Borås living history

Borås is not Sweden's oldest city, but it has a vivid and unique history dating back to the beginning of the 17th century - to a time when the farmers in the rural districts became increasingly interested in trade and craftsmanship in order to supplement their means of livelihood.

A tradition in textiles developed early on and became a cultural heritage. There was one problem, however. All trade and craftsmanship had to be conducted and controlled in the cities - nowhere else. This had been decided by the king, Gustav II Adolf. The farmers in the rural districts had the right to barter their own livestock and products, but that was all. Goods such as fabric and other textiles had to be taken to the cities to be sold.

In 1620, some farmers from the county of Västergötland visited the king to request permission to trade in the rural districts. They were informed, to their great disappointment, that this type of trade was prohibited. If they wanted to continue their business, then before midsummer they would either have to make their way to an existing town in Västergötland, or designate "another convenient and practical district or place", where a new town could be built up.

And so it was. In 1621, a new town was founded on the designated site around the hamlet of Torpa, alongside the ridges of Rya. The town was named Borås, probably after a nearby farm that was called Buerås, which means "the huts by the ridge".

From hamlet to merchandising centre
Initially, it was difficult to get the rural population to move into the new town. The problem was solved a few years later by a royal writ. This unique privilege gave all citizens of Borås the right to carry on house-to-house peddling throughout the country on condition that they only sold locally-produced goods.

Several centuries later, this area came to be called 'Sjuhäradsbygden' (Seven Administrative County Districts)*. These new commercial rights gave Borås a unique position in Sweden and meant the start of rapid growth for the town. Merchandising had found its Mecca.

The textile industry grows strong
The traders from Borås were often criticised and house-to-house peddling was a heated topic of debate in parliament. But the members of parliament representing the Sjuhärad district succeeded at length in warding off the attacks against local traders and commerce. This produced results - commerce grew until it predominated completely. In 1864, freedom of trade was introduced throughout Sweden and shops were permitted to start trading in the rural districts. Consequently, the number of customers in the town dwindled and the traders were forced to start thinking along new lines.

The end of the 19th century saw a surge in the growth of industry in the district and soon people were occupied with weaving or other kinds of production in almost every crofter's cottage. The finished products were then sold to the traders. As the number of spinning mills, textile mills and dye-works burgeoned, more and more people moved to the town and embarked on a new life there. New suburbs gradually developed and since then Borås has expanded in all directions.

Mail order trade is gaining ground
Mail order trade is the modern equivalent of the house-to-house peddling of the past. At the beginning of the 1950s there were over 100 mail order companies in Borås. Most were small enterprises and the owners ran them in their spare time. Some of these companies expanded substantially and are now ranked as some of the largest in the business. Borås is still a Mecca for domestic textiles and off-the-peg clothing. New enterprises also have a strong foothold in the city and are continually breaking new ground, in areas such as woven linings and filters. This development suggests that, in the future too, we are likely to see the textile tradition remaining firmly anchored in Borås.

*The Sjuhärad district has become an unusual, if not to say unique concept in Sweden. The reason for this is no doubt that for the last few centuries the area has been a mutual Mecca for trade in textile goods. The seven administrative districts are Veden, Ås, Mark, Kind, Redväg, Bollebygd and Gäsene. If one thinks along the lines of municipalities, which are more common nowadays, it comprises Borås, Bollebygd, Mark, Ulricehamn, Tranemo, Svenljunga and part of Herrljunga.