to you in terms of style?
He was elegant by nature and by style he was understated and a relaxed conservative. To a certain extent he might have been an influence on my aesthetic perspective but to me, style is a way of life and my life is too hectic to relate to his style.

Can you describe the Swims label in three words?
Innovative, functional, classic.

How do you style your Swims?
This summer I’ve been wearing Swims loafers almost every weekend. I love sailing and the Sport Loafers are a perfect fit. In the evening I tend to choose darker Penny Loafers. At the Swims office and studio in Norway we have a casual dress code; I usually wear a white shirt, chinos or jeans and Swims loafers.

Are you a good swimmer, or at least water-friendly like Swims?
I am a decent swimmer and very much water-friendly. Water and swimming make me very, very happy. Swimming reminds me of happy times and vacations.

What is your favourite thing about being Norwegian?
I like the four distinct seasons. As soon as we are about to end one season I can’t wait for the next one. It’s really fresh and nice. Also, we have beautiful nature and very clean water.

What’s the best thing anyone has ever said to you about Swims?
“It’s the most innovative footwear I’ve ever seen and I was shocked I had to replenish so soon!” As said by a buyer at Pitti Uomo this season.

And the worst?
“Swims is really boring!” But I’d like to keep who said that a secret.

What has been the most surprising part of the brand’s journey so far?
The complexity of meeting our clients’ needs on different continents while being a small company. Being small you can’t make regional-specific product lines due to production restrictions, so you need to filter and adapt feedback as well as follow your gut. Consumers and markets differ more than I imagined, which I guess makes the job more rewarding when it finally works.

Who would you like to see wearing the brand?
I would like to see the impeccable James Bond sporting a pair of Swims at a beach bar in the Maldives, sipping a chilled dry martini and finding romance. Daniel Craig being the newest would work best with our contemporary design, even though I have a soft spot for the groundbreaking sleekness of Mr Moore.

Which other brands do you admire?
I like Prada for being beautifully extreme and just doing what it feels like. It is pushing boundaries, which is rare for a big machine.

How do you start your day?
With homemade muesli and some sort of power-health smoothie; I have a very generous girlfriend. I wish I was wise enough to include a workout in my morning routine.

Where is your favourite place?
If not at home, then somewhere in the mountains in Switzerland, Norway or Austria, either skiing, climbing, trekking or just chilling out.

What is your most treasured possession?
My grandfather’s overshoes. They’ve sort of coloured my life a bit.

If you were to reinvent another product, what would it be?
I can’t tell you yet, it doesn’t feel right! But in general a lot of products can be made better.

What does the future hold for Swims?
I believe Swims is about to become a rebellious teenager. It’s growing relatively quickly and we need to nurture it even more than before. In the quest to become a serious lifestyle brand we need to focus and continue to innovate. My fear is that we could become conventional, but I’m going to fight that to the bitter end.

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