AN UNEXPECTED START
We actually began in the early 1900's selling a totally different product; condoms!
A BRIEF HISTORY:
- ‘Pyret’ (‘The Little One’) was started in Sweden by the Adamsson family
- Nils and Karin helped large families by selling handmade baby clothing and also condoms
- A group of inspirational women, including legendary designer Gunilla Axén, took over the business and added Polarn (‘Buddy’)
- Their aim was to meet the needs of a new generation of working families, with quality clothes that are easy to care for
- It was time to share this Swedish superbrand with the rest of the world.
- Good news travels fast, and our inspirational stores and concessions have popped up all over the UK
“You could say that Polarn O. Pyret started before I was even a gleam in my father’s eye,” laughs Tommy Adamsson. “My grandfather, Nils Adamsson, started selling condoms in his tobacconist shop in Falköping in 1909.” Condoms were a class issue. They were only sold in barber shops, which in effect meant only the upper class had access to them. Selling condoms over the counter in a tobacconist shop was controversial at that time.
Nils Adamsson went on to meet and marry Karin. They started Adamsson, a chain of shops with a range of children’s and medical products, where a special permit allowed them to sell condoms.
The first shop had separate entrances.
Behind an orange door Karin Adamsson sold nappies and baby clothes. Behind the blue door, her husband Nils sold medical supplies and condoms.
“My grandparents wanted everyone to have children, but only when they wanted to and absolutely no more than they could afford to bring up. My grandfather was a travelling salesman and the enormous broods of children living in poverty and destitution made a lasting impression on him.”
Although it was legal to sell condoms, explaining what they were to be used for was illegal under the Swedish Contraception Act. “Granddad was sent to prison for two months. Not for selling condoms but for circulating information about contraception in a catalogue.” The Act wasn’t repealed until 1939. And since the penalty for second-time offenders was more severe, my grandmother (Karin) became the legally responsible publisher of the catalogue. This earned her two months in a women’s prison,” explains Tommy.
The Adamssons equated birth control with freedom of choice and condoms were the key. The association with children’s products wasn’t such a stretch...
Ladies to the right, gentlemen to the left.
The two-door system had a simple explanation: young mothers didn’t want to buy children’s clothes from a shop that sold contraceptives. And gentlemen were reluctant to buy contraceptives surrounded by children’s clothes.
“The medical supplies shop sold condoms, camelhair clothes – and catskin (!) which were part of the self-care range in those days,” explains Kerstin Övferström, who took over the running of the shop with two doors in 1975. “The Pyret section sold nappies and trousers, and hired out scales, christening robes and quartz lamps. Children were afflicted by rickets during the war and this could be prevented with Vitamin D from quartz lamps”
Goodbye to the blue door
In 1974 pharmacies in Sweden started to sell condoms. With sales of medical supplies plummeting, we decided to focus on the childrenswear range instead. We didn’t sell clothes of our own design at first, we purchased from a wholesaler.
We brought in Gunila Axén to develop an in-house design and in 1974 she launched what was to be the beginning of our next major success: a basic range of striped clothes that we now call PO.P Originals, and have been with us ever since.
Polarn is added
Once we started making clothes for older children as well, the name Pyret (little one) no longer worked.
“We added ‘Polarn’ (Buddy) in the mid-70s. It felt completely right,” reports Katarina af Klintberg. “We wanted to be a buddy to our customers, and we had in mind the role of older siblings as buddies to their little sisters and brothers. It was also a word that appealed to older children, who needed an element of coolness that ‘Pyret’ didn’t provide.”
So POLARN O. PYRET was born!
Fast forward to 2006 when Mats & Jo Nilsson brought Polarn O. Pyret to the UK with the vision of providing families here with the sustainable & quality clothing available in Mats' native Sweden.