Today I am interviewing Jan Betros from Sweden, Founder of Röjk. Röjk is a young company which makes garments that are very functional, stylish and have proper ethical and sustainable credentials. In this interview Jan highlights how he started the company, the ideas that drive his designs and what we can expect in the future from Röjk!
Jan, please briefly introduce yourself and tell us who you are. Since when are you backpacking & bikepacking, and how did you start?
I am rased and born in Stockholm near the archipelagos, mountains, sea and nature was always close. I spent my youth as a professional gymnast and finally when I was 21 I moved to Annecy in the French Alps to spend time for hiking, skiing, rock climbing and cycling. For five years I was backpacking and skiing around the world and earned my living by working in ski- and mountainshops. My interest for making innovative sportswear grew and finally I started my studies at University of Derby with Performance Sportswear Design. With the help of my seamstress grandmother in Sweden I made my first prototype of the Tvister Helmet Hood who in 2007 won the Innovation For Extremes Prize for best design and innovation. After the award I got a lot of publicity and the brand RÖJK SUPERWEAR was introduced to the market in fall 2009.
How often are you outdoors hiking, skiing or backpacking nowadays?
Unfortunately not as often as I used to, but at least I get to make awesome gear for everyone who spends time in the outdoors :)
Are you more of a “weekend hiker” or do you have some long distance trips under your belt?
Nowadays I am more of a weekend hiker because of a lot of work but I always plan at least one or two long backpacking trips every year.
Which category would you put yourself in: SUL, UL, Lightweight or Bushcraft? What is your typical baseweight?**
Well as weekend hiker I hike rather light, average is around 30 - 45 liters but for my backpacking trips where I am aways for at least 2 or 3 month I carry 60-70 liters.
Please tell us where the name “Röjk” came from, and what it stands for.
RÖJK is a shortage for RÖJÅK which is an expression for the PERFECT RIDE. It’s all about the perfect ride and making things perfect :)
Röjk designs functional garments, which are Made in Portugal & Sweden. Can you tell us how the idea to start the company emerged and how you see its future? Röjk makes innovative and attractive garments. We make all our garments in Portugal, all beanies and socks in Sweden. The idea for Röjk is to make garments that look good, with versatile use. For example our Helmet Hood can be used for running, skiing, hiking and cycling. Our liner socks can be used for hiking, skiing, running, cycling and with jeans or a suit instead of a cotton sock! We will continue so make more versatile garments mainly for the average people, backpackers and for everyone who likes to spend time int the outdoors. Garments will include running, light hiking, cycling, yoga, backpacking, travelling, surfing, and for everyone who enjoys the good things in life :)
What makes Röjk different from other outdoor companies? Well many things actually, first of all we are a small and independent company and they are big companies! We are focusing on the average person who is not particularly a top athlete but who likes adventures and sports but wants something that is of great quality and good looking as well. The old and big outdoor brands are focusing on the hardcore user and uses the term “Outdoor” but for us we are the new and next generation and we are focusing on “what is now” and we rather use the term Backpacker and Adventurer. I try to find gaps rather than making things that already exists.
Your company makes its garments in Europe, and uses recyclable materials, so does pretty well in environmental terms. What brought this decision on? Well I thought that if I want to make garments that are suitable for spending most time in nature then of course I should try to be nice to nature. Simple as that :)
Röjk is starting to get more exposure in outdoor blogs lately; how about magazines, are they featuring your goods? We have only been on the market for 3 years and things are going fast. We have not been active with making press releases etc. - mostly because we wanted to make the company grow a little bit by itself. Now and then we can see our stuff in both national and international magazines, it’s great that they chose our stuff and to write good things about us.
Can you tell us a bit how you went about the design process of the Tvister Hoody, and where the inspiration came from? I wanted to develop the ultimate and versatile hoody of all time, something that no one else had made and so simply that it would make the big brands wonder why they never thought of that, and so I did :). I started to put on many different layers of tops from layer 1 to layer 3 and eliminated everything that was uncomfortable such as zips, pockets, seams on wrong places and finally I narrowed it down to what i need and do not need in my hoody. Finally the design of the garment had tvisted arms, a balaclava shaped hood that can be used under a helmet and thereof the name. When I was done with the construction I thought I would make the design different and something that everyone can recognize and I made the asymmetrical colors.
