It all started with wanting to do better…
Eliza Törnkvist and David Ekelund ran a small footwear company that they had started together a few years earlier, when David had decided to abandon journalism and join his designer mother to help her finally get proper return on creativity (not just making more business savvy people rich with her ideas).
The concept was simple: Design, develop, sell and then produce shoes together with Vanbestco, a Taiwanese partner, for Scandinavian brands and chains. And the target was pretty straight forward too, at least for David, make a million dollars, then retire to write novels without having to worry about selling any books.
The somewhat unlikely couple was successful and the business was thriving. Still as constant market pressure meant having to lower the quality and the originality, counting money wasn’t very fulfilling. Frustration of not being allowed to make the best possible footwear was getting impossible to ignore. So, together with Vanbestco, they decided to start their own brand. Eliza’s expertise had always been in outdoor winter sports, being part of the Swedish wave of brands revolutionizing skiwear in the 80’s, and inventing the concept wintertrek – light, yet warm footwear with an insulating layer in the sole – for footwear in beginning of the 90’s, when warm still meant heavy. This was late 1999, and there was still not a lot of really good winter footwear around. There was definitely a place for something better, but exactly what remained to be carved out.
During the work, Rudolph Chang, one the partners of Vanbestco Ltd, found a small review in Runner’s World of a running shoe with dynamic studs integrated in the sole. He brought it to Eliza and David, asking “might this be something for the new brand?”. The idea didn’t meet instant enthusiasm. In those days (at least in International) anti-slip devices was nothing anybody below the age of 70 would touch, and even if the plan was never to try to be cool, perhaps it wasn’t necessary to make the brand as uncool as possible?
But as a feature for the new brand, the concept with the dynamic studs quickly grew. Because while there was plenty of footwear around keeping feet warm and dry, and some of it even pretty nice looking (though not coming close to Eliza’s vision of style combined with functionality), there was nothing that provided traction in slippery conditions. If this worked, it would solve the biggest problem with winter activities.
The first samples to test arrived in International in late spring. They looked, well, very basic (and that’s a generous statement). Since ice or snow on the ground was long gone, they were taken to the ice rink. With some hesitation, the first few careful steps were taken onto the very slippery (and hard) ice. Then a few more, walking less carefully now, starting to run, making starts and stops, noticing that the harder you push, the better the grip, making quick turns, grins getting bigger and bigger by the minute. Eliza and David looked at each other: “It’s amazing, it works, it really works!”
The story of Icebug dwells in this moment. It was an epiphany, and it meant finding a mission. Because it keeps happening over and over again. Ten years later, David still finds it amazing when he puts on his shoes and goes running on icy winter trails. That’s fun, but an even bigger motivation is all the testimonials that Icebug gets, showing that there are lots other people experiencing the very same thing, and that this add new qualities to their lives.
But let’s back track. They got in touch with the inventor of the dynamic stud technology – a colorful Canadian by the name of Sid Kastner, whose combo of being a triathlete and a rubber factory owner, meant that he had the problem of having to run all through winter, and the facilities for a lot of trial and error to solve the problem – and secured the license rights to the patent. After development and testing, Icebug was launched at Ispo – the world’s biggest sporting goods trade show – in Munich February 2001.
The Icebug logo was created on a napkin in the cafeteria at ISPO.
On the little white piece of paper you could see the little bug that came to be Icebug. A bug that actually exists in real life. The special bark beetle can move and climb on ice in whatever direction without falling down. That was of course the perfect thing for the company of Icebug to use!
The show in Munich was very successful, with Icebug picking up the Outdoor Award for best footwear innovation, and starting export to seven countries from the very first deliveries, fall 2001. And the rest is history!
… a history that history contains severe teething problems (big issues with stud loss early on), immense amounts of having to push very hard but not seeing anything move and a large degree of creative desperation (or maybe desperate creativity) to survive summer liquidity drought.
But also a history which contains a lot of fun and good people. More than anything else, it’s the team work that has propelled Icebug into the position where we are now: The world leader for traction footwear (with some of the largest brands copying us…).
We show that you can be small and still make outstanding products. Our latest development milestone is the RB9X compound which was launched in spring 2013. On wet surfaces it grips better than anything else available on market, and it’s thrilling not only to be ahead of the gang, but also to be able to experience the same “wow it really works”-moment on a wet rock.
We’re here to stay, and we will keep our integrity and passion when we keep growing. Our mindset is to always wanting to learn more and improve our product and how we can reach those who need it. Our target is to make a million pairs by 2020 (which is what will happen if we keep growing at current rate). The motivation is not in growing for the sake of growth, but to see what will be the effect if a million get this tool and inspiration to be out more and be more active. We’re sure that will improve their quality of life at least a little bit, and if we keep dreaming that’s our small contribution to making the world a little better.