In 2006, me and Kristoffer both moved to Trondheim to pursue our longtime dreams; mine to become a musician and his to become a filmmaker. We’d always known each other on some level, but had never actually spent time together besides meeting through mutual friends. One year later our paths were crossed – again through mutual friends – and we ended up living together in the same student complex apartment.
Both of us are originally from a small town on the west coast of Norway called Volda, which is populated by around 10,000 people and surrounded by big mountains and fjords. Basically the kind of wild nature that would leave every man in awe, which also established the criteria that made Trondheim our favorable choice. A place where we could get the feeling of living the city life, but still have the small town hospitality and surrounding environment that we knew from our old hometown.
I have in the past few years come to the strong belief that nature is a great nurturer of creativity. However, growing up constantly surrounded by nature’s evidential beauty, we tend to forget, even though we all have a universal agreement that the natural scenery of Mother Nature is one of the most beautiful things in the world. I think coming from Volda and growing up in its surroundings definitely laid the foundations for what was to become the visual identity of Livid, and perhaps it even inspired us to start building our new livelihood the way we did.
In 2008 I had gone from trying to succeed as a musician, to work as a part time employee at a kindergarten during the daytime, whilst doing the dishes at a restaurant in the nighttime, trying to make ends meet. Finding steady work wasn’t easy. I had no education, my network was quite poor, and honestly, my focus had been on playing music, so I didn’t have much prior experience from an ordinary work environment. In addition to that I was quite shy, which didn’t go very well with trying to impress when I was lucky enough to get invited to a job interview. I got a few work attempts in a couple of different clothing shops, but I never got comfortable enough to develop any potential. Luckily at the end of 2008 I got a part time job selling jeans at a big retail chain in Norway. I had never had a job selling clothes before, and I really didn’t have any interest in fashion. To be honest, I still don’t. But what really caught my attention was the Swedish denim brand Nudie Jeans and their approach to rigid raw denim and its ability to evolve through time. I quickly found my new hobby, and slowly but surely I started growing an intense interest for denim and everything associated with it.
In early 2010, me and three other colleagues and dear friends of mine started dreaming about creating a familiar environment where we would work together towards a common goal. At the same time we would work with denim, based on our own principles – whatever those were. With no clue what we were doing or how we were going to do it, we started the clothing brand Junkie Jeans, in May 2010. Obviously, we dreamt big on making a clothing collection, travelling and working together. At some point we even talked about taking over the world market, selling fashionable products to anyone who had an interest in wearing a pair of jeans.
A couple of months later me and Bjørn Otto – who was one of the founders – travelled to the world’s biggest textile fair in Paris: Denim by Premiere Vision. Excitement, boldness and a feeling of conquering the world was upon us as we jumped off the steps from the airplane onto the famous Charles De Gaulle airport. We were now a couple of steps closer to our dream of becoming jeans makers. We’d never been to a professional textile fair before, or any kind of trade-show for that matter. Already on the first day we met what felt like a bashing hammer to the head. Reality.
We had spent the whole day looking through racks and racks filled with fabric swatches, essentially looking for something similar to what we were already wearing. While it may be evident to most that the beginning of every conversation demands a business card, it wasn’t to us, so we didn’t have any. Throughout the whole day I felt like I had a big black stamp on my forehead saying “inexperienced”, but it wasn’t until one of the weavers confronted us that my feelings got confirmed in words. “I really don’t know what you guys are doing here, or what you are looking for,” he said, “But please take my words into consideration; you may find what you are looking for, you may place the order and pay for it, but it’ll probably never reach you in time, if it even reaches you at all. Go back home, rethink what you are planning and come back when you’re ready!” The fact of the matter was that we didn’t know what we were looking for. We didn’t even know anything about textiles.
A dream shattered to pieces, and success felt like a pretty long road ahead. We had already met defeat; traveling to Paris only to return with a bag full of doubt. Back home, still persuaded to keep on going, we were swiftly learning what it was like to run a company. Not really that easy, or even that glorious, just a lot of hard work. Slowly but surely, as obstacles kept coming our way, we lost confidence in our dream, and suddenly passion was the only thing left inspiring us. A few months later we went from being four to three, from three to two and unfortunately, in the end all of my friends had decided to go different paths.