You use a lot of bright colours in your garments, and aren’t afraid to mix it up. This and your garments asymmetric seams make Röjk garments stand out. Are you do this to simply differentiate yourself, or what’s the story behind these?
Well at first I understood that I have to stand out and I wanted people to see what a Röjk garment is without having to see the name. I thought that why would the shops want to buy Röjk if it looks like everything else so I would be more safe by standing out rather than not standing out. And in the end of the day I want to make garments that I like to wear :)
Jan, we love to be let in on the work-in-progress stuff! Can you let us know what kind of new products you’re working on at the moment?
Well, we are developing our first spring/ summer range that will be on the markets spring 2014 which will include bikewear, running and backpacking. And for next fall we have developed some cool compression garments and more hoodys and T-shirts in merino wool, I love hoodys and t-shirts and can’t have enough of them :)
Any new lightweight materials that have you all excited?
There’s so many but I am working really close with PrimaLoft right now to develop a lightweight range in PrimaLoft.
How works the R&D at Röjk, do you have a need yourself that you try to fix, or do some of your clients inspire you for new products and ask you for solutions to their problems?
So far it has been mostly me finding new solutions but as we grow we are getting a lot of feedback and many requests. We also have our friends who we call “Superheros”, they are professional athletes who can test our garments and new developments on an intense way and give us a great feedback.
Where do your customer come from?
Tricky question, it varies a lot but mostly from they’re adventurers, backpackers and the average person who is off for a short trip and wants something really good & attractive!
Do you think the lightweight backpacking principles will become more popular and break into the mass market, or will it continue to be something for a small group of people?
I think it is growing and more people are asking for it, however I think that the demand is higher than the supply.
Are you in touch with other smaller manufacturers in Europe, the USA, Japan, and other places?
Not really as we have not had the time really to focus on others but we have plans on working more close with other small manufacturers.
What is your own favorite backpack, sleep system and shelter?
I just bought an OSPREY Exos 58 wich will be perfect for my shorter trips, I have a Hilleberg Nallo 2 GT and Thermarest NeoAir Xlite. I have so much gear for different occasions.
Any other favourite piece of gear which you always carry with you?
I’m a bit of a gear-nerd and I have many bit’s and pieces :)
When and where was your last backpacking/ skiing/ bikepacking trip?
This March I went with a friend to Switzerland for one week to ski. It was great, we stayed in a French town called Bulle and everyday we went to a new place to ski. Last summer I went to Australia for three months. First I went skiing for 2 months in the snowy mountains of NSW and then went off backpacking and rock climbing for a month. I also have a big crush on Portugal and I go there at least five times every year mainly for the manufacturing of our great garments and while I’m there I go for backpacking, surfing, rock climbing and I enjoy the nice wine :)
And where is your dream backpacking/ skiing/ bikepacking trip taking you?
I really need to go back to New Zeeland and see all of it. I plan to go to Patagonia this fall to go rock climbing and I want to ski in Japan, damn so many places I still need to explore and lets not forget about Finland, I need to see more of Finland as well.
Are you planning to get out for a trip soon, and enjoy the Swedish spring?
Yes, me and my girlfriend are first going hiking Kungsleden in the north of Sweden for a week, then I’m going with some friends to Riksgränsen to celebrate Swedish midsummer and do some late spring skiing. We are also going to Portugal for two months to do some backpacking, surfing and take a language course in Portuguese. Besides from these plans I always have many spontaneous trips going, live is good :)
Jan, I thank you very mucho for taking the time to answer my questions =) Is there something you would like to add?
Thank you and I’m glad you like what we are doing and dont forget to LIKE us on Facebook to keep up on what we are doing next and spread the word about us :)