Each permitted hunter is allowed one reindeer. There are around 1,200 permits issued through a lottery system during reindeer hunting season, from July 15 – September 15. The hunt is a mechanism to protect the fragile highland ecosystem and to keep the population at a sustainable number. Since the reindeer in Iceland were originally imported from Norway to be farmed (an industry which never came to fruition), there is no real tradition surrounding them. And since the hunt works on an individual scale, there is no systematic way to use all of the byproducts such as bones and hides.
Elísabet Karlsdóttir is a local fashion designer. She grew up near Egilsstaður, a central point in the Eastern territory where nearly 7,000 wild reindeer roam. Here in Reykjavík, Elísabet and product designer Ágústa Sveinsdóttir have teamed up for their second project together as the creative brand ‘Alvara.’ This Friday, Alvara prepare to present their new line of reindeer leather goods: “Useless.”
The line is part of a greater ambition to give purpose to unused goods; everything from animal bones to food waste lay in their line of sight as usable material. “It is still sort of a mythical experience to see the reindeer, you never know where they will be. And people hate to see anything go to waste,” Elisabet says. “There is a lot of respect for the reindeer in the East.” So Elísabet and Ágústa, with the help of Elísabet’s father, contacted local hunting guides and started to spread the word about their project.
Elísabet pulls out her phone and shows me photos of the stock: piles of hides being covered in salt for preservation; a man folding the thick skins and stacking them to take to the tannery. In their wide Grandi studio strips of the dyed reindeer leather lay in heaps on the floor and a row of skirts, dresses, bags and tops hangs on a metal clothing rack nearby.
“The hides that come in are all different,” Ágústa says. “Depending on the age, the leather might work better as one garment or another. We are learning how to use it best as we go.” They pull at the thin leather bags and bend around the thick dresses. The straps are fed through metal fasteners that they sourced from a sail-maker down the road.
“There is a lot of design in Iceland, but there is not much of a manufacturing industry,” Augusta says. “We’re trying to use what we have around us. People think that using this one very specific material is limiting, but it’s the opposite. There are so many possibilities to explore.”
That said, they are realistic about the material output of their projects. Elísabet and Ágústa’s first Alvara project, ‘Silfra,’ a collection of silver jewelry, premiered at DesignMarch earlier this year. As Silfra moves from concept and design into production, the two are actively dealing with the constraints of that transition.
Like the Silfra collection, the “Useless” line is as much a concept as it is a product. As much a statement as a statement piece. “Sometimes we are asking ourselves, ‘why do we make things so hard?’” says Elísabet. “Sometimes you have to kill your darlings,” Ágústa continues. And sometimes you have to straight up hunt them down.
‘Useless by Alvara’ will be presented at their Grandi studio on Friday December 16. Doors open at 20:00. Musical performance by aYia and light drinks provided. Everybody welcome. For more information check out the Facebook event, and for more from Alvara check their website here.