Trying not to evaluate the fact that my dream had become somewhat companionless, I immediately started searching for patternmakers and sewers who could help create my first garment. Whether I was alone or not, my vision still drew me like a gravitational pull, even when not knowing the road ahead. I made my first approach to the local tailor who at the time did all the repair services at my old job, but with little to no success. My first step turned out to be much harder than what I had first imagined. I just couldn’t find anyone who had the time or the necessary experience working with denim. So initially, I needed to figure out if I was even going to attempt this vision I had, or if I should just leave it alone.
At the crossroads, without knowing what to do besides the fact that a decision needed to be made, I did what anyone in the 21st century would do: I googled it. I remember finding a video of a guy in America who’d quit his daytime job as a mechanic in order to start making his own quality made jeans. He’d bought all these old machines dating back to the middle of the 1900s and repaired them. He established one of the first one-man denim manufacturing companies, which a couple of years later commenced a flood of one-man denim brands to the market. His name was Roy Slaper, the creator of Roy Jeans.
I immediately looked up the closest local tailor shop in Trondheim, which quickly became my go-to whenever I needed some equipment, or expert advice from the nice old ladies behind the counter. My machine of choice was the Janome “Easy Jeans”, which one of the old ladies insisted was the most powerful modern mechanic home sewing machine for jeans making. My horrific product, of at least four hours of work with a sewing machine only suited for lightweight fabrics, resulted in a denim laptop sleeve. It was per definition my only evidence of some kind of progress, which I therefore was prodigiously satisfied with. At the end of that year, I had sold all of my guitars, amps and pedals and bought my first Singer industrial sewing machine. Not long after, I was making jeans.
Initially, I wasn’t planning on learning how to make jeans myself. Back then I only envisioned me designing what I would hire others to make. However, it didn’t take long after my first machine purchase until my apartment was completely full of equipment and materials. At some point I couldn’t even get into the bedroom without crawling over industrial machines, fabric swatches, paper patterns and sewing equipment. For the following nine months I spent most of my days sewing and constructing patterns for eight to ten hours every day, whilst still keeping a full time job on the side. Thinking back, I moved in a constant daze between reality and what had become my new vision for the future. I had become incredibly fascinated and obsessed with old machines and how they worked, with constructing patterns and generally just observing the evolution of my work. Slowly, but surely, my work was evolving towards what a regular pair of jeans should look like.
At the time when I was working by myself, I established a self-assuring “we” when talking about the brand. We started out as a group, and suddenly I was alone. And to be as forthright as I can be, I was quite uncertain about the road ahead. As a direct consequence of that, I started talking about Livid in a “we”-context. If we were a team behind it, I felt like I was never alone with the blame. Even though that wasn’t really true, it made me feel okay. It also meant that if I was going to fail, I wouldn’t be failing alone.
It took me about a year of sewing and constructing before I was confident enough to sell my first pair of jeans to my very first customer, Kristoffer Dagslott. He is a dear friend of mine, and today, he’s my right hand man and chief financial officer of Livid.
The Greatest Hustler of All was mooning through the radio as the sun lightly glittered through the dusty windows of my apartment. The sounds of bypassing cars normally kept me calm, as I felt part of what was happening on the streets outside. I glanced at the phone as the message appeared before looking back to my work, trying to keep my production pace steady. “We’ve already met up, are you joining?” – The same question, which I had gotten countless times before. But for which my reaction was pretty much always the same. I had gotten used to the feeling of missing out, so I kept pace, going onwards just hoping that I would meet some kind of turning point in the near future.
A seed had been sown. I had become caught unknowingly in a daily routine, driven by a continuous advancement at my new craft. My factory was a 12 square meter attic at home, stuffed with industrial machines. Orders had started piling up. Not in the hundreds, and not from people that I didn’t already know, but I sold one pair of jeans per month – at that time, more than enough to burnish my ego.
