Earlier this summer we approached a Finnish backpack manufacturer Finn-Savotta. We enquired about possibilities of doing some testing and evaluation of their products. And after some time had passed, look and behold we received a very positive reply from the company CEO. After some messaging back and forth, they invited us to visit their manufacturing plant later in the summer to see what it was all about and to discuss more in person. And we were happy to oblige. A day was set and when August 1st finally came around we were wheels up and headed for the small town of Karstula in central Finland.
The factory building was something unexpected. We both had pictured some big manufacturing halls and trucks going about. But the building turned out to be oblong, one-storied one, which reminded us more of an old army barracks rather than a sewing factory.
At the door we were quickly greeted by the CEO and part owner of the company, Elmo. He took us to the company conference room. I have not been in any room, besides any sauna, that would have screamed more: FINLAND, PERKELE! The log walls, the wooden long table and the whole lineup of rugged Savotta Jääkäri rucks on the wall all spoke of the mentality of the company.
The welcome committee was some what intimidating. We expected only the CEO to be there for us, but apparently we were the show in town or we were there to be thoroughly vetted, because the whole design and lead team was there. It was like meeting with your favorite sports stars, these were faces we had only seen on videos and adverts before!
The History Lecture and Current Affairs
Despite the slightly intimidating first impression, all the guys were amazingly welcoming and turned out to be jolly good lads! A choice of either coffee or sugarfree Red Bull was offered after which we got a full package of corporate history and it was downright interesting stuff! Truth be told we should have brought a dictaphone with us because the company CEO told us so much in such a short period of time, we could only hope for that our brains could save all the information being poured at us!
Savotta has been around since 1955 and still is a family entrepreneurship like it was in the beginning. A few backpacks and leather mittens crafted in the company founders attic turned quickly into a major manufacturer of outdoor gear and eventually soft goods to the Finnish Defense Forces. Savotta still makes most of FDF’s rucksacks and tents as well as most of the tactical nylon in use of our conscripts. And that is probably how they are best known in Finland these days.
But the FDF isn’t the only one using their products, and Savotta tents have been sent through and used all around the world in natural disaster areas by the Finnish Red Cross for example.
Drawings of the company’s older designs.
The company’s products had not developed in the past decades too much, because the leadership felt that when there was a solid design, why change it or design something revolutionary? And that had been a bit of a problem. They still have some packs that were designed back in the sweet 70’s and were test winners in a Finnish magazine. But in the backpack industry times and designs have changed quite a bit since the 70’s. And this is why people usually say that Savotta’s products are “sturdy and reliable, but a little scrappy”.
But the new leadership, the boys who recently took over the brand their grandfather founded, have vowed to brush up the company image and erase that “little scrappy” from that litany. Modern military-focused designs with a firm foundation on the company history and ideals have slowly started to replace the old reliables on the product line and gain attention.
They also very openly told about an era of big demand for their products and the company decided to go to China for some of the production. This was to be able to supply products under their name to the market in greater volume, pretty basic capitalist trick which in the end didn’t work out. The designs may have been “tacticool” and all, but the quality was greatly lacking and the Chinese manufacturers didn’t really know what they were doing, so the brand image started taking hits due to sub-par quality.
Nowadays hardly any of products are left out in the market and only some products remain to be made in China. They say the “rule of thumb” is that no load-bearing equipment or tents, or shelters are manufactured there. And even though the venture made a dent in their image, Savotta wants to be very open about it and tell that have learned from their mistake. We believe that taking responsibility and being transparent will instill confidence in the consumer and are sure to raise their image!
All this time there was a buzzing noise on the background. And no it was not the mosquitoes that are the blight of the Finnish people in the summer, but it was the sewing machines. The diligent workers were at it all the time we had the briefing. It was like music to my ears, a trip down the memory lane straight back to childhood.
Soon we were ushered in to the main factory room where all the magic happens. A lot of white fabric was out. It seems that the winter is coming to Karstula a bit early as it is coming to Westeros too. That or the FDF need some new winter tents and what not badly.
First we got to meet the guy who is behind all the awesome new promotion videos and advertisement photography. This is one of the things the new management wants to emphasize on, the products are great, but the advertisement has to be great too if you want to sell the product too. And if you have seen Savotta’s product videos recently, you know they are doing pretty amazing job too! And if you have not, here is one of my favourites:
Then we proceeded back to the sewing machines. All the sewers had left to lunch at this time so it was quiet and we discussed the production processes, materials, different products and new machines they have recently acquired. You do not really ever think about how much time and money goes into researching new sewing and manufacturing equipment of a gear company such as Savotta. It is not just about the design and tacticool patterns, it is about precision steel and innovation too.
