Exploring the Swedish Wilderness With Sandqvist

We get a lot of Emails from brands. That isn’t news I know, and that isn’t why I’m writing this.

We get a lot of Emails from brands, stating they’re something special, that they’re doing something that nobody else is doing and telling us that we should give a fuck about that. In essence, it’s actually a pretty strange thing when I think about it. It’s all spiel, it’s propaganda. There’s a part of me that begins to hate it all. Yeah, all of it. Every single T-shirt brand, every single sneaker, every single amazing Instagram account that’s central focus is some incredibly attractive couple living in the woods somewhere in Oregon. That part of me though is weak, because the other part of me is the part of me that actually opens the Emails that, every now and then, introduce me to opportunities to meet the people behind brands who do actually say something, who do actually care about something and more importantly who do actually do something.

Last month, I got the opportunity [in part because Tom couldn’t go, thank god] to spend a few days with Sandqvist in their own proverbial back yard, thanks to Heather at Home Studios. My history of Sandqvist goes back days interning at Harvest Store in Munich, where I [wanting to fit in with a considerably cooler “Euro” crowd] purchased a salmon pink bum bag to sling across my chest and store my foreign cigarettes, lighter and iPhone 3G. I liked the product, it’s well made, clean and sturdy with the ability to look good in an aforementioned salmon pink colour way, you know, that kind of mid-point.

I arrived at Gatwick after waiting eagerly for Dean [Martindale] at Victoria train station for an hour, before finding out he was drinking a cafe mocha in the departure lounge with plenty of time to spare. Dean, a friend of mine, who has come a long way since operating END.’s Hunting store back in the day was along for the ride. The boy can take a picture. I, on the other hand, well I can have my picture taken, so we’re not a bad team. We were both on a buzz to get to Sweden, we’d both never been plus he’s from up north and I’m Welsh so any trip abroad is a treat, ya’ know.

Myself and five other journalists boarded the short flight to Stockholm, a city that I’ve had penciled on my list for years already. Megan, Will, Dean, Chris, Mandy and myself made up the trip, a press trip we were all incredibly wound up about. Chat of falling out of canoes and beers by camp fires soon sparked as I leaned over seats chatting, irritating the particularly large women sat next to me, for the entire journey. On landing, we were met with handshakes and open arms as the Sandqvist guys ushered us into packed out vans, to hit the road for a further 3 hours as we ventured to the Swedish countryside. The drive was long, but that was ok. The countryside flicked past as Elias, Sandqvist’s E-commerce aficionado, zipped through the otherwise slow moving traffic. We grabbed a Max burger, Sweden’s equivalent to McDonald’s and that’s where our city-dwelling habits ended for the weekend, before we got cut off.

The sun was getting low in the sky and the temperature was doing well as we arrived at the water bank hours later. Bugs flitted in the fresh air, they seemed to be enjoying it as much as we were. Conversations of how quiet it was, how peaceful it was and how we already didn’t want to re-enter into London, were on the tip of everyone’s tongues. The guys handed out some product for us to transfer our ‘overnight essentials’ in to. Their Hans backpack in various colours, swapped amongst each other to get the colour each of us desired. Inside was equally as essential camping gear. Knives, snacks, foldable knives/forks, cups. These boys had done this before. Couple their experience with the fact that we were very easily impressed and five English journalists were incredibly excitable.

We spent the evening canoeing down river, getting edged out into the reeds, taking swigs of bourbon from the ‘leader’s’ hip flask. Dean and I partnered up and we did alright, with only one account of sheer terror marking our otherwise 100% record on the water. Megan and Heather took verbal swings as each other as they got lodged in amongst some rocks, but it made them stronger in the long run.

As we arrived at camp, the temperature dipped to cool, for the first time all day. We’d all been up since 5am and with a couple of hours of canoeing coupled with our already slow ‘Brits Abroad’ pace, we thought we’d live up to the cliché and open some beers. Pulling cold cans of unpronounceable Swedish lager out of the clear water and trimming off slithers of dried reindeer meat, from a tin foil wrapped lump of meat that, we initially all thought was some sort of hash, the sun began to fall. There was an overwhelming sense of camaraderie, which, for a press trip, is odd. It had been an incredible day. We’d all gotten to a point where everybody was taking the piss out of my Welsh accent and that’s usually a solid gauge in telling that people are relaxed and getting on. We fired air rifled at empty cans hanging from ropes and ate [probably cooked] pork from the most impressive BBQ set up I’d personally ever seen. The night drew in fast though and the temperature fully dropped, as we all wrapped up in our jackets and opened the whiskey as we leant on the only means of keeping warm we knew.

The next morning, having personally caught up on a good seven hours sleep, I woke to groans from Dean’s tent (a man easily a foot taller than myself) as he arose from the worst sleep he’d ever had, his head pressed against the tent as the condensation began to soak through his sleeping bag, he wasn’t too fresh. Everybody got involved in the coffee being cooked up on the campfire, getting as excitable as we could with the mildest of hangovers. It was back to the cars and back to Stockholm after packing up camp and canoeing a little further downriver, with the celebration of a successful canoe trip topped off with an icy pants-on-swim in the coldest water Sweden had to offer.

We headed back to the big city after our dip. Well, Stockholm, if you can class Stockholm as ‘the big city’. Three more car hours spend splicing footage and editing images in the back seat, amongst napping and stopping for pizza, we arrived at Hotel Rival. Famed for having associations with members of Abba, the hotel was quirky, a little tacky but in a chic way. I dug it anyway. Especially seeing as I’d spent the night previously lay on flattened grass. We all killed a few hours in the hotel room, I notably drank 3 Blood Orange San Pellegrino’s from the mini bar (sorry Heather), as well as standing in the wet room for 35 minutes, washing away any trace of the beautiful Swedish countryside.

Cray fish party was a term spoken more times that day than it had ever been spoken before for all five of us. We’d been invited as guests to an annual celebration of Sweden’s crayfish season, a celebration that we’d heard a lot about. Leaving the hotel and ambling through Stockholm, as the sun set over the waterways that segregate the city’s islands, was a joy. It’s a city that offers a sense of security and calmness – it is not London. Coming off the streets, ducking under low hanging tree and walking, knees bent, down grassy hillsides, we finally reached the party.

Tables and benches wrapped in a U-shape, around a working well with table decorations, salads and Sandqvist branded menus curated in such a way that surpassed any expectations we previously had. I actually thought we were going to some sort of Texan BBQ style, meat on a table, situation. I couldn’t have been more wrong. With open arms we were welcomed into a dinner that was filled with songs (in Swedish), shellfish and schnapps.

The latter of that recipe was disaster as evening turned to night and the Swedish drinking culture was in full effect. I’m going to round of my account of the short weekend with Sandqvist here, because quite simply, I don’t remember a whole lot from here on out.

Sandqvist prior to this adventure to their hometown were a luggage company, who produced quality, wearable designs. It’s clear to me now however that the brand’s product is met with a legitimised lifestyle that so often isn’t the case when brand’s try and push product. The family that Sandqvist is, is what curates the product and the product, in hand, supports this family. It goes full circle. The eagerness to introduce 5 random journalists to their country, with such pride and excitement was something I was honored to be a part of and I feel as though the taste of Sweden I have had, the taste that to this day still reeks of elderflower schnapps, is one I won’t forget anytime soon. To Sandqvist, I thank you.

Words: Sam Smith
Photos: Dean Martindale

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