Flooring Redux: The Story of Bolon
The Swedish design company, Bolon, is driven by an indomitable will to change the view of the conventional, in whichever form it may now appear – whether it is a square view of flooring, or an antiquated attitude toward entrepreneurship. This willpower has repositioned the enterprise from simple rag rugs to designer flooring that is praised by the world’s leading fashion designers, interior designers and architects. Sisters Annica and Marie Eklund stand at the helm with a clear vision never to stagnate but rather to gaze calmly towards the stars, no matter if it is a question of design or of environmental issues.
The company’s history starts in Stockholm in 1949. The sisters’ grandfather, Nils-Erik Eklund, had the brilliant idea of using textile waste from the neighbouring factory to manufacture woven rag rugs. The company’s name is a combination of the first and last letters of the Swedish words for cotton and nylon. The enterprise was handed down to Annica and Marie’s parents, Lars and Monica, in the 1960s. They continued developing the rag rug concept and created a completely new business niche – awning mats for caravans. This is where the history of Bolon could have stopped, with a well-managed, minor textile company in a district with many entrepreneurs. However, Nils-Eriks’s grandchildren saw opportunities that no one else saw.
Floors can exude fashion, passion and rock ‘n’ roll
Annica and Marie’s story resembles that of many other successful family companies – regardless of whether they are run by the second, third or fourth generation – the feeling for business comes, so they say, with the mother’s milk. However, few in the business world have the courage to change course 180 degrees and trust their inner vision – a burning call – while those around them sit on the fence and demonstrate a lack of appreciation, but that is how it happened. Annica, CEO, and Marie, CCO, took over the enterprise in 2003 and started the journey towards a different Bolon – a design-driven Bolon, with influences from the fashion world. The phrase “Floored by Fashion” was born. A significant breakthrough came through Giorgio Armani. The Italian fashion legend was so delighted with Bolon’s products that he not only furnished his shops and hotel with woven vinyl floorings from Ulricehamn, but also his home and yacht. They kept the factory on home turf however, to secure flexibility, expertise and quality, and to keep the possibility of quickly going downstairs to the factory to test an idea. “In Ulricehamn, we have flexibility, quality and knowledge. It would not be possible to have such immediacy if the factory was in another country. We have a unique production environment here, with machinery that we have adapted and developed ourselves, for our own specific needs,” say Annica and Marie.
Exciting collaborations, green leadership
Today, Bolon’s turnover is 267 million SEK. It has over 80 employees, and it is represented worldwide. Customers, in addition to Armani, include more and more global brands, international designers and architects. Bolon has also attracted attention for its exciting collaborations with Missoni, Giulio Cappellini and Jean Nouvel among others, under the collective name Designer Friends. Bolon is at the forefront of the flooring industry, with the ambitious Bolon® Green environmental vision. The production is energy efficient and the products can largely be recycled. Bolon has now phased out all phthalates in the production line as the next step to a totally green product. Bolon recently invested over 80 million SEK in a completely new factory in order to improve control of the whole production process and to meet the green demands of the future today. All production takes place in Ulricehamn, Sweden. The circle has been completed – Grandpa Nils-Erik’s ideas live on in a more refined form.
Towards new goals and challenges
Bolon is now setting its sights on representation in those countries where they have still not established themselves. In 2013 Bolon started business in South America. A warehouse to promptly support the Asian market is set up in China; for Bolon the Asian market has increased from 12 to 32 per cent in two years. The goals are therefore set high and self-confidence is soaring; Annica and Marie have quadrupled the turnover in ten years. “The focus is on doing business. Hard and single-minded work will produce deals – not least for the employees’ security and the long-term development of the company. It is important to have new goals and challenges, and not to be satisfied with just being good enough,” conclude Annica and Marie.
Voices about Bolon
“Imagine the world of a fly where floor expands in every direction, with no up or down…This is Bolon universe, exclusively a universe of floors: no ceiling, no walls… just floors – a palace for flies…This is the Bolon space where I stand, as in my fantastic dreams without gravity.”
- Jean Nouvel
“The choice of flooring is fundamental: it is the base for everything in a room, so choosing the right flooring is always the starting point.”
- Tom Dixon
“It is not the large that eat the small, but rather the fast that eat the slow.”
- Annica and Marie Eklund
“The first time I saw Bolon was in the office of one of my partners in the textile industry. I did not even manage get my coat off before I was captivated by the material’s special shine and character. So, I went down on all fours with my outdoor clothes on and stroked the surface.”
- Lars Wallin, Swedish haute-couture designer
“I choose Bolon for a lot of my projects for showroom and public area projects because I think that the material is beautiful, durable and contemporary, at the same time as it allows me to customise space in an optimal way. Bolon’s colours and patterns make it possible for me to create unique environments.”
- Giulio Cappellini
Bolon is a cutting-edge Swedish design company managed by sisters Annica and Marie Eklund, the third generation of the family to own the business. Under their leadership, Bolon has been transformed from a traditional weaving mill into an international design brand, with a focus on innovative flooring and creative interiors. Bolon’s list of clientèle includes Armani, Google, Mercedes, Adidas, Reebok and Sheraton, as well as leading architects and designers such as Jean Nouvel and Cappellini. All design and production is carried out in Ulricehamn, Sweden.
From the very day we were established in 1949, Bolon has proven to be an environmental innovator. Our first business idea involved turning waste material into rag rugs and since then, we have continuously strived to apply more sustainable working and manufacturing processes. From 2014, all our products will be 100% phthalate free. We only source from approved suppliers and the material passes through refinement plants less than 250km from our production facility, further reducing our environmental footprint. Furthermore, Bolon products and processes hold many internationally recognised environmental quality certifications including BREEAM, Green Tag, Floorscore, ISO 9001 and ISO 14001.