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Dressmann: Fifty years in fashion

Norwegian family business Dressmann looks set to achieve its grand ambition to be the largest retailer of mens fashion in Europe.


Next year will mark 50 years since Dressmann was founded by the late Frank Varner in Oslo.

“Back then, it was really cutting-edge fashion — nobody had seen anything like it in Norway. The idea was to bring male fashion to the market at a reasonable price,” says Frank’s son and current CEO Petter Varner.

“It’s the same; nothing’s changed since the beginning. The foundations were there in the 60s, but now it’s more industrial and we have a better idea of our customer.”

Suited to challenge

Petter was only 27 years old when he came to Dressmann and boldly led the company in a more modern fashion direction.

“One of my earliest memories in the business was in 1992, soon after I took over the company. We were the first male fashion retailer to advertise on TV in Norway. People told me that it couldn’t work because it’s too expensive and it’s the domain of bigger retailers from the US and Europe,” he says. “I was very involved in making the TV commercials — I was almost behind the camera myself — and we had a great team and we were selling really, really well.”

Petter knows his approach can be risky, but he believes in backing himself and the people who work for him.

“I’m a team player. I think there are more possibilities when people feel secure, when there is a clear framework for them to achieve success for themselves as well as for the business. I’m also a leader who loves to take chances, and I love it when other people take chances themselves — even if they make mistakes.”

Broader horizons

From its origins in Norway, Dressmann opened stores in Iceland and Denmark before the company bought a chain of 47 stores in Sweden during 1997. The stores were transformed to the Dressmann brand, and over the next five years Dressmann became the market leader in Sweden.

Now Dressmann is all over northern Europe — with stores in Finland, Germany, and Austria — and plans to continue its rapid expansion.

Fashion forward

Looking ahead, Dressman is committed to getting the best quality, price, selection, and marketing mix. It’s also wanting to stay on top of relatively new issues like digital developments and sustainability.

“I think the retail industry is changing rapidly due to digital playing a more important part in business. I’d like us to believe it’s a real game-changer and to use it in that way. And I think that social responsibility — sustainability — is important to the supply chain. I think customers will demand even more of that: they will want to know where it’s produced, how it’s produced, what chemicals are used. They want to know everything about what we are doing,” says Petter.

“I think it’s really important to be open. I think we need to give people a good reason to shop at our stores, and that’s because we take care of the planet, take care of our suppliers, take care of our people, and we’re socially responsible.”

Dressman key facts

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