The Icelanders Perspective
The downfall of the Icelandic sweater and the reason you should check twice before buying one.
The Icelandic Lopapeysa has been a best friend to the working men and women of Iceland for ages. The sweaters, usually knitted by Icelandic houswives, have kept Icelandic farmers, fishermen and other outdoor working men warm from the harsh, everchanging, Icelandic weather. Even when soaking wet, the wool still stays warm, and o-boy does it rain in Iceland. We natives actually have this saying; if you don‘t like the weather, wait a minute. No joke! No really!
I myself have crazy amounts of sweaters but off course I‘m a bit priviledged. I partly grew up on a farm on the east side of Iceland and most women in my family had mastered the art of knitting by the time they could walk. My grandmother would not let me out of the house without wearing one of the sweater she had made for me. I guess it took me a while to really appreciate her handywork but she has probably knitted me some 15 sweaters over my lifetime (I‘m 39 by the way). She passed away last winter so my mom and mother-in-law took over the production of my sweaters. Sorry about getting way off topic here.The fine art of handknitting is something that Icelandic women, and in some cases men, have passed from gengerations to generations. The fishermen of old times would set to sea in wool trousers and wool sweater underneath their leather coats. Farmers would heard their sheep from the weather beaten mountains, kept warm by their wife‘s knitting. One might argue that Icelandic women kept us from extinction during extreme weathers in the past. Still to this day, fishermen, farmers and carpenters wear the wool sweaters to work. And if you plan on going camping, hiking or hunting, bring your sweater.
Since the economic crash, the falling of the Icelandic banks and the volcanic eruptions of Eyjafjallajökull and Bárðarbunga the tourist industry has blossomed in Iceland. A weak currency and cheap airfares do their part also. But the seemingly never ending stream of tourists pouring into Iceland has had it‘s drawbacks.
The Icelandic sheep, which has been around since the vikings set foot on our soil, are the ones supplying us with increadibly warm, all natural, wool. The wool is harvested from the sheep in a very delicate and animal friendly way so they don‘t mind us very much taking their „fur“. Belive me, I‘ve taken on the sheep-barbers part in our farm. But the wool in Iceland is of limited supply and so are skilled handknitters. Which brings me to the point of this whole rant.
Being one of the „must have“ things when you visit Iceland, guess what happened to our trademark sweater. If you guessed China you got it right the first time. If you got it wrong, don‘t worry.
Many, if not most, stores in Reykajvik that claim to sell Icelandic sweaters are actually making them in China or in some other country that sells cheap labour. Their usual process is to ship wool to China and have the sweaters made there by who-knows-who, not Icelanders at least. There has been a debate wheter or not a sweater designed in Iceland and then made in China (maybe and maybe not from Icelandic wool) is indeed Icelandic. You tell me, is it ?
A veteran knitter of over 40 years, a proud member of the Handknitters Association in Iceland, told me that on many occations she had received sweaters to repair which was sold at popular down-town stores in Reykjavik. And she was abosolutely sure that the wool wasn‘t even Icelandic, and the quality of crafsmanship... well she just got mad at me for asking such stupid questions. But even if it had been Icelandic wool, think of the carbon footprint. Shipping wool halfway across the globe, only to have it knit by cheap, inexperienced labour, to have it shipped back halfway around the globe. And then claimed it to be Icelandic! I would call that good old rip off, at best. And by the way, the sales price is the same, for China-made sweaters. That calls for some serious profit. We keep a very modest margin on our sweaters that are made in Iceland. Where does the rest go, care to guess? If you guessed the knitter you got it right again.
For a skilled knitter it will take some 18 hours of knitting to make a quality knit sweater. Thus the pricetag. If you are serious about getting an authentic sweater, make sure it‘s worth your money. We stand by our own words; an Icelandic sweater is one of the warmest, most durable piece of chloting you will ever own. But you better make sure it‘s made by someone who knows what s/he‘s doing.
Make sure yours is not just „designed in Iceland“ or „made from Icelandic wool“. Look for the „made in Iceland“ or „hand knit in Iceland“. Or better yet, look a the pricetag. If it says anything less than $180 I‘ll bet a lim that its not made here.
The best measurement of quality is the „Made by members of the Handknitting Association“. The Icelandic Store who is partly owned by the Handknitting Association only sells sweaters made by members. Never, ever, will we compromise when it comes to quality. Sooner we will shut down shop. No sweater leaves our online store without being OK‘d by our most senior knitter, Bryndís Eríksdóttir, a veteran knitter for decades and true spokeswoman for Iceland‘s tradition of knitting. If, and only if, a sweater passes her trained eye for perfection, we will ship your sweater.
Because of legal reasons we probably can‘t name stores selling the China made sweaters. Although some of them will admit to it if asked directly. But we can name those who are true to the Icelandic heritage and Icelandic knitting traditions. So here we go, the list of shops we are comfortable reccomending:
- The Icelandic Store, us off course (Family owned for years and recently by the Handknitting Association also)
- is (Handknitting Association of Iceland). 100% owned by members. Makers of truly Icelandic Lopapeysa
- is (Long time wool enthusiasts, family owned for years, knit their own sweaters)
- is (Retailer of sweaters from the Handknitting Association)
- Off course some other stores may exist, but we don‘t know about them.
Did you get all that..? Sad, how short it is. Is it not ?
Bottom line. The Icelandic sweater is a trademark of Icelandic crafsmanship and it‘s being spoiled by those seeking to make more money off tourists in the country. By shopping at our store you help keep alive the good old hobby and tradition of hand knitting. Not greed.
Thank you for reading.