Carl Zedig - 30 years of taking playfulness seriously

Thirty years ago Playsam set out to produce timeless wooden toys with a high-gloss finish, operating out of a small town in Sweden. A lot has happened since then. Over the years these sophisticated toys have won the hearts of millions of people all over the world, won design awards and become icons of Scandinavian design. None of which would have happened without the businessman who has an extraordinary eye for design, Playsam owner and founder Carl Zedig.

A creative rebel

As a child Carl Zedig spent a lot of time sick in bed, suffering from rheumatic fever. His days passed slowly and he filled them up daydreaming and sketching. He dreamed of becoming an artist. During his rebellious teens he was expelled from school due to inappropriate behavior something his family didn’t take lightly. His dad was keen on giving Carl a good education for him to succeed in life. But instead Carl went from job to job gaining new experiences, among others as a decorator much to the family’s disappointment. Carl enjoyed the decorator job in a department store as he got to use his brilliant eye for color, shape and proportions. Finally Carl came around and pleased his family by earning a degree in business and engineering.

At around the same time Carl settled down and got married. During his years at Alcro – Sweden’s leading paint brand he gained a lot of knowledge about paint finishes, something that would soon come in handy. In the mid 1970’s he moved on to working as a marketing director at Samhall where he soon got in charge of their toy production manufacturing toys and board games for pre-schools.

From toys to executive gifts

In 1984 Samhall introduced the Playsam brand with Carl Zedig as its manager. Carl who had always had an eye for spotting new talent contacted the up and coming industrial designer Ulf Hanses as he saw Hanses talent truly was something out of the ordinary. The collaboration with Hanses would take the brand to a whole new level and turn the products from toys into design objects. Ulf Hanses designed the iconic “streamliner” car with a high gloss finish. Most producers claimed that a 100% high gloss finish was not even possible to manufacture. Carl was persistent though and didn’t take “no” for an answer. The “streamliner” would later become an icon of Scandinavian design. Carl also collaborated with designer Björn Dahlström who in 1987 designed the popular rocking rabbit for Playsam.

After four years with Playsam things were looking down as the Samhall management wanted to close down the business for good. Determined to save Playsam Carl came to an agreement with his employer to buy Playsam out. He continued the business together with two partners now focusing even more on the design of the wooden executive gifts.

A stamp of approval

Playsam’s first collaboration with Swedish car manufacturer Saab took place in 1988 when 200 limited edition Saab wooden cars were produced. Later on in 2001 another collaboration with Saab resulted in the playful and sleek push car the “Saab Roadster” designed by Ulf Hanses. It immediately got a lot of attention in international design press and luxury retail.

Carl’s entrepreneurial drive and business skills continued to successfully take Playsam forward, through the Swedish financial crisis in the early 90’s and into a new millennium. Playsam had already become a darling to the Swedish and international design industries much due to its exceptional graphic profile and clean visual language. In 2005 the “streamliner” was portrayed on a series of Swedish stamps. It was selected as one of a few design classics to represent “the best of Swedish design over the last 50 years” – something certainly seen as a measure of success. In 2008 Starbucks visited Playsam in Sweden and placed a large order of wooden yo-yo’s to be sold in their cafés all over the US. Through this order Playsam showed that despite its relatively small size it was able to pass the rigorous demands that this American multinational had on their suppliers.

Today Playsam is turning much of its attention to Asia. The increased demand for luxury retail and design products have made it possible to expand distribution to places like Singapore, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Korea, Australia, Thailand and China.