Iceland review - 2002, Blaðsíða 57

Iceland review - 2002, Blaðsíða 57
The next time you indulge yourself with an excellent pair of leather shoes and stick your face in the box to inhale the luxury of your purchase, think about two things. Number one, that is not an organic smell that you associate with fine-quality leather. It’s a chemical treatment. Number two, if those shoes were made of fish skin, they would smell exactly the same, and you’d be infinitely more hip. Sjávarledur is a fish tannery in Saudárkrókur, north Iceland, a region where the big business is horse breeding, and there is not a macrobiotic bistro for as far as the eye can see. The seven-man compa- ny shares its headquarters with a sheepskin tannery. There, Sjávarledur director and head artisan Fridrik Jónsson fine tunes the latest screen prints and metallic tints for the fish leather he sells to accessory design- ers in Europe. Seeing Jónsson bent over a tiger-striped piece of salmon skin, his col- leagues have to laugh. Of course, they’re tanning sheepskin for Louis Vuitton, so they can only laugh for so long. What is going on in this remote corner of Iceland? In 1989, Fridrik Jónsson was tan- ning lambskin for jackets when he heard about fish leather. “I started doing some tri- als with the different skins,” Jónsson says. He continued to experiment for the next six years. In 1996, Sjávarledur was born. In February of 2001, its goods were strutting down the runway of Christian Dior. Jónsson uses three fish skins – wolf fish, salmon, and Nile perch – to make his leather. Wolf fish is the hardest to come by as it is not farmed and is fished for in Russia from the Barents Sea. Nile perch, imported from Lake Victoria in Africa, is the priciest. Jónsson says “you can make leather out of any kind of fish skin with our technology”, which, for the record, is top secret. What we do know is it takes eight fish skins to make a small purse, and 60 to make a trench coat. Not exactly the most practical material. So why is fish leather being picked up by cutting-edge designers? Independent Icelandic designer and Sjávarledur market- ing guru Sigrún Úlfarsdóttir illuminates: “The fashion world has this strong urge for something new and it can’t just be any- thing new. It has to be new, and a continu- ation of what was new last year. Designers have finished with the reptile leathers. They wanted something in the same vein, but different.” Enter fish leather, also an eco-friendly by-product of the fishing industry, stepping in right when rare snake- skin was both passé and starting to get too rare to keep slinging on the shoulders of the ladies who lunch. Nýsköpunarsjódur, the Icelandic govern- ment business venture fund, invested in the company in 1995, playing a significant role in Sjávarledur’s success. The organisa- tion’s leap of faith in a small domestic com- pany enabled it to take its business to the international market. Today, the district of Skagafjördur, Reykjavík-based designer Eggert, and Fridrik share ownership in the company. In 1999, Fridrik was searching for the right market for his leather when he was introduced to Sigrún, who was working as an accessory designer in Paris. “We’ve come far in two or three years,” Sigrún says. “It is quite interesting for a small company – which is not even in Reykjavík – to be cater- ing to companies that are leaders in their field and in the world. I think Icelandic companies usually don’t manage to do it.” Sjávarledur’s domestic market is quite small. With a current roster of 30-40 clients, Fridrik estimates that 80 percent are in the fashion industry. “That is certainly where our energy is,” he says. Cornering the fish market Sjávarledur is the only company of its kind. “I personally think that if there was no Sjávarledur, there would be no fish-skin trend,” speculates Sigrún. The companies that do make fish leather in France, South Africa and South America are one- and two-person operations that are uninterest- ed in catching Gucci’s attention. “One of the first things we discussed was how to market merchandise that there was no demand for. Nobody knew that it exist- ed.” Well, not nobody – it’s been around in Iceland, but fish skin doesn’t exactly have the same ring in Reykjavík as it might to the landlocked fashionistas of Luxembourg. Sjávarledur had to convince people that it would work, and they had to convince the right people. “Fridrik is not going to put the effort into developing a product for five or ten years and then sell it to make bookmarks for tourists in Norway,” Sigrún comments. Personal attachment aside, Fridrik esti- mates that his leather can be four to five times more expensive than conventional 51 IR302 - In Rvk CL bs-rm 2.9.2002 16:30 Page 55
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