The Brand That Touched a Nation

Recollections of my memories, leading up to the Don Cano relaunch

Back in the late seventies, while visiting my in-laws in Iceland, Karl Magnusson managed to convince me to help reorganize his clothing factory Bláfeldur. As a result of my collaboration with Karl, the manufacturing company Scana was established. And only a few months later DON CANO was born… 

Growing up in Limmared, Sweden

Memories of men operating cloth-spreading on cutting tables, women on sewing machines, heaps of work in progress – these images decorated my childhood playground. I wouldn’t replace them for the world. The seed that called me to learn textile manufacturing was most likely planted there and then. Owning a factory – not a dream for a son of simple people to aspire.

In Limmared, the blue blooded owned the factories. A benevolent Herr Brusewitz owned the glass-works, providing the daily bread to the bondager’s sons. But father Gunnar had other ideas and found work as a cutter at Fristads clothing plant. Later, he became the company’s manager.

Mother Greta and my sister and only sibling, Gerd, worked as seamstresses in the same factory.

Learning tailoring at Savile Row, England

Not yet eighteen, a call came to me to go to London and learn the finest tailoring. Soon after, I worked on suits for the Duke of Windsor, and eventually studied clothing engineering and technology in Sweden. Excelling in the knowledge of cloth production and manufacturing, I became a consultant to the European clothing industry.

Iceland: love at first sight

A grant from UN linked to a request from the Icelandic government led to my arrival in Iceland. Even today, I remember landing on Runway 06/24 at Reykjavik Airport on the 5th of January 1970. It was everything I imagined and more. The task at hand: to survey and make improvements to the Icelandic clothing industry. Karnabær, Gefjun, Sportver, Álafoss, Última and others were clients. Starting up the Bandido Jeans by Karnabær, it was the first and only authentic jeans brand to be designed and produced in Iceland. Assembly line, machinery and methods of manufacturing were all engineered by father Gunnar and myself.

On Advising Karl to close his factory

My better judgment did not support big scale manufacturing of clothing in Iceland. And my best advice to Karl was to close his factory.

The industry had already seen its best days. Businessmen figured that cloth production in Iceland was a thing of the past. And the die-hard manufacturers that had been my clients a decade or so earlier, had given up. Asia, particularly China, had emerged as the new center for the production of clothes. The world’s retailing chains had begun calling the shots.

On being Mad

In these prevailing circumstances, free trade agreements and others one had to be mad in order to even consider starting up the manufacturing of a new brand in Iceland.

Mad I was as I closed my ears to all forebodings. And, after a dinner with Karl’s family on a Saturday night, Karl and I began our mission. One might say that my love for making clothes kept all my common sense out of sight. The DON CANO creations literally flew with no effort out of my hands.

On being immersed

Ella, my wife at that time, came up with the name DON CANO. God knows how it came to be or where it came from. But we all thought it was the coolest brand name on this side of the Equator. It lifted up our spirits to the seventh heaven and just like the phoenix bird, we shook off our old ashes and started anew.

I eventually moved to Iceland with my family. Father Gunnar came too. Gunnar, the best factory manager the world had known, helped Lilja-Ros making the production second to none. Though we had the best sewing operators I ever had the pleasure of working with, the factory could still not turn out the fashionable DON CANO sportswear fast enough.

“Ella, my wife at that time, came up with the name DON CANO. God knows how it came to be or where it came from.”

Beyond my wildest dream

Everyone loved it! Adults displayed it with class at every occasion. Teenage kids slept in it. And In a couple of years, Don Cano became the no. 1 household brand in Iceland. Everyone owned a piece.

Nanna Leifsdóttir, the youngest Icelandic Olympian, and her teammates from the Icelandic national team wore Don Cano at the 1984 Sarajevo Olympic Games. Vigdís, Iceland’s beloved president, was a fan too.

Sales blossomed beyond believe; soon Don Cano’s sales/license agreements rolled out in Norway, Sweden, Denmark, England and Switzerland, hitting markets and stores alike, Harrods and Lillywhites in London, Steen & Strøm in Oslo and many others.

For the sake of information

In 1983, Don Cano sales in Norway, reached 400 mil. ISK, which was about 30 mil. NOK (wholesale value).

When adding thirty- two years inflation: Beyond my wildest dreams, does not seem as an overstatement.

The dream went astray

To cope with the increased cost of production we tried in vain to rationalize and optimize output.

Encouraged by fat bankers, dizzied by grand dreams, careless due to success, the dream fell apart.

While licking my wounds, I moved to America, the land of promise, where my forefathers had realized their dreams centuries before. (My endeavors in America are a story all on their own. Maybe I will tell it someday…)

Missing my family, I returned home to Iceland. By meeting with Elmar Jensen of Sjóklæðagerðin (the last man standing in the Icelandic clothing industry), we got the 66˚North Outdoor collection up and running. Afterwards, a bit later on, I started off Cintamani.

Now, it’s been more than thirty years since production of DON CANO stopped. Somehow it has never left my thoughts. And in all these years good people kept prompting me to finish the story.  My story. Don Cano’s story.  It’s late in the day, so what is there to wait for, but to reunite and pass on the dream that began so beautifully more than forty years ago.

New DON CANO creations are being stitched up, garments and accessories for all, young and old alike, enhancing a feeling of supreme comfort.

There were times in which I had called it The Impossible Project. But, hailed by lots of good willing people, family and friends.

DON CANO IS BACK ON THE ROAD.

The sun rises over Mt. Esja – birds rejoicing, a new day has begun. The phoenix flaps its wings vigorously. Phoenix never ceases. Hopefully, the will be in harmony with the creator. The love of the tailor endowed needs to be expressed.

The devotion to make clothes is as alive in me today as it was when I started out at London’s Savile Row.

I dedicate the new DON CANO to my good parents Gunnar and Greta, To my lovely sister Gerd, To my equally lovely grandson Breki. And to Karl, my former Partner in Scana.

And to all who strive to follow what was endowed…

Yours,

Jan Davidsson