Up until now I hadn’t really done anything besides trying to learn how to construct patterns and how to make a good quality pair of jeans. At some point along the way, I had made the decision that this was what I wanted to do. To be fair, I had already gone way too far to stop. Sewing a high quality pair of jeans demands practice. The 10,000-Hour-Rule says that to achieve world-class expertise in any skill is a matter of practicing the correct way for a total of around 10,000 hours. This was definitively one factor that would contribute to some level of success and credibility as a denim manufacturer. I had probably sewn for around 3,000.
In August of 2011 I took the first big step by renting my very own studio space in a 200-year-old warehouse building located in the middle of the city of Trondheim. The plan was simple. If I could keep selling one pair of jeans each month, I would be able to pay the rent and keep working on my trade. At the same time, I quit my day job and started studying business economics at the BI Norwegian Business School. I also got back my old job as a part time sales associate at the same retail chain where I initially got hooked on denim.
I wanted Livid to be successful in five rather than ten years, and if I was to fail, better to fail in two rather than five. With that in mind, working hard was never a problem. Days literally began running like hours. I started my days at around 7.00 am at school learning the economic and administrative side of running a company. From around 2.00 pm I ran to the studio trying to catch up on production, if I wasn’t already at work selling jeans. At night, I would spend the last hours of the day trying to figure out everything else I needed to learn to fulfill my dream.
I did my first run of 16 limited edition jeans for an event called Oslo Rock City Jamboree in November of 2011. I started making the small batch at the end of September, and got to finish everything within the next month. Right after, I drove to Oslo and sat up booth, and to my complete surprise, we nearly sold out everything. This was arguably the first proper indication that this thing called Livid might have a future.
However, it was a slow road, and my galloping pace was starting to catch up with me. Back then I spent around 13 hours making one single pair of jeans. My machines were poor, I’d only been sewing jeans for 11 months, I had a lot of work at school that needed my attention and on top of that my wallet was pretty always much empty. Tiring moments started to arrive more frequently, and I reached a turning point. I was ready to quit.
The squeaking sounds of flooring planks grinding together, as the strong wind beats into the warehouse walls, causing movement throughout the whole building. The scent of old is haunting, but combined with the fresh air pressing through the old timber walls, now covered by a yellow plastic wall panel from the 90’s, the air in the house is inspiring rather than nostalgic. The wooden floor is still intact from the old days, and has a beautiful green patina from where the previous tenants used to walk. The archaeology company that used the building mostly to store equipment and skeleton findings had left signs here and there, among them a marketing sticker from the 90’s stating “Støtt Norsk Småindustri” in red capital lettering. Everything is built by hand, reflecting the small and newly established “do-it-yourself” jeans company in the best possible way. The one hundred and ninety-five square meters are spread across four small rooms, all stacked with clothes, old machines, fabric rolls, and furniture that makes the place look more like a 50’s living room than a clothing shop, or a headquarters for that matter. The two pitch black stories above are empty, same as the one below, and at night when the wind is howling at its most, it’s almost like there’s more activity in the stories above than in the rest of the building. The factory room is the first thing my customers encounter when walking up the old white staircase to the second floor. The shop is located in the second and third rooms, with the fourth one housing both a small office and a patternmaking room. The first and fourth are the only ones with a window view. The factory room is my absolute favorite.
I loved my old studio space. It was an inspirational go-to whenever I needed a reminder of why I had started dreaming of becoming a jean maker. My surroundings have always been my inspiration. Not based on materialistic aspects, but merely a reflection of what has been and what can be accomplished. Since the start I envisioned a factory with a master skilled team, building premium, handcrafted jeans from the finest materials man can make in the most cost effective country in the world.
“…. I was ready to quit.”
The remainder of 2011 was dominated by ineffective days and feeling like I was in way over my head. While trying to do everything at once, I had gotten too busy in my to-do-lists and losing focus on my goals and intentions. Too caught up trying to catch up, I lost sight of my objective. I lost interest, even though I was highly aware of how much I enjoyed what I was doing. I would sit on a stool in one of the four corners of the factory room, daydreaming while glancing over the park of old industrial machines. The reality was that the factory had already proven itself worthy of life. Success was never reflected by a certain income, but the little money I made gave me the opportunity to develop more skill and purchase the machinery I needed. The factory reflected where we were as a company – quite small, but nonetheless the only jeans manufacturing company in Norway.
