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Sweden's Peter Pan

Sweden's Peter Pan

CEO of Scandinavian wooden toy company Playsam, Carl Zedig, might just have the best job in the world.

Makers of glossy red rockets, speedy four wheeled racers and smooth black aeroplanes, Playsam is a company that shows us that fun is beautiful. And snowy-haired Carl Zedig is the man at the helm.

In his playful Swenglish, he tells me the best thing about working at Playsam (“That I am in command!”) and how his now wide-reaching design company first took off. “It started with a car,” Carl Zedig says, “and then came more of the same mood.”

Not just any car, mind you. Playsam’s ‘streamliner’ cars exude sophisticated Scandinavian design, are made entirely of wood, and use clever technology to achieve a 100% gloss finish – a feat previously deemed impossible by the timber manufacturing industry.

“Forty years ago I was working in a paint factory technical department and was developing new paints of all kinds. I learnt was possible and what was not,” says Carl.

“We are alone painting with 100 % gloss. All others say it is impossible.”

Originally part of a huge Swedish company with 300 factories, Playsam was conceived as an export department for preschool and ‘activity’ toys. But as far as Carl was concerned, it didn’t mesh. So, like all practical Scandinavians, he bought it.

Nearly three decades on, Playsam is now a community of designers, manufacturers and distributors. Ulf Hanses, conceiver of Playsam’s signature streamliner car, lives in the north of Sweden while Carl lives by the Baltic in the south east and confers with his distributors in the USA,  Europe and Asia.

The worldwide demand is a testament to the products’ design – although Carl says not all of Playsam’s concepts have worked.

Since the signature streamliner car, Playsam have produced aeroplanes, rockets, yachts, and even a smooth glossy baby in a pram.  But the path to creating a new product is hardly a walk in the park.

“The Streamliner car is the basic style and I inform all the designers that they have to catch this design soul,” explains Carl.

According to Carl, mostly designers come to Playsam with a vision or something they want to create, and a confrontation ensues.

“It’s a fight, many times, with ideas. I test borders and they challenge my ideas and sometimes I’m right - and mostly I am wrong,” says Carl. “But they have to think about what they have created and done. So we are not always happy.  Many times we are very angry and slam the doors - mentally.”

The result, inevitably, is an archetypal Playsam product – all commanding, smooth lines and playful sophistication.  They’re loved by children and their parents alike and are a coveted christening present – though it’s hardly surprising so many have found their way on to the desks of CEOS, globally renowned academics and even ex-prime ministers. (We know because we sent one last week.) 

But if it hadn’t been for a buyer for Habitat France coming into the Playsam stand at the 1985 Nuremberg Toy Fair, they might never have made the leap from board game players to board room warriors.

“She said: ‘These, Mr. Zedig, are not toys for children, these are executive toys!’ And the line was confirmed.”

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Playsam’s streamliner, airliner and rocket are now available online.