Whether it’s something to do with the cold winters, the long summer days, or the consumption of pickled herring per capita is a mystery, but our Scandinavian neighbours seem to have a way with design. Their nose for no-frills minimalism and impeccable craftsmanship has essentially provided the world with a blueprint for timeless modernity. Our new homes are modelled on their architecture and furnished with their furniture. Our bookshelves are rarely devoid of a Larsson.
But whilst your Ikea-bought Brusali or Brimnes may be very much Swedish in build, its contents are more likely decidedly Italian or British. So why hasn’t this famed Nordic know-how been put to producing a clothing label we all know and love? In short, it has. You just wouldn’t guess it from its name.
Eton Shirts Sweden
Eton have been making shirts in Gånghester, a village in southern Sweden since the 20s. When the Great Depression hit, the Pettersson family saw mill had to shut its doors and head honcho, David Pettersson was left jobless. Forced to help out with his wife Annie’s clothing manufacturers, David soon found he had a knack for more delicate work. In 1929, deciding to refocus their efforts solely on producing shirts, David and Annie established Syfabriken Special, a Swedish shirt company with a very Swedish name.
"Never hand over a shirt unless you’re completely satisfied with it"
For a while, business boomed for Syfabriken Special. David and Annie made sure that everyone working out of the tiny factory in their house was as committed to their levels of quality, even inventing a not-so-catchy company motto; ‘Never hand over a shirt unless you’re completely satisfied with it’. Now joined by their two sons, Rune and Arne, the company wanted to explore innovations in shirt production and constantly sought to improve the quality of the shirts themselves. In need of inspiration for the fabrics and designs that would make them a world leader, Rune and Arne were frequently sent abroad on research trips, hunting out the ideas that would give their shirts the edge.
The Contemporary Fit, Light Blue Pinstripe
For one reason or another, this quest for the exotic brought the Pettersson boys to a town in Berkshire. But whilst Windsor offered them none of the silks they’d held in China, or the colours they’d seen in India, the local school’s uniform caught their eye. Highly prestigious and renowned the world over, Eton seemed to sum up what they wanted to say about their shirts and so, in 1948, the Syfabriken Special Eton Shirt was born.
"Their quality and innovative designs made them ideal for a style-hungry and quality-conscious British market.."
A one-off release aiming to bring some English prestige to the Swedish market, the shirt was a hit. After becoming so popular that Syfabriken needed to upgrade their factory, it became clear that the Eton name was a good fit with what they did. In 1950, it was decided that the Swedish shirt manufacturers were rebranding under a distinctly British name. Syfabriken Special became Eton.
The Slim Fit Check with Pointer Collar
With a new name and a new factory, Eton were ready to take on the world. First making their way across the North Sea in 1955, their innovative designs made them ideal for a style-hungry and quality-conscious British market. Throughout the 70s and 80s, they continued to work in the same factory in Gånghester, inventing new machinery that could keep up with the growing demand and maintain the level of quality they’d set.
By 1992, they’d found their way onto Harrods’ shelves, and their revolutionary non-creasing cotton shirt became the store’s biggest seller. Today, they have flagship stores in London, Stockholm, and New York and, despite now producing over 800,000 shirts a year, they still never hand one over they’re not completely satisfied with.
Hans, David Pettersson's grandson talks through his family's history
The Makings of an Eton Shirt
Whilst heritage brands can sometimes be accused of a blinkered or backwards approach to their manufacturing, Eton's tradition is one of innovation. They've always understood the importance of taking the time and care in traditional processes, but they have never shied away from improving upon them.
And whilst they do lean on their Scandinavian knack for modern design, Eton are by no means ignorant of the main factors that make luxury clothing luxurious; well-picked materials and careful manufacturing. Their shirts are certainly eye-catching and well thought through from a design point of view, but it’s their dedication to their fabrics and production methods that really puts them a cut above the rest.
Eton Shirt Fabrics
Across their range, Eton use a number of different fabrics with varying concentrations of cotton and varying approaches. The Eton Green range includes less-refined fabrics like denim and flannel and shows they’re still not afraid of reinventing themselves, but it’s their classic Poplin and Signature Twills that are the long standing favourites and proof of Eton’s expertise.
The Poplin weave has been used for centuries with the technique linked historically to manufacturing silk as well as cotton. A favourite of shirt makers, a traditional Poplin weave makes for a crisper appearance and has the ability to produce much sharper patterns.
The Poplin weaved light blue Pin Stripe from Eton
For their Poplin, Eton have further refined the process. Weaving yarns of a similar size crosswise means they create a light but dense fabric that’s best for displaying fine patterns, like in their light blue Pin Stripe shirt. But, whilst this would traditionally create a fabric prone to creasing, Eton apply their own, non-formaldehyde finish that prevents the fabric's ability to hold folds and produces a near-perfect non-creasing shirt.
The Eton Signature Twill
The Eton Signature Twill is most commonly used across the Eton range and is likely responsible for their reputation. Using traditional twill techniques coupled with their own refinements, the signature twill allows for a more subtle texture and a more hard-wearing fabric.
The Twill on the white Cut Away Collar from Eton
Used across much of the Eton range, from their Bird Print to their white Cut Away Collar, the secret to the signature twill’s performance is their process of yarn selection. Combined with an improved twill weaving process, the carefully selected yarns create a soft fabric that’s versatile, strong, but still vibrant.
The Manufacturing Process
The average Eton shirt is made from 45 pieces sewn with over 12,000 stitches. Considering both the intricacy of the processes involved and the care required to complete them, it’s hard to imagine how Eton produce such a vast quantity of shirts to the standard they do. What’s more, they’re renowned for being both anti-waste and environmentally focused, attitudes all the more commendable for a factory working to create a product as resource and time-hungry.
"This obsessive drive towards manufacturing excellence even led them to establish their own line of machinery..."
But it’s Eton’s openness to explore new manufacturing techniques that not only improves the efficiency of their factory but produces a better-wearing shirt. This obsessive drive towards manufacturing excellence even led them to establish their own line of machinery in the 50s, a lot of it is still use today, giving them a control over the process rarely seen in labels of the same size.
Eton's collection, spring/summer 2017
Whether or not it's down in part to their Scandinavian roots, Eton would be nothing without the hard work of the family behind the business. Since they first started production out of a small factory in their house, they've pushed themselves to be the best. Now they're one of the leading manufacturers in the world, it's that same spirit that means you can always rely on them for quality.
As the makers of the best shirts in the world, we're proud to stock Eton. As staples, they're shirts show you take pride in the details and respect. Their patterned range is bright and fun but still carries an air of sophistication. Take a look at our full range here.