The following year, I took a step back, and spent the better part of the next eight months establishing a business plan for Livid. Up until now, most days I hadn’t done anything except running, and I hadn’t really had the chance to think about where this was all going. I divided my strategy into a timeline with two phases: “The Learning Phase” and “The Establishment Phase”. First, I needed to properly educate myself, so that I would be ready to face any obstacle that would come my way. I had already started studying economics, which I was planning on finishing within the next year and a half. This was how I would learn to establish the future strategies and marketing aspects of the company. Next, I’d have to learn how to construct clothes and how to put them together. I had been sewing and constructing patterns for around one year non-stop, but I wasn’t able to make anything on a competitive level. I didn’t have any interest in buying a pair of jeans and copying the pattern, like many do, because I wouldn’t have learned anything from it. Most importantly, I was fixated on creating a hip that would be recognized as our own, on a competitive level.
Everything except from what I was learning in school - which was mostly relevant to the administrative aspect – was purely learning through experimenting. Without any tutor or problem shooting books, I didn’t really know the basics of pattern making, and I had to spend a lot of my time solving problems with my patterns.
I planned to complete the learning phase by 2012. By then I had to make a complete collection, finish school, and slowly but surely start to market the brand so it would be ready for launch in January 2013.
By then I was estimating I would reach approximately 8,000 hours of practice.
From passion to business
“What makes your jeans special and why should I buy Livid instead of Levi’s”, he asked while pretentiously folding his arms across the chest. A question I had gotten numerous times before, but for which I still hadn’t formulated a clear answer. My strategy had just grown organically out of learning how to make jeans; trying to establish a manufacturing company built on strong sustainable values, aiming to utilize the craft of making high quality products the conventional way. That was - in my mind - the innovative aspect of Livid Jeans. What we made and how we made it, was what sat us apart as a clothing brand.
“Why would you consider making jeans in Norway?” A father of a close friend of mine asked. “There just isn’t any economic upsides to doing so, and it will most definitely not be the succeeding factor of your business.” A statement that is perfectly accurate, because the Norwegian index of laboring cost per hour would presumably make the product way too expensive to be competitive. If it were to be distributed the traditional way, that is. But I believe that one gets inspired by going against the current. Especially when doing something others don’t believe to be possible. If it at any point suddenly should achieve success, it demands some kind of creditable admiration. Most importantly, the admiration we praise ourselves with. And I think, exactly the fact that we chose to produce in one of the most cost effective countries in the world, has been a key factor to our company’s success. That it was hard to do, only made us want to do it even more.
Nervous in the knowledge that whether or not I could successfully launch my idea depended on financial investments, I contacted Innovation Norway in August of 2012. Innovation Norway is a state owned institution that grants funding for innovative enterprises and industry. After nine months of preparation and building a business plan, the first meeting started disastrously. “We generally don’t give grants to clothing brands.” The firm lady communicated over the counter with a quite strict tone of voice. Even though I was lucky enough to get another appointment to try to communicate the innovative aspect of the product, it felt like a setback. I wasn’t bringing any new technology or a new product to the market. I was inevitably competing with class A students that had brilliant technological innovations. Basically, I had to try to blow their minds. As it stood, I felt I had already been let down; there was no way they would help fund this kind of enterprise.
Back in the 1920’s my family had a thriving business growing plants, vegetables and metal casting signs. Four big greenhouses filled with customers surrounded the main building and the craft of both being a metal caster and a gardener were appreciated throughout the whole town. Almost 70 years later, my parents had to close down the family company because of lack of business. Today, it is only ruins. The shell of the original structure is standing still, but now covered by wild growing trees. I can still remember the glass windows being there when I was a kid, but seemingly they’ve been broken and now replaced with wild growth. The water pipes that kept the heat throughout the facilities are covered with rust and the door to the oven-room concealed by bricks from when the ceiling collapsed a couple of years back. The beautiful building in which a couple of decades earlier were filled with people now remains a vague memory. But to this day, every time I’m back to visit my old hometown I look at the huge metal casted numbers on the top of the local church, which my great grandfather casted many years ago.
