The aluminium smelter in Straumsvík, the slogan “Kanamella” (Yankee-whore) printed over a picture of Iceland, and a portrait of former Minister of Industry and Trade and current Foreign Minister, Valgerður Sverrisdóttir, can now be seen on the chest of conscious locals who have caught on to the web-based t-shirt store www.howdoyoulikeiceland.is. Loving its black humour and critical, yet comic speculations regarding Iceland’s reality, the company, established earlier this year, has been growing steadily. The Grapevine met with Þórður Snær Júlíusson and Orri Guðjónsson to learn more about their political messages.
“When me and Orri went on a backpacking trip around the world we started seeing Iceland in a different light and thought it would be funny to grasp all its flaws and cheesy elements by printing them on t-shirts, with the slogan, How Do You Like Iceland?” Þórður tells me.
Some of the t-shirt slogans are popular catch-phrases translated into English, making no sense whatsoever in that language. The phrase I Stand on the Duck (a direct translation of Ég stend á öndinni) is a good example, which more idiomatically translates to: I am breathless.
“All these typical Icelandic phrases are very uncool, especially when you translate them word for word. Then they lose all meaning but become quite funny. With the t-shirts, we want to celebrate all the distinctive features Iceland has and show that the county is not all the glamour we’re selling to tourists. Buying t-shirts like ours, you are buying a piece of the society as it is today and a part of the common discussion, instead of some sort of stereotypical memories,” Þórður explains. He goes on to add, “Take heavy industry for example. Fewer things have been more debated in Iceland. That’s why we printed the aluminium smelter in Straumsvík on a t-shirt. It’s one of the first landmarks tourists notice when driving from Keflavík to Reykjavík. And Sverrisdóttir, she has to be noted as the face of Iceland’s heavy industry. Sverrisdóttir is also an elegant woman, which belongs on a t-shirt.”
Getting ideas for new designs hasn’t been difficult, as the Icelandic government, politicians and the general public are just giving away subjects to tackle.
“The government is constantly making mistakes, which gives us both ideas and motivation to point them out so they get to live longer than the split second they get in the media,” Þórður says. “Our newest addition, the phrase-shirt Neither A Bird Nor A Fish, where we string together a puffin and codfish, could be connected with Árni Johnsen for example. He is neither a bird nor a fish, he likes puffins and this puffin-cod creature might be called a technical error, right? But in all seriousness we want to remind people about how we are sometimes being screwed over,” Þórður says and designer Orri agrees:
“We have many ideas and believe that with the t-shirts we can keep the discussion alive and hopefully change society for the better. Now it’s just a question of manufacturing more t-shirts.”
“We could even call ourselves the community service project How Do You Like Iceland?” Þórður adds.
While planning a shopping-mania shirt for Christmas and preparing for a fashion show in Luxembourg, they would also like to encourage other designers to contact them with ideas for a new line. The t-shirts are now available at the website www.howdoyoulikeiceland.is with plans for further outlets in the future.