LONDON — Sneaker brands have had a good year amid global lockdowns and movement limited to grocery runs and park walks for much of the last 12 months.

But some labels have resonated with customers better than others. Gothenburg, Sweden-based Axel Arigato was among those that really struck a chord with audiences around the world — it could be its Scandinavian flair, competitive price points or the cast of cool personalities, from across ages and background, appearing in its its Instagram-friendly campaigns.

As a result, business shot up during the pandemic: To date, the company said it saw 92 percent growth across its online, retail and wholesale channels and the figure is projected to reach triple digits by the end of the year.

In 2020, annual turnover was $60 million, with sales growing 60 percent compared to 2019.

Cofounders Max Svardh and Albin Johansson aren’t ready to slow down anytime soon. They are building on the momentum, with an ambitious retail rollout starting with a new flagship opening in Paris this week. Openings in Munich, Berlin and Milan are slated for later this year, while a U.S. rollout is in the works for 2022.

The duo is also expanding their offer beyond their popular sneakers, with bigger seasonal shoe collections and a fully fledged women’s wear line making its debut this fall.

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“We just kept going, creating new products, new content and developing our communication through all our different channels. What did change is that we raised the bar internally and defined what is our vision,” Johansson said.

As the world reopens, the brand’s growth doesn’t show any signs of slowing, with shoppers flocking back to the stores to get fresh sneakers: Its Stockholm and London flagships had their best month ever in May, while its Copenhagen location saw a 121 percent increase in sales compared to the same period last year.

The new Axel Arigato store in Paris. Courtesy of Axel Arigato, Benoit Florencon

“We’ve always been super keen on expanding our physical retail. No matter if there’s a pandemic or not, this has always been our mind-set and will remain our mind-set going forward,” added Johansson. “Especially now that people want to go out again, we see the Paris and our other European openings as key.”

The duo has been scouting a location in Paris’ trendy Marais area for over five years until they landed on a spot on Rue Vieille du Temple.

The new space has the same gallery feel the brand has come to be known for, with heavy concrete juxtaposed against splashes of color, yellow travertine podiums scattered across the space to display the shoes and a LED freestanding screen used to stream creative content.

“We don’t want walls filled with products or shoes. We want to center the product on podiums in the middle of this space. We often get this reaction of ‘is it a showroom or is it a store?’ And that’s the feeling we are going for,” Svardh said.

Even if the direct-to-consumer business is booming, the brand still puts value into wholesale. Earlier this year, it debuted a pop-up in London’s Selfridges while a new shop-in-shop in Galeries Lafayette is in the works for August.

“It’s about positioning the brand at the right place and within the right communities, whether that means opening our own stores, being present on the right online channels or having the right wholesale partners, that really doesn’t matter,” Svardh added.

The new Axel Arigato store in Paris. Courtesy of Axel Arigato, Benoit Florencon

To keep customers’ appetites going, the brand is broadening its offer to more seasonal shoes — there will be beach-appropriate styles for summer and a wider selection of boots for winter — as well as a broader women’s ready-to-wear collection. This marks the first time the duo branched beyond their popular track suits to outerwear, knits, dresses and more.

“We’ve put a lot more resources into the category for us to be able to elevate it. We knew we wanted to create products that aesthetically fit perfectly next to the shoes,” the duo added. “Our number-one priority is to find our voice within the category, if that turns into big growth that’s great, but if not, we’re not dying over here because of it.”

Indeed, given its robust sneaker business the brand has put itself in a position to maintain healthy cash flow and be able to fund its expansion ambitions. Last year it received a 56 million euro investment from Eurazeo to accelerate some of its plans but had already been profitable.

“The ambition was to put ourselves in a position where we don’t need investment, and this remains our attitude going forward. We consider opportunities when the timing is right, but we don’t want to be forced to raise any more capital. Now we are in a fortunate position where we are far from forced,” Johansson said. “Of course, the bigger you get, the more challenging it is to maintain that sort of growth. But we are confident that the business will continue like this if we keep working on defining the brand and our product lines, keeping it all quite narrow, opening stores and raising more awareness.”

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