Signs and markings of what has been surround us everywhere, but the history is in most cases from a bygone and forgotten era. But, it also tends to revive, and when it rightfully does, it brings a beautiful feeling of nostalgia. It becomes a memory of a time when everyone listed in the phonebook had an eminent work title in front of his or her name. It didn’t matter what they were doing as every little contribute to society was necessary to make the wheel turn. A time when taking care of things mattered and when supporting local trades was accustomed and not essential.
I think people generally thought of the small venture that was Livid, as something very short termed, expensive and elusive. In my mind, Livid wasn’t just a pair of jeans made of high quality materials. It was made in a very specific way at a very specific location. That was the cutting edge. A contemporary designed product made from ancient, but traditional production methods. The factory also simultaneously enlightened customers to understand the hard work behind one single garment, that there is actually people involved in product manufacturing and that the chain of value of any product most likely is much more complex than one might think.
Our psychological identity was based on all of this. As an action to enhance this we’d already decided to record a video during the summer of 2012, capturing the entire production process behind a pair of Livid. This meant essentially to show all the beautiful aspects required when crafting a well-made garment by hand. At the peak of mass consumerism it captured the personal and nostalgic aspect that many of our potential customers were missing in the market. A month after the second meeting with Innovative Norway we got the grant.
The establishment phase
A blossoming textile industry barren in the 1970’s as the GDP per capita had increased with a growth rate of 3,3 percent since the 1950’s. A strong economic growth mainly due to petroleum led to high laboring costs and the free trade agreements being established (EFTA) led domestic production facilities to shatter. The current productivity and business structure did not have the incentives to keep pace with changes in the international markets. Textile and ready-to-wear companies continued to fall steadily from the 1970 until the 1990 when the sector finally stabilized and grew more robust. Today, most Norwegian manufacturing companies still design and market their brands domestically but the garments themselves are mainly manufactured outside of Norway.
The fact of the matter is that garment manufacturing in Norway will never help one out of the short steep section of building a company. Essentially because at a competitive price point it can never have the product margins one needs to re-invest, employ and administer. Therefore, we early on decided to build a portfolio that would consist of two production-lines. One production-line designed, cut, sewn and finished at our own facility in Trondheim, Norway. And a second one designed in Norway but cut, sewn and finished by our partners in Portugal. The important aspect of this decision was purely how they would correlate. It would not be acceptable communicating one thing in Norway, and doing another in Portugal. They had to pursue the same purpose and both offer the same value based product on a superior level.
In June of 2012 just before me and Kristoffer contacted Innovative Norway we’d already taken the first step and contacted the production agent Paulo Teixeira to locate a suitable production facility in Portugal that could make our garments. We’ll revisit this in a more comprehensive manner later, but in all efficiency we found a small family-owned facility named Confeccoes Katy. Located in the north region of Portugal, Barcelos. Already in September I received the first pre-production sample from Southern Europe. Quite the profound experience as I’d never laid eyes on a Livid that had been made by someone else before. A couple of months later entering November, after carefully launching a numerous amount of pre-productions we felt ready. Simultaneously, we decided to officially launch the video about our Made-in-Norway collection. This commenced a flood of editorial mentions from both huge and smaller publication firms. Inquiries were pouring in from all over the country; the problem was that I still needed eight to ten hours to make one single pair of jeans, and the fabric from Japan was a month away from arriving our production facility in Portugal. Initially, we didn’t have products to meet any kind of customer demand until our launch in January of 2013. As a modest hype around Livid was growing, our unfamiliar minds were praised that our young company was going forward. But unknowingly a colossal problem lied dormant abaft the curtain.
Saturday the 23rd of February in 2013 could probably be described in quite the comprehensive matter. In lack of better words I’d say both me and my better half woke up feeling overwhelmed. Everything I had been putting my head into since I decided to become a jean maker in 2010 had been leading up to this very date. Every single bump that had been overseen due to basically lacking educational implications was worth it, and with all that I had already experienced I felt I had finally made it. My path was made clear and I was more than ready to take the next step building this little dream I had of Livid Jeans.
