While there are so many different Scandinavian rainwear brands it can be very cumbersome to find any historical documentation to do their history justice as it is either in their local language or not accessible. This was no issue for the brand Didriksons, as they recently celebrated their 100-year anniversary and did a lot of digging themselves already.
The brand itself gets limited attention within the rainwear community with their current range, but its history does shine an interesting light on the production of rainwear in the past. Especially the video linked at the very end of the article gives an unique view into this, so don’t forget to watch that as well.
Times were very different over 100 years ago, when Julius Didrikson was told by his parents it was time to get married and he placed an advertisement, to find a partner, in a local newspaper. Johanna Malvine reacted to the ad, they met, and soon after they got married. With the dowry coming from Hanna the couple decides to set up a business to produce oilskin clothing, which is used by fishermen to stay dry at sea. Back in those days local fishermen would make their own rainwear by impregnating cotton clothes with oil, but Julius and Hanna wanted to follow the British example where this process would be taken over by a company who would simply sell the oilskin clothes as a finished product. In 1913 the couple, together with their friend Carl Grundén, incorporates Oljeklädersfabriken Didrikson Grundén & Co in the Swedish town of Grundsund. Below a picture of the cotton base for a raincoat before it is impregnated with oils.
Business is going well with sales increasing steadily over the years. That lasts till the start of the Great War, when shortages of linseed oil and cotton force the company to stop the production of rainwear and switch to wholesale lobster and fish temporary. When supplies are secured years later the company continues where it left off. In 1926 Carl Grundén leaves the company to start his own business on the other side of the harbor, under his own name, and Julius and Hanna keep running this company where it is mostly Hanna that steps up to take the lead. At that time that was quite extraordinary as married women would normally not have a job, but for the Didrikson family there were no doubts she could do this. And yes, the company Carl Grundén set up in the same town is the still active producer of heavy-duty fishermen clothing Grundéns. Below a picture of their 1923 catalogue of rainwear with on the left hand side the overall look of the gear they produced and on the right the measurements available and their prices.
In 1933 the material that form the basis for their rainwear changes when vulcanized rubber is chosen over oilcloth as it requires less maintenance and is truly waterproof. This practice continues till the Second World War, when the supply of rubber is limited by Japanese aggression in Asia where most of the natural rubber is sourced from. Below a combination of different pages from the Didriksons catalogue of 1939. Notice the rubber outer layer of the rainwear which was quite common in Nordic countries as opposed to the rubber layer being sandwiched in between two layers of other fabrics as often happened in Britain. On the left a stylish women’s raincoat, in the middle rubber rainwear for the whole family, and on the right workwear for the fishing industry.
Once the war ends, and rubber becomes more widely available again, the production of rubber raincoats never really picks up anymore as the first welding machines for PVC are purchased and this material is even better suited for rainwear. While at first the company’s focus was purely on the seafaring professionals that needed to stay dry during harsh weather, a wider target audience is sought now that PVC offers the opportunity to make thinner and more comfortable rainwear. In 1948 the Swedish Olympic sailing contestant wins a silver medal during the London Olympics while wearing the Didriksons Slaghogen raincoat. This puts the company right to the foreground in the sailing sector which experiences a boost in popularity in Sweden around that time. Below the PVC Slaghogen raincoat in bright orange. Notice the draw strings at the bottom of the anorak and the press buttons on the sleeves, all indicating this is rainwear intended for active use that requires a tighter fit as opposed to a wider fit for fishermen.
Next a very interesting picture showing the Swedish factory workers around 1950 wearing the raingear they produced around that time. Two things stand out from this picture in my view. First the overal model of the rainwear, especially the pants, is much wider than I would have expected for workwear. Second, the age of the ladies in the front seem quite young, but I suppose in those days the minimum age for “factory jobs” might have been a lot lower than what it is now.
Even though “active”leisure” rainwear is on the rise, the professional sector stays extremely important for Didriksons and the Shetland PVC raincoat for the fishing industry is introduced in 1956.
A very similar model of raincoat is also produced for the Swedish military, with below several pictures of the green army raincoat by Didriksons dated 1961. This particular coat was offered for sale in Japan.
When the sixties come around the corner the company finds itself in the perfect spot when modern and shiny materials like PVC become fashionable. Under influence of America and Britain also Sweden comes under the spell or long PVC raincoats and the “Flip” raincoat quickly becomes a bestselling item for the company.
Dark clouds appear on the horizon in the seventies. The popularity of PVC is waning resulting in sales slowing down while simultaneously the Swedish fashion industry as a whole is starting to experience problems due to relatively high wages. The management of Didriksons recognized the trouble ahead and efforts are taken to move production to lower-wage locations from where the finished products can easily to be transported back to Sweden. Manufacturing is eventually moved to Portugal. Below the production facilities in Sweden in the 1960s with a combination of shiny PVC fabric and a lady behind a (high freuqency) welding machine to put the fabric together.
The introduction of a new material, polyurethane, or PU, in the 1980s brings renewed interested in rainwear. This material is much more flexible and lighter than PVC and it takes the rainwear markets by storm all around Europe. The most modern range of PU rainwear sold by Didriksons comes under the name “Dick” in Sweden and is marketed to golfers. For the international market a different name is chosen for obvious reasons.
But even before the end of the decade the tide starts turning again for Didriksons. The brand gets taken over by Craft AB and becomes more of an afterthought as a small part of a larger company. Eight years later Craft goes bankrupt and what little is left from Didriksons is bought by “New Wave”.
In the years that follow mostly kids rainwear is produced and sold in Sweden. That is until 1999 when “Didriksons Regnklader AB” is founded and an upward trajectory can be found by focusing on modern and fashionable rainwear items for the whole family. At first there is also a professional range of rainwear, but with rapidly changing regulations from the European Union this is quickly given up after a couple of years. Fashionable rainwear is their sole focus from there onwards.
In general Didriksons produces high-quality and fashionable rainwear which is mostly available in Sweden. The design and colors fit perfectly well in an urban setting and are comparable to what their competitors produce. Below the AVon raincoats
There are some interesting items in their lineup that set the company apart though, mostly because they are inspired by their vintage rainwear. For example the Slaghogen raincoat was the inspiration for the raincoat below, which is now a stylish urban coat.
And also the iconic Flip long raincoat was brought back and made available as a long and a short raincoat.
- Geni on Carl Grund
- Didriksons 100 years
- Sportfack.se on Didriksons
- Wikipedia on Didriksons
- Didriksons’ site on the company history
- Digitalmuseum on Didriksons
And finally a nice video telling the history of the brand: