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Our story, the Wolf Story, is something we take great pride in sharing. Not just because the business bears our family name, but also because this is our family. This is what the Wolf family has done for five generations.
BEGINNINGS ON FAIRY TALE ROAD
The Wolf Designs legacy begins like the Deutsche Marchensrasse (Fairytale Road) in Hanau, Germany in 1834. It was in Hanau that Philip Wolf I, a silversmith by trade, began to produce leather-covered presentation cases for his silver products. His rationale was clear: it is only logical to protect ones investment in fine silver by storing and safeguarding it in a fine quality case. Presentation and storage cases for jewelry were not unique, however, covering the case in rich leather was something that Philip I would be credited with inventing. The process of cutting and stitching leather panels together was a laborious task. The leather was fastened onto the frame and inspected with care to ensure that every piece met Philips high standards.
In 1836, Philip was selling more presentation and jewelry boxes than silver so he moved away from making silver and concentrated on honing his skills making leather boxes. His business continued to grow as many local silver and goldsmiths discovered that their products held greater value when offered in a case made by Philip Wolf.
Philip Wolf II was born in 1869. He would come to take over the family business, but only after years of apprenticeship. By 1905, the Wolf family had immigrated to Malmö, Sweden. Visiting the region on holiday, Philip II met a beautiful woman. He decided he liked the country and chose to stay.
SEEING IT THROUGH
If there were anyone who could personify the steadfast determination of the Wolf family, it would be a woman named Ida Wilhemina. Born of Swedish descent in 1889, she married Philip II in 1910. Ida was known for her extraordinary resourcefulness, courage, and drive to see her family and the family business persevere, even though difficult circumstances. In 1926, Philip Wolf II fell ill with a lung ailment, leaving him unable to work and support his family. Ida Wilhemina Wolf was faced with the prospect of watching the family business, and their sole means of support, dwindle away. She could not let this happen. After successfully taking over the management of the Wolf business, she also took on sales. Ida understood that Wolf Designs needed its customers and customers needed Wolf Designs, so she set off on the road. Though her means of transportation were vastly different from that of todays sales representatives, the job she performed was not much different. Her primary methods of travel were horse-drawn cart and railroad car, stopping in each city, town, and village to sell Wolf Designs jewel cases. To conserve money she would stay in train stations, renting a blanket for 0.50 krona per night, and occasionally accept an invitation into the home of a customer.
THE FAMILYS BUSINESS
During this time, Mrs. Wolf looked to her sons Philip III and Ernst. They were both in their early teens when they began working full-time for the company. Though this was not unusual for young men of this time, it was unique that they were immediately placed in roles of significant responsibility. Mrs. Wolf would be gone for up to three months at a time, carrying one suitcase for personal items and another for sample products. Once each week she would mail her purchase orders to the factory, where production manager Gerda Ridell would stand at the door awaiting their delivery.
FROM SLOW AND STEADY TO FAST FLOW
The reins were passed to Philip III in 1936, during a global depression. Due to the cautious nature of the Wolf family and Swedens neutrality during the war, the Company was able to export significant amounts of product and enjoy a stable home market throughout the Depression and World War II. Throughout his tenure, Philip III was determined to establish Wolf Designs as a benchmark for professionalism and sound business practices. He promptly introduced fast-flow production methods, which dramatically improved manufacturing efficiency.
GROWING UP AND OUT
At the same time, Wolf Designs implemented new distribution and sales programs that were managed directly by the company. This also proved successful and resulted in phenomenal growth. In 1939, Philip III purchased a five-story building in the center of Malmö to handle the rapidly expanding operations. This building housed all aspects of the business: manufacturing, sales, distribution, administration, and 200 highly dedicated employees. The company remained in this building for more than twenty years, until the early 1960s. At that time, they moved to a new 80,000 square foot building, designed and built just for Wolf Designs to hold modern offices and a labor force expanding to more than 350 employees. This facility produced items for retailers and customers throughout Europe.
A FAMILY WITH VISION, A COMPANY WITH HEART
Beyond Philip IIIs business acumen, Wolf Designs became known as a company with a great social conscience, with programs to assist the companys employees, community, and environment. Philip III frequently loaned money to staff members to help them buy houses. He knew that a comfortable and stable workforce would also be more loyal and productive. Philip III cared deeply about the environment. What started as a casual interest shortly blossomed into his lifelong dedication. By 1947, he had built the family business to such a stable position that he could venture to South America to volunteer his time, intellect, and energy to preserving the environment. He also gave speeches throughout Sweden to lobby the government against soil erosion, while still continuing to develop his family business. Philip IV was given the edict to go to the UK and establish the business there. His brother Richard, a professional ballet dancer, stayed in Sweden with his father to run the parent company.
FROM A SUITCASE TO SELFRIDGES
In 1961, Philip IV arrived in London armed only with a suitcase and samples. He immediately began visiting and selling to companies like Ronson and Timex. At the time, Ronson was the largest cigarette lighter manufacturer in the world. They had planned a launch for a new womens lighter, and a Wolf Designs case would be the launch vehicle. The jewelry case business also flourished with clients like Harrods and Selfridges stores in London. The Company even had its own store-within-a-store at Selfridges, staffed by Wolf Designs employees and with a large area devoted to its products. Customers marveled at the finely crafted leather-covered boxes. Once Philip IV had established Wolf Designs throughout the UK, the family decided to move there. In the spring of 1964, they moved into an office on highly fashionable Old Bond Street in London.
WOLF DESIGNS TAKES OFF!
In 1968 the Company decided to set up a production facility in the UK. Philip IV selected a site in South Wales, well known for its factory buildings and the availability of its labor. The factory opened in the spring of 1968 and was an immediate success. Products were sold all over the UK as well as in some international markets. Often, Philip IV had to travel to the factory, which was 250 miles from the sales office in London. This caused problems and put a lot of pressure on him. Fortunately, Philip obtained his pilots license and began to commute by air. Soon, clients were willing to join him, and many visits were made from the UK to the Swedish factory, as well as to France, Holland and other countries.
THE TRADITION CONTINUES
Under the wing of Philip IV, Wolf Designs continued to fly high. The winds were right for change and with the 1980s came a period of significant adjustment and transition. In May of 1980, while sitting at the kitchen table in the Wolf home in South London, Ida Wilhemina passed away from a heart attack. Her funeral was held in Malmö and attended by hundreds. In 1988, Simon Philip Wolf V left the UK at his fathers direction to open a US subsidiary in Chicago. He would labour for close to a decade to build the Wolf Designs brand in the North American market, finally succeeding in the mid-1990s when annual growth began to exceed seventy percent. In the midst of these significant corporate changes and the accompanying growth of Wolf Designs, Philip III followed Ida and passed away in 1992. If Ida was the heart of Wolf Designs through the 1930s, 40s and 50s, Philip III was the soul. He is fondly remembered for evolving Wolf Designs into a business that runs like a Swiss watch, while still caring for the environment and the people that are part of it.
Philip IV and Simon Philip V, staying true to the company philosophy, built the North American division one brick at a time, meeting personally with leading retailers in markets all over North America and establishing relationships that will stand the test of time. In 2001, Wolf Designs US celebrated the achievement of a fantastic milestone; this was the first year in which the Company sold over one million leather-covered cases in North America. While this number is great, and our family is proud to have achieved this success, what matters most to all of us in the Wolf family are the incredible people we have had the good fortune to share our passion with, and will continue to for another 175 years.
All the best,