Nearly a month overdue, 400 limited edition jeans came wrapped in 14 cardboard boxes straight from Southern Europe. Ready to be launched online and at three retail shops inherent to the denim- purist and distribution giant, Carlings in Norway - also, my previous employer. A couple of months earlier I had been given the chance to introduce my vision for Livid and the garments to their buyers and being the purist they are they really fell for the idea. I felt really lucky of having made the deal of a lifetime for any jeansmaker. In addition I was overwhelmed by the thought of simply hanging besides the three pioneers Levi’s, Lee, Wrangler and of course the Swedish denim brand Nudie Jeans, which probably gave me the inspiration in the first place.
It was a cold winter day in February and I was juggling between walking and running to the studio trying not to break anything while jumping from dry concrete between wet and slippery ice blocks. I met Kristoffer a couple of minutes later outside our old studio space with the freight-forwarder to sign off the 14 boxes filled with our first production. It came just in time for the grand opening of Carlings’ newest shop at the square of Trondheim Torg. Everyone was in town that day to celebrate the opening. Amongst some of them were the buyers, the country managers, some of their in-house designers and of course a huge amount of eager friends and potential customers.
Loaded onto the street just outside the studio, we started carrying the cardboard boxes one at a time up the white wooden staircase to the second floor. The boxes were placed in a hurry and unsorted matter in the crowded factory. I tried to act as though it was nothing much, but the excitement betrayed me. I couldn’t restrain myself from smiling ear-to-ear as we were shuttling up and down the staircase, carrying our new indigo wrapped business venture. The sweat was pouring from all the running, but I didn’t mind. On the fourth run, I couldn’t wait any longer. My heart felt as it was pounding out of my chest. An overwhelming feeling in which I cannot describe, or even remember precisely.
Overexcited I dropped the box on the green wooden floor and leaned forward while eagerly reaching for the keychain in my right belt loop, to grab the nearest reachable device I had to cut open the box. Immediately, a wave of nausea clutched to my stomach as I first laid eyes on the content.
In 1996, in a small village in Texas a young man - persistent to marry a beautiful daughter of a farmer - went to ask for permission. As he approached the father and politely asked him of his daughters hands, he looked at him and said; “I will allow you to do so, but you will have to fulfill one simple condition.” While firmly pointing his hand at the field, he continued. “Go out to that field, and stand just outside the farmhouse doors. I am going to release three bulls one at a time and if you can manage to grab tail of any of the three bulls, I’ll grant you permission to marry my daughter.” The young man persistent on his road to happiness immediately ran out to the field, rigidly waiting for the bulls to be released. As the first barn door opened, out came one of the biggest bulls he had ever laid eyes on, and immediately he decided to let this one pass through, and wait for the second bull to arrive. As the second door opened, out came bursting an even fiercer bull than the first one. Again, he stepped aside and waited for the third bull to arrive. Now as the third door opened, the young man arose smiling broadly from ear to ear. Out came the weakest bull he had ever seen. Happily, he positioned himself, ready to jump head on to catch the poor bull’s tail. As the bull came running by, he jumped at the exact moment. But as he threw his hands in front of him to grab the bull’s tail, he got completely startled as to this bull actually had no tail.
This story is obviously of fiction, but the message is nonetheless pretty clear. Opportunities knock your door only once. Today, during our 7th year in business, I look back at our journey and feel blessed that we have gotten many opportunities, and that - even though not knowing what would come next, almost all of the time – were persistent enough to take them head on.
Back in 2013, during our first launch, we had received our first production fault. And I could see it straight through the packaging. Then and there, both me and Kristoffer understood that the complexity of what we had headed into was much greater than what we’d imagined in the first place. But, even though this situation was not only a bump in the road, but actually a complete drain of all our savings, we had gotten the opportunity. And we couldn’t just let it go.
A couple of months later, we turned our heads to Portugal, seeking new opportunities with a clear mind. Persistent on our path to mastery.