Exceptionally Eton: Crafting the World's Finest Shirts
How did a little family-run shirt business in Sweden get to be the best-selling shirt company in America, possibly in the world? I recently had the opportunity to join a group of upscale menswear stores for a visit to Eton headquarters in Ganghester, Sweden and its design studio in Stockholm. Knowing Eton is one of the hottest brands in the luxury market, we were eager to experience firsthand the culture, commitment and quality-obsessed artisans at this amazing company.
As with all great companies, success starts at the top. Eton CEO Hans Davidson (third generation, the company was founded by his grandparents in 1948) and senior advsor Jan Borghardt were incredibly candid about their journey. As Borghardt explains it, "The Swedish mindset discourages arrogance: you should never think you're too great.
Eton is a vertical business, managing every stage of the shirt-making process from cotton production to creative to sales. They use only extra-long staple cotton (Pima from California and Giza from Egypt), renowned for its luster, durability and softness. (Only 0.7 percent of the world's cotton is ELS.) They then partner with top mills that spin the cotton and weave the fabric. "We work with mills in Italy, Switzerland and France,' explains Eton creative director Sebastian Dollinger, a talented young artist whose inspiration wall for spring 2015 includes a Hindu magazine cover from the 1950's, a Led Zeppelin album cover, and various images of airplanes, flamingos, vintage pinball machines and Mexican skulls worked into a cool paisley. "We work with our weaving mills very early in the process and buy up their capacity far in advance, which is why the designs are exclusive."
Also unique to Eton shirts: a notable crispness, thanks to a special process that allows wrinkle resistance in the most ecologically safe way possible. "Cynics say it's impossible to attain our level of wrinkle-free without chemicals," Davidson explains. "But with our finisher in Switzerland, we invented a (40-step) method that actually rearranges the fibers of the cotton rather than coating the fabric with chemicals. It's been said there are more chemicals in a cup of British tea than in an Eton shirt..."
- The collection is sold in only the finest stores in 42 countries
- An Eton shirt is ecologically correct, from growing the cotton (using crop rotation) to dyeing the yarns to packaging and shipping
- Eton uses more cotton per square millimeter than most luxury brands
- They are famous for color clarity (there are 250 different shades of red alone!) and exclusive designs (they use no fabrics available on the open market).
- Eton offers a variety of different fits and stocks numerous styles in each. The fit is exceptional because all measurements are carefully graded across sizes.
- Eton collars and cuffs are unique: the founders invented an exclusive method of sewing them inside out.
- Buttons are made of pulverized mother of pearl that Eton re-casts for added strength, and they're strategically placed to allow for open collar-wearing.
- Each shirt requires at least 100 minutes of cutting and sewing.
- Much of the machinery used in the production process was conceived by Eton, and much hand craftsmanship is involved.
- Eton ties are also exceptional, made at the finest factories in England and Italy.
- The male model who is currently the face of Eton has a notable scar on his cheek. "Patrick represents adventure and risk-taking", explains global brand director Robert Inghamn. "He's the James Bond-type of guy that women love: always stylish and cool, even when facing extreme danger...
-Karen Alberg Grossman
Karen Alberg Grossman is editor in chief of MR Magazine