Casual outdoor refers to a combination of things: it’s not really outdoorsy to the point of hiking and camping, but it certainly has the outdoors feel. This is the market Finnish shoe brand Pomar targets.
And, as CEO Jarno Fonsén points out, there’s plenty of that in the Nordic countries. The summers are short, and the autumns, winters and springs aren’t always easy to dress for. Thus, shoes need to be able to battle through snow, hail, rain and slush, and not lose their grip on ice either – yet remain breathable to prevent sweating.
“Our shoes aren’t very cheap, but we always aim to make both the design and the structure so durable that they can be worn for years and years,” he explains. “We’ve included various solutions to improve the grip of the sole, and our use of GORE-TEX ensures that the shoes are waterproof yet breathable.”
To support the objective of durability, the shoes don’t follow quickly passing trends. Instead, the company goes for classic and simple styles. New collections come out twice a year, but the old ones remain evergreen – and sometimes, they become trendy by accident.
“Right now, Dr. Martens shoes are very popular, so in a way that helps us too. We’ve always got similar ones in our collection.”
Pehmis becomes a huge hit
Founded in 1960 by former shoe factory employee Toivo Leppänen and his wife, Kirsti Leppänen, in a municipality called Pomarkku in the Satakunta region, Pomar initially went by the name of Veljeskenkä. At first, the couple manufactured children’s shoes and later expanded to men’s shoes.
At the time, Jarno says, the region was scattered with shoe factories, many of them very small. Veljeskenkä only got its first real workroom after about a decade in business.
At best, the company had 200 employees. In the 1970s, Pomar developed its legendary Pehmis, slippers that has sold over a million pairs. More recently, the company even created a remodelled version of the classic, which became a bit of a fad among young people.
Jarno joined the company in 1986 and took over leadership in 1993. His wife, Päivi Fonsén, is the daughter of Toivo and Kirsti, and remains chairman of the board at the company.
Plenty has happened since: the vast majority of Finnish shoe factories have disappeared and production has been taken abroad. This has been Pomar’s fate, too, and the company’s products are now made in Estonia. Design work is still conducted in Finland, and the head designer, Minna Peltomäki, recently won the Ornamo Award, a prestigious design industry accolade.
A European exception
Throughout the years, plenty has changed outside the industry too. For example, Pomar launched its first a vegan collection a few years ago, and it has been hugely popular. Jarno has noticed that sustainability is a growing concern for consumers, and, even though Pomar no longer produces its shoes in Finland, it’s still an exception in the industry: according to the 2019 World Footwear Yearbook by World Footwear, almost nine out of 10 pairs of shoes are currently made in Asia.
Pomar has resellers in Finland, Sweden, Norway, Estonia, Latvia, Russia, Japan and Spain, and shoes ordered through the company’s online store fly out to various countries every month.
Jarno believes there are plenty of opportunities for growth in the existing markets. For example, through successful partnerships in Japan and Russia new requests are coming in.
Even though Pomar’s collections don’t include summer shoes, they still sell well in countries where winters are far from their Nordic versions.
“In Finland, we tend to choose our outfits based on what the weather is like. In many other places, people dress based on what season it is, no matter the weather,” Jarno says laughingly.