About patterns. Savotta rarely dabbles in them at all. In the past Savotta’s motto concerning patterns and product colours has been: “Always green, sometimes (if ever) black)”. And what else does a Finnish outdoors person or a hunter, or a soldier need? Well recently soldiers started needing a bit more. And so after the installation of the M05 camo pattern to the FDF, Savotta too had to go with the times and changed their motto: “Always green, sometimes black, if not M05”. We saw some other camos on their fabric rack too and we discussed them, but lets leave it at them saying that neither we or you have the clearance or the need to know more. Roger that.
Then turning on to innovations! The new area that they are going to be taking over soon is laser cut materials. This is something that is going to put them on the spearhead of things again. Their recent co-work with Varusteleka has at times made them take leaps and bounds to discover new designs and materials to better offer modern products to the consumer. And this is what is happening with the laser cutting machine.
The patterns for light-weight chest rigs looked pretty great and the end product will be available from Varusteleka in the not too distant future. It will be cool to see if they will incorporate this technology to the backpacks, that are arguably their main product range. All in good time!
A chest rig being cut with laser for Varusteleka
Next to the main factory building there is a shed where all the aluminum tube frames for Savotta rucks are made. Savotta does not buy their frames from other companies, instead they have a guy who makes them in-house. All of them. There were numerous stacks of aluminum tubing and finished frames of different sizes and constructions. It is amazing really how they do all this at their own little factory in the middle of Finland.
Once an impressed client asked them if he could see the machine that welds their frames and when he was taken to the shed to see the man, he thought it was a joke. But at Savotta they do not joke about employees, they value the craftsmanship of every single person working for them.
Karstula, no place like home!
The Savotta company was started in Karstula and it has stayed there all this time. The factory has been the work place of many residents of Karstula and the people there take a pride in having such a revered manufacturer in their home town, and the people at Savotta take pride in Karstula. We even got these “Pro Karstula” patches as gifts from them!
Often they have been asked that why do not move to some bigger town with better connections and possibilities to grow. But it is a hard to change a Finnish mans mind. If he has decided to stay put, he will. And no wonder, Karstula is a picturesque place. Embedded between several big lakes, lush forests all around and all the convenience stores you need are there. We had lunch in an old Finnish Civil-War era building that has a lunch diner in the ground floor and a movie theater on the upper. How cool is that?
But the reality is that Savotta is a rapidly growing company now and all the time their production is running on its limits with the demand for their products. For example, they did not have a single Jääkäri -backpacks in their warehouse, because as soon as they have sewed a new one, it is basically already sold. So the pressure to expand is huge and they have addressed this issue already.
Their Outlet-store showcases all their products and then some, doubling almost as a full on outdoor and hunting equipment store.
Production in Finland is hard these days. It costs a lot and it is hard to find employees for a company who sew outdoors and tactical gear. Kids these days just want to be YouTube stars or write blogs… They are holding on to their employees as hard as they can here, but they have opened another factory in Estonia. At the moment their factory there has as much people as they do in Karstula, but if the growth stays the same, there will be multiple new jobs opened in their subsidiary in Estonia. Even still the company strives to maintain the domestic content of their products as high as possible.
The Best Thing about Savotta
And what is the best thing about Savotta? It is just that. Their products are not cheap, but so are not the designs, the quality of the manufacturing, the quality of the materials, or anything. They have products that are made to last anything you throw at them and this has been taken in account with every step of the way. One might think that using 1000 D cordura and tube frames exclusively these days is a bit overkill and heavy, but just come see what the packs have to endure and withstand in the hands of the FDF conscripts, you just might understand.
Their selling mentality is actually very anti capitalistic, which is weird for a company that is aiming for growth and prosperity. Their mentality is to sell a person only one Savotta backpack, and this is because the one pack will last for his or her entire lifetime. Although they are really frank about wanting to make money too, make no mistake. They just do not want to rip people off.
So their mentality is all about the quality, not quantity. And that quest for quality does not only apply to their gear, but everything: efficiency of marketing and employees, workplace atmosphere and employee satisfaction, and partnerships as well. And this is what stroke a chord with us too. They did not just see us as a possible channel through where they could make themselves seen, but rather they wanted to make a real connection to benefit both parties involved. Quality in partnership is something that many a big company might learn from too.
And if you were wondering, the best thing about Savotta is not broadswords. Though broadswords are cool!
Oh, and we heard that the guys had asked around about us to see what the word on the street is about “Noble and Blue”. The guys at Varusteleka had told them that we are “ants…”, but quickly they added “…but ants with quality.” We will wear that as a badge of honour. We are honoured to even be notified people like Savotta or Varusteleka!
-Noble (“the other ant with some quality”).
This article was first published in the Noble & Blue. Noble & Blue is a small Finnish outdoor and tactical gear reviewing blog, that also shares stories of learning and adventure. Click here to know more about Noble & Blue and to read more articles like this.
I am not bound by any written, verbal, or implied contract to give this product a good review. All opinions are my own and are based off my personal experience with the product.
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