Swedish luxury leather brand Elmo focuses on softness, quality and colour
Asked about the origins of the company, Jimmy Ahlgren surprised us by answering “We don’t know…” A rather weird statement at a time when companies with such an illustrious pedigree usually try to impress anyone, from hipsters to just the old fashioned nostalgics we are, with their solid history. “Without any doubt, if we were a family business, we would proudly dig into our past in order to learn more about the succession of generations at Elmo”, Ahlgren explains, who himself might feel a little like a family member with his first steps at Elmo dating back to 1989. He started by handling the leather in the tannery, then after university and various jobs in other companies, he returned to Elmo in 2005 to become head of sales and marketing.
“For us, the quality we offer today is key, rather than what happened in our long and rich past.” And what quality…! Elmo, whose leather is mainly for seating, is world famous for the incredibly soft feel of its leather. Clients from Virgin Atlantic Airways through to Volvo and Chrysler plus a plethora of furniture brands, as well as various hotels and also the Emirates Stadium in London: all count on the consistent quality Elmo offers. An important consideration for these brands is that Elmo also meets all global safety certificates. “Our products have succeeded in the harshest safety tests. So we have got certificates from all the countries where we’re active.” Elmo’s main market is in the USA, but demand is growing in the Far East, China and Japan. In total the brand is active in about 40 markets worldwide. The tannery in Svenljunga employs some 130 people, plus 20 something sales people spread throughout the world.
It might seem that Elmo only trades in leather but that is actually just an impression: besides the soft feel, Elmo leather also stands out because of the incredible range of colours the brand offers. “We sell colours, we don’t sell leather! At the moment we have over 300 choices of colour, but we are going to produce even more because our customers have expressed a desire for customized coloured leathers. Elmo offers the chance of creating the colour of your taste.” Weird enough , but despite the rainbow abundance of the brand, 80% of the leather Elmo sells is… black, Jimmy Ahlgren says. “If we only had black we wouldn’t sell so much. We need pink in order to sell black. This is important especially in the contract market: designers are increasingly demanding.”
Furthermore, “in the USA neutral colours are more popular than in Europe, where tastes are more adventurous”, Ahlgren continues. We wanted to know how Elmo decides its colour policy. “We try to be three years ahead of trends .” For this reason Elmo collaborates with Georgina Wright, a London based textile and colour consultant who among others works with Kvadrat. “We have been working with her for some 15 years and she predicts future colour tastes quite well.”
Another of the brand’s strong points besides its obvious quality, choice of colour and sustainability is its ecological friendliness. In order to tell this story, Jimmy Ahlgren refers to ‘Das Parfum’, the famous novel by Patrick Süskind which explores the sense of smell and the emotional charge scents carry. “In the old days, there were tanneries all over Europe: every little town or even village had one; they produced leather for bags, belts, saddles, shoes. These are the tanneries Süskind describes, hugely malodorous. But this was in the past, when taking care of environmental responsibilities was not even considered. Of course, the smell at Elmo is not exactly Channelº5 but it’s really not like the old days. In general, our company has almost 0% impact on the surroundings, and we are very proud of that. By the way, in Scandinavia this is nothing new, since all Nordic countries are way ahead when it comes to ecology – dirty production has been banned since the ‘70s – and today the European Union makes sure that in our part of the world, ecological concerns are very much taken into account. As you perhaps know, leather production uses a lot of water – some 20 cubic meters per metric ton of hide – but Elmo makes sure the water is cleaned afterwards so that it is actually turned back into drinking water. Also worth mentioning is the fact that we don’t kill animals like the fur industry does for instance: we take care of slaughterhouse waste in Sweden and from abroad in order to produce our leather.”
Of course, all this consciousness, beauty and quality come with a price. “Certainly, and our challenge is precisely to explain that because we make high end-leather products they are quite expensive. You know, to sell top quality is never easy... I mean, Ikea doesn’t have to explain anything, they just sell on price.” Right that is!