The Last of the Glove Cutters
Hestra's gloves are rooted in four generations of tradition
It’s storming and the snow is coming down hard, and it’s the kind that seeps through your clothes and turns your fingers bone white. As a skier, it’s moments like this when you praise or curse the gloves on your hands.
Without debate, Hestra makes one of the finest gloves in skiing. The soft leather, the mitten design, the warm interior—they’re a bit pricey, but it’s well known that a pair of Hestra gloves pay back on your investment with hours of precious skiing in the elements, skiing you might have missed out on because of cold hands.
Turns out that Hestra’s dominance in all things gloves goes back four generations, to 1936, when a farmer named Martin Magnusson started making leather gloves for loggers. The next year, a slalom ski slope was built nearby in the Swedish town of Hestra, attracting skiers from all over the country. So Magnusson sold ski gloves.
The art of glove-making has been passed down from one generation of Magnussons to the next. The company has produced some two million pairs of gloves and they’ve always used leather. Today, the fourth generation of Magnussons are about to take over the family business, and with that, two Magnussons recently became certified glove cutters.
After studying the art for three years, Niklas, 24, and Anton, 23, were officially deemed as glove cutters in a ceremony last year at the Stockholm Concert Hall, the same place where the Nobel Prize award ceremony is hosted. They are the youngest cutters in the world by 50 years. The two of them are half of the entire glove cutter population in Sweden. And while they’re applying a traditional knowledge of leather and stitches to their family business, they’re also reviving a dying trade.
POWDER: Tell me about this glove making certification. How did you get it and what does it mean?
Anton: The certificate is proof that we are masters of the profession. It’s something very unique and only four people in Sweden have it.
Niklas: Knowledge about leather is one of the most important things we learned. Ever since our great grandfather started the company, leather has been our favorite material.
So, is glove making part of Sweden’s history and tradition?
Anton: In Sweden, glove making almost became history. Niklas and I managed to keep the profession alive. Looking back 100 years ago, there was a relatively big glove industry in Sweden. The industry almost disappeared during the ’50s. But we hope to bring it back to life.
Niklas: The craft comes from France during the 16th century. The Huguenots [a community of French protestants] were the best at making them. They became known all over the world for their reindeer suede gloves.
Being so young in such an old tradition, what made you want to become a glove cutter?
Niklas: I learned the profession was in decline all over Europe. And if no one learned it in the coming years, it would disappear. I made up my mind to learn it and to preserve it for at least another generation. Anton joined me and we learned from our master, Anders Malmgren, who at that time was 76 years old. Our aim besides improving quality and fit is to keep the craft alive. Most of the glove cutters today are found in Hungary and Romania, but most of them are around 50 years old.
So you’re going to take over Hestra as the fourth generation of the Magnusson family, right?
Niklas: Of course! All four of us [cousins] have been working in the company since we were kids. It’s a great honor to take it over from our fathers. We are just one link in a long chain.
Anton: I feel a great honor to work in a company that my great-grandfather started 77 years ago. And to be able to work as three generations together, side-by-side on a daily basis, is very fun and inspiring. My uncle, father, and grandfather are always at hand with advice when I need it.
How do you apply your knowledge to the design and construction of Hestra gloves?
Anton: Gloves are a very complex product and making gloves is very difficult. Gloves are a small product and you will feel even the smallest defect. Slight millimeters make a difference in the fit. Our expertise is in the cutting of the leather and the final fit.
Where do you get your leather? And how important is it for your gloves?
Anton: We buy leather from around the world. It depends largely on what type of leather it is, but for example, we buy deerskin from North America.
Niklas: The material is crucial for the quality. We have learned how thick the leather has to be and which part of the skin you should or shouldn’t use. Some types of leather works for ski gloves, but not for dress gloves, and vice versa. We check every shipment to ensure that the material we put in our gloves meets our standard.
Is glove making a lost art? Are you bringing it back?
Niklas: We are definitely bringing it back. There is a strong trend in Europe for products made by craftsmen. Handmade shoes, tailored suits, and locally produced food are some examples. More and more consumers don’t want to pay for “two and get a third for free.” They want to know where and how things are made. I think we are in the beginning of a renaissance of handmade, locally produced clothing. Glove making fits right into this trend.
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