The brains behind your new favourite shoe brand on ethical business, building a brand and creative living.
In 2017, Johan Olsson left the straight-laced, 9-5 world of finance behind to travel the world and launch his own shoe brand Roscomar, inspired by “creative living on the road”. Sounds like a movie, right? But the brand’s not selling a far-fetched, quit-your-job, move to Bali and take up surfing dream. Instead, it’s inspired by the eclectic range of individuals Johan met abroad, who were all leading fulfilling lives outside of the lines in radically different ways. What united them was an openness to experiencing life in exciting, unconventional ways – and it’s this that Roscomar champions.
The brand’s values are reflected throughout its design process – from respectful, ethical and sustainability-conscious production processes, to the versatile, unisex product itself. Creative Director Emelie Sandberg has been busy exploring these features in new ways for Roscomar’s next collection – due to drop in January – including more fully vegan options and elevated design features.
We stopped by their office to check out the new range, and spoke to the pair about their approach to business, building a community and living the lifestyle they preach.
Johan, can you tell us more about your background before you launched the brand?
J: I was working in finance – it was a super compelling gig. I was enjoying what I was doing and it was really motivating, but ultimately, by the time you’ve done it for three or four years, you’re like “shit!” I know what I’m doing here and it’s not going to change for the next 30 or 40 years. I think it’s just millennial anxiety that’s within us; we want to go on to the next thing; we want to evolve and fulfil ourselves.
What does that fulfilment mean to you?
J: That can mean all kinds of things to different people: travel, education, switching your line of work and what you’re doing in your life in a big or small way. But for me, I was sitting in Mayfair, in a suit, feeling unhealthy, hanging out with the same group of people for the past 10 years. So I took leave of absence and went travelling for the best part of three months, just backpacking. I’d been promoted, but came back and handed in my resignation to go and figure out another way to live my life.
How does that feed into your brand values?
J: That sort of idea was really the foundation of the brand. On that trip, I met so many people who had figured it out in their own right – people who’d had a career similar to mine in a former life, and now are surfing six days a week in Bali and freelancing and sustaining themselves on that. That’s really cool, but if we think about it on a level deeper, there’s a story there. If I can kind of level up and have a more interesting life, then I’m sure there’s a tonne of people who felt that way. The idea was basically: let’s create this brand which ultimately is a platform to showcase how you can go about that revolution in your life.
Emelie, how does that feed into your design process?
E: I’ve travelled a lot and one of the biggest inspirations for me is just to go to new places and see new things. The core in what we design is that everything needs to make sense – when you go travelling you want something that’s lightweight. Everything needs to makes sense to match up with a nice dress, but also not so precious that you can’t wear it to play football or go to the beach or go hiking.
Being a brand that was born between London and LA and has its roots in a Swedish outlook, how do you incorporate these cultures into what you do?
J: It’s really a mix. That utilitarian nature of the product is a core value for us and I think that comes from Swedish design – and certainly Emelie’s background at IKEA, where things need to make sense and have a purpose. When it comes to London, the product is linear, it uses Italian suede. That’s London, in a way – the craftsmanship and tailoring history of London. And LA part is the adventure part and what we want to inspire our customers to do with the product, but also, to do with their lives.
So a functional, versatile but aspirational product is key?
E: It’s the aesthetic of a luxury premium shoe, that we haven’t really seen much in this price point. The first collection has 16 shoes – they’re the core, made of canvas. The evolution to the next shoe is that you’ll still see the same aesthetic, but what we’ve done is we’ve developed the next generation. We’ve increased the comfort, made it more durable.
J: What we stand for is having a luxury product that would normally retail at $200-$500 dollars, and making it available for under $100. That’s really important – accessibility is key for us.
It’s rare to find a brand that prioritises an ethical production process without sacrificing affordability or quality… Can you tell us more about how you attain that?
E: When we source materials, we try to make sure we really source things that are good, reduce everything in terms of plastic and use more sustainable materials that are organic whenever we can fit it in. That’s embedded into everything we do.
J: I think this is possible because we invested so much time upfront in finding the right partners. It wasn’t easy to figure out how to achieve this level of product at that price point, but it was really a matter of finding the right materials and partners.
I saw you incorporate 100% vegan products into the range – is this something you want to take further?
E: The first range had three shoes with a back that wasn’t the suede or the leather. We realised we had so much attention diverted in that direction, so we were like if this is what people want, there’s no point in us adding leather details that don’t serve a functional purpose… So for the entire canvas range in the upcoming collection, we switched the leather suede detailing to microfiber.
J: When it comes to sustainability and eco-production, we’re definitely not there yet and I don’t think we ever will be there 100%, because as long as you’re shipping around the world there’s always going to be some kind of environmental impact. It’s like what incremental steps can we take, as often as possible, to offset our footprint bit by bit?
E: What’s important is that we’re being transparent about it.
You seem to collaborate with partners whose values are aligned closely with the brand – is it important for you to build a community?
J: Apart from the product, it’s the most important thing. We’ve done a tonne of little partnerships, collaborations and events in different formats, but the idea’s always the same. Which is: when we’re in a physical room with another person, I tell my story, they tell theirs and we genuinely find common ground. Whether it’s a skater, artist, or whoever shares that, the next step is always what can we do together.
It’s a very sustainable, authentic way of building a business – which is rare in the Instagram age…
J: We launched at a music festival with 9000 people, which was awesome and we met a bunch of people. But then subsequently, we’ve done stuff with 15 people in a room on a Tuesday evening in London, and they might tell 15 friends. People just start talking, right? It’s important to us to grow the brand organically and authentically by telling the story over and over again, because it becomes a sort of self-fulfilling, positive loop.
What’s next for Roscomar?
J: We have huge plans on some of these marketing events, with some interesting musical artists coming to London in conjunction with the release of this collection. Another big thing is that we’ve been selling though our website exclusively, but there’s been so much more interest from the industry more broadly, so we have a bunch of boutiques and different fashion outlets across both Europe and the US who are interested in distributing our project. That will be one of the big evolutions for SS20.
What’s the vision for five years time?
J: It’s literally doing exactly this. At least for me, what’s been so fulfilling is building this company with some of my best friends. It’s an independently owned brand and we can do whatever we want – we could go off and do apparel, accessories or jewellery. We could do whatever we want. Yeah, maybe the scale will evolve a little bit, but the idea is ultimately that we’re building this business so we can live that life that we all wanted to do.