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A New Age Saga
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No stranger to the economic collapse, just before this in 2008 the government was forced to take over three of the country’s failed major banks. Shortly after, Iceland became the first Western country to apply to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for emergency financial aid; whilst inflation and interest rates spiked, the Icelandic Kroná (ISK) dropped tremendously. As it stands, the UK and Netherlands are both owed € 4 Bn in debts and are up in arms about Iceland joining the EU until they are repaid.
While the state is doing its part to pick up the pieces, residents too are part of the change. As most creative industries in Iceland receive minimal governmental funding, there is a movement among the people to bring attention to the design sector which is often marginalized on a national level. Seeing things differently, Runar Ómarsson, one of the founders of fashion brand Nikita, along with E-label, BIRNA and Mundi all got together to establish the Reykjavik Fashion Festival in March 2010. Scheduled alongside a design and music programme featuring Icelandic talents, networking and exposure for young talents were heavily spotlighted.
Whilst Berlinfashion.tv was in attendance, Live Project, a real-time video and photo blogging website was also created to allow anyone who’s anyone to stream fashion show and festival footage and offer up live coverage to a global audience. On the closing days of the event, a pop-up shop was opened featuring 30+ designers on sale to attendees with an aim to narrow the gap between consumer and designer.
Just recently Reykjavik Runway Fashion Competition 2012 was held where four designers were selected for the finale and each received 150.000 ISK from The Federation of Icelandic Industries while the winner received 500.000 ISK from Landsbankinn and a one year contract with Reykjavik Runway. The nascent organization participates in various events at NYC Fashion Week and helps designers with press coverage, trunk shows, show rooms, tradeshows, pop-up stores, and charity events. It’s well-known newly graduated designers need all the support they can get as many have a desire to expand overseas or focus mainly on the design aspects instead of juggling marketing, wholesale contracts, PR, and accounting. If budgets are limited and there is no common creative vessel then the new talents will be left in the dark.
When the Icelandic Statistics Bureau recently reported a 10.5 billion ISK turnover in the fashion industry and related sectors, why leave the field neglected and limit financing options? That it’s a strong revenue source with a viable interest in the export industry shouldn’t be a point of contention. A re-naissance is taking place after the crisis and it’s the community who’s taking the lead. According to Ýr and Eygló, two of the nine-member fleet of designers and shop owners at Kiosk on Laugavegur: “People are joining much more after the crisis. People are not as focused on themselves, but it’s more like we have to survive this thing and we will do it if we do it together.”
With 300,000 inhabitants this should come as no surprise and the government needs to awaken to the huge potential, especially in local production. From textile innovation to sustainable production, Iceland is a key contender. Known for its fisheries and agricultural output, the country is also privy to a wealth of green energy as geothermal and hydropower provide nearly 70% of the nation’s total energy consumption according to a 2006 report by the Icelandic Ministry for the Environment.
Many designers are attuned to this which is evident in their creative output. For example Unnurwear uses sea leather in handbags including farm-grown Icelandic salmon and African Perch; Sigrún Halla Unnarsdóttir has similarly experimented with Icelandic reindeer leather; and REY has created edgy hand-knit pieces using unspun Icelandic wool. Fashion label 8045 by Boas Kristjansson is also on the sustainable track using organic materials and local production companies. For the Norsemen, nature is a way of life and it’s not going anywhere. Though anything but frigid, what you see is fiercely untraditional, diverse, and unique. There is an unusual eccentricity that explodes on the scene and is idiosyncratic to the islanders – they can’t be subdued. Iconic department store Liberty of London has picked up on this and recently added Kalda’s latest collection to its stealthy roster.
Some great warriors are lining up on the horizon and it’s clear the collective whole cannot be tamed. Could it be a coincidence that Iceland has won more gold medals (9) than any other country in the annual World’s Strongest Man competition? Commanders, step up your game.