A Q&A with Garphyttan founder John Skullman.
If I had to guess, the word Garphyttan might not be the first name a branding agency would suggest for a company that plans to make a big in America. Though I like companies with the non-traditional names. That always feels better than the ones that are perfectly branded. Personally, I would rather not buy marketing — I want the marketing to be in the product. I prefer to buy quality and expertise. My theory on all of this is — the harder the name to pronounce the more likely it is to sell a quality product. This is like the thing I mentioned about brands that have terrible websites are bound to make excellent stuff. When a company name is missing vowels that’s a sign to avoid them at all cost. Garphyttan’s unique name grabs my attention because it’s not trying to be anything other than itself. That alone makes me intrigued.
Launched in 2020 by survival expert and respected outdoorsman John Skullman, Garphyttan is a hybrid workwear and outdoor brand from Sweden. The brand is a culmination of Skullman’s experience testing and developing protective clothing and equipment for the Swedish Armed Forces. Earlier this year I learned about the company from my friend Jeff Thorpe, who some of you may remember from his site Cold Splinters. I’ve trust Jeff’s compass when it comes to finding new things.
Scandinavian outdoor brands have always been compelling to me. There seems to be more of a utilitarian aspect to the clothes they make. In the case of Garphyttan there’s distinct hunting, workwear and outdoor influences. There’s crossover in the product that doesn’t seem possible for U.S. brands, which are hyper specialized and focused. The fact that Garphyttan is Swedish means there’s not political appropriation of the activity or the target audience, which is a relief. The spirit of Swedish brands, the commitment to heritage and the affection for the outdoors in Scandinavia draws me in to these types of companies. I had a chance to talk to John Skullman about what makes Garphyttan unique and his perspective on the outdoors. Hope you enjoy our chat.
ACL: What makes it unique? What did you see in the world that was missing?
John Skullman: We live as we learn, so Garphyttan becomes a reflection of our own lifestyle and experiences. Our honest aim is to be allround in a true functional way, based upon the basic values from our Swedish heritage of being connected to nature. We are providing people with functional garments and gear to fit into many activities from walking the dog, gardening, forestry work, hunting, fishing, trekking or canoeing. And not having to change clothes all the time!
In our uniqueness you’ll also find a stability in color range and long lasting models- there’s no nervous chase for fashion colors and no hysterical change/swap of models in our product range every season! We are still building our brand so for another couple of years there will be new models coming but once the categories are filled up it will be less news and hopefully a big number of styles that will live for a very long time!
How is the Swedish perspective on the outdoors unique?
I often refer to our way of approaching nature and various outdoor activities as “the Nordic Way.” It simply means a natural and quite humble way of always keeping the essential needs and basic skills in focus. It’s a little bit like people lived their lives in the old days where nothing was taken for granted. It was more related to a strict issue of survival, which we still can learn a lot from, of course, but today the normal outdoor happening is more about creating conditions for comfort, satisfaction and enjoyment. The Nordic Way is not about a competitive struggle against nature. Instead, it’s an approach to “go with the flow” in a mindful way based upon knowledge, skills and safety awareness - Both in your outdoor work and leisure time.
What is a brand like Garphyttan built for?
It’s a brand built for an outdoor lifestyle based upon functionality. You can use Garphyttan whether it’s for work, life or recreation.
I love Swedish heritage brands — did you take any inspiration from those types of companies when you started Garphyttan?
Most of those brands are family founded and owned for generations and of course I feel privileged to have been (and still am) a part of their success story! They are all great inspirations in my everyday work, but at the same time Garphyttan Original is a journey of its own where we as a team will create another stand out brand from Sweden & the great Nordic.
Tell me how the collaboration with Hestra came along?
I have been fortunate to get to know fantastic people in the outdoor business during my time in the military service, and Hestra was one of them. It has not only developed into a partnership, but also a very dear friendship. Ever since I retired from my military career, I’ve been working with them as a product development advisor, field tester and global ambassador. It’s been a great journey.
The pants are the first thing you see on the website. Are specific styles like the Specialist Trouser the focus for the brand? Did you set out to make the best outdoor pants?
My goal with developing both clothing and equipment/gear is always to build a system of products that serves the purpose of our human needs for comfort and performance, so the focus isn’t solely on the pants. Being a system developer has made it quite easy to create good things that become excellent stand alone products at first sight even if that never is my original aim. A functional layer system is way more important to me than the singular product! I’ll never set out to make ”the best” of anything because that’s to be found out in the future, but I always will do my very best to create versatile and long-lasting products that can be combined in the end.
Where are your favorite places in Sweden to get outside?
So many places to pick, so I guess it’d be…the next one I go to! Sweden, as well as the other Nordic countries, has so many beautiful places I’ve had the chance to see, all of them with a content that makes them a favorite. Our boreal forest, the mountains and our coastline are of course environments close to my heart since that’s where I’m exercising many of my outdoor activities. But if you need one place it’s home sweat home- My farm & its surroundings!
I love this interview Michael. There is something special about reading an interview, as opposed to listening to it. I can more easily go back to a section, or line, or word that caught my attention. And I can ponder it more readily in writing than by listening. I really like that.
For instance, this line struck me: "It has not only developed into a partnership, but also a very dear friendship." What a beautiful sentiment. How many business relationships can say they evolve into a friendship? That line has spurred my thinking this morning.
Cold Splinters. That’s a site I hadn’t thought of in a while. Great interview.