Against the current

The founders of sneaker brand Axel Arigato see no limits. Fluid in their creative and business thinking, they are representing a new way for contemporary brands to be successful and stand out from the masses.

Upon meeting Max Svärdh and Albin Johansson, your first reaction is that these guys know exactly what they’re talking about. Well versed in the creative and business spheres, their approach to their brand is unrestricted and constantly evolving. This is perhaps why when they launched the underground Swedish sneaker brand, Axel Arigato, it became an instant hit. They focused on digital and social media to push their brand, and just three days in they were selling to more than 14 countries. Then they hit 100 countries during the first year, and gained plenty of traction on social media. The contemporary price point also appealed to their customers – they could shop quality leather sneakers made between Portugal and Italy for a fraction of the price of luxury brands.

axel arigato interview

What started as just two guys with a vision and hell of a lot of confidence, turned into a global business leading them to open physical stores, and most recently launch a four month pop-up at Level Shoes, The Dubai Mall. We catch up with the duo on their first, and brief, trip to the region to find out exactly how they managed to build their brand from the ground up, and how they see it evolving.

On why they started

MS: There was not a single brand that we felt that we could truly identify ourselves with. And it wasn’t only us, it was everyone we were hanging out with. We launched the brand in 2014, when social media was really growing, smartphones changed how we were behaving, but brands were still working according to the old consumer model, and we wanted to do something new and fresh. We were born on the internet.

AJ: It was good timing for us because we wouldn’t be able to do what we did five years prior. We were able to connect directly to our customer through social media and to also sell directly through our website. We are a very marketing driven brand, but we do it our way.

axel arigato interview

On constantly evolving

AJ: There aren’t the same opportunities today as there were five years ago. Everyone now is trying to break within the same space, and it’s harder. We have changed our business model, we also changed our logo and assortment, so nothing from what Axel Arigato was is the same today. But we are more relevant than ever, we are better than ever and more known than ever.

MS: You need to be up to date with what is happening in every sense.

AJ: Someone else can take your spot, you need to be on top of your game. You’re never better than your last product, you can’t lean back on something that was good years ago

On embracing change

AJ: We love what we’re doing and we’re both optimistic. We see chances. I see everything is possible, I don’t see problems and that’s why we work well together. For us, retail is not dying, fashion is not going backwards.

MS: All these changes have been opportunities for us. We loved them. Changes are positive.

AJ: We don’t want to be defined. We are constantly evolving and changing. Everything goes so fast. Of course you need a framework, but that framework has to evolve all the time. We are a sneaker brand but we don’t know what we do in one week, or one year.

axel arigato interview

On importance of retail space

MS: The reason we went physical and opened up spaces is because we wanted to show so much more of us and the brand that we weren’t able to do through the website and social media. You can’t touch an image, so by opening our store we were able to show our DNA. It’s much easier for our customer to have a good understanding of our brand through the store. From the layout, to music, to the product.

AJ: Think about the brand and then the rest is secondary. Without a brand you don’t have a website with traffic and awareness.

On their first visit to Dubai

MS: Just being in The Dubai Mall, we noticed a big sneaker and fashion interest. Just looking at the people and products, it’s obvious that people are fashion forward and I think there’s a space for us in this region.

On inspiration

MS: Inspiration just comes to you. Instagram is a big source, but the biggest inspiration is the next generation – what do they like? What apps do they use? How do they communicate? You can be inspired in so many different ways. I’m more interested in bigger shifts and trends.


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Their advice for the next generation

MS: There’s big opportunities today even though the competition is fiercer. The most important thing is to do it, and not just talk about it.

AJ: What more important than ever is to really think 360. It’s not enough to do one thing good enough. You need to think about how you’re going to get the brand message out, how do you get consumers to know who you are, how can you offer them a good experience, and the packaging, product and design, what makes you different, what’s the reason for you to be out there, why should a consumer choose you? If you’re doing the same as someone else, it becomes more of a commodity than an actual brand.

Axel Arigato available at Level Shoes, The Dubai Mall and

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Images: Supplied