The Law Behind Inklaw: Iceland’s Streetwear Domination - The Reykjavik Grapevine

The Law Behind Inklaw: Iceland’s Streetwear Domination

The Law Behind Inklaw: Iceland’s Streetwear Domination

Published March 27, 2017

Hannah Jane Cohen
Photos by
Art Bicnick

The boys behind Icelandic streetwear brand Inklaw Clothing share a camaraderie rarely seen in anyone but brothers. They finish each other’s sentences, tell each other’s backstories, and quickly answer for each other when asked about personal tastes, working habits, quirks, and inspirations. To get the details on any of the four—Guðjón, Róbert, Christopher and Anton—you’d only need to talk to one. But while, like close friends, they constantly crack jokes and rip on each other, when discussing their business they completely switch, relaying their vision with an insight and sophistication far beyond their years. The Inklaw studio contains four men with big dreams, big aspirations, and the drive and savvy to accomplish them.

The $treetwear $cene

If you’re not familiar with hip-hop culture or its related interests, you probably don’t know much about streetwear. For outsiders, the hype around it can seem surprising, considering its main demographic—teenage and twentysomething boys—aren’t usually associated with fashion. While it started with urban and subculture-related brands like Stüssy and Kangol, in recent years streetwear has been embraced and appropriated by mainstream high fashion. Supreme—arguably the most famous streetwear brand at the moment—just dropped a collection with Louis Vuitton. Kanye West’s Yeezy shoes sell out almost immediately, as do releases from brands like Bape and Palace. It’s a worldwide phenomenon, with a thriving rep market on sites like AliExpress, Taobao and Reddit. Search online and you’ll find guides on how to distinguish between a fake Supreme tag and a real one. No joke.

Reykjavík is no exception. Go to any high school—or the bar at Prikið—and you’ll spot boys sporting Russian brand Gosha Rubchinskiy’s t-shirts, or shoes by Japanese designer Yohji Yamamoto (who is arguably a high fashion designer, but is adored by the streetwear crowd). Húrra Reykjavík had to run a lottery when they released the newest Yeezys. The prior release saw boys camping out in tents around the block.

Origin story

Iceland’s answer to the streetwear craze is Inklaw. The brand was started in 2013 by two 19-year old friends, Guðjón and Róbert. At the time, they were both in high school, working part time at clothing stores in Reykjavík. While not yet explicitly into fashion yet that time, they were both massive hip-hop-heads. “We were always seeing these hip-hop stars wearing cool stuff, and we just felt like everything we were wearing was outdated,” says Robert. “It was last season.” Guðjón nods. “We felt like the selection [in Iceland] was not for us. All these hip-hop artists we loved were dressing in such fresh stuff, and we had none of it here.”

In response, Guðjón made a collection of tanks with logos on them for his friends. Soon after, his grandma gave him her old sewing machine and that’s when, the boys explain, Inklaw was officially born. The hype was immediate. “People were really excited,” says Guðjón, “because there was finally a brand that was more in line with clothing elsewhere in the world.”

Guðjón is entirely self-taught. He watched YouTube videos, and through trial and error learned the intricacies of designing and creating. He did enroll in sewing classes at one point, he coyly admits, but quickly found out they weren’t his style. “My mom would drive me to school and I’d just wait and take the bus home,” he says. “I didn’t really like making dresses.” He shrugs and laughs: “I just wanted to make everything myself.”

This self-sufficiency and drive are the secret behind Inklaw’s success. “We learned everything on our own,” he says, “and when you’re doing that you try really hard. You won’t stop until you get it right.” The rest of the boys nod, and then start ripping on this time in Inklaw’s history. “If I saw someone today wearing those first pieces,” Guðjón says, looking pretty horrified, “I’d be like, ‘Sorry mate, can you give that back? I’ll give you a new piece.’ They are so bad.” The rest facetiously agree but Guðjón looks serious. “You know I’ve actually done that.”

While Guðjón designed, Róbert took up marketing and social media. “We just posted constantly,” he explains. “Other brands post one photo a week, but we were posting two pictures a day.” They also sought attention from abroad, knowing they’d have to get a following overseas before the Icelandic streetwear crowd would be interested. “We talked to Instagram influencers and tastemakers and stylists and sent them clothes,” says Robert, “and we slowly got a following.” Now they have almost 60k followers, and have sold merchandise to locations as far away as Suriname and as bizarre as a US military base in Kuwait.

Both boys eventually quit school to work full-time on the brand, and were joined by Anton, who took up the business side, and Christopher, who helps with manufacturing.

The Handmade Life

Unlike most if not all streetwear brands, Inklaw’s clothing is entirely handmade in their Reykjavík studio. This makes introducing new pieces almost instantaneous. They explain how Guðjón will often create a prototype piece in the morning, Róbert will photograph it later that afternoon, and then it’ll drop on their website that night.

Being handmade means that everything is made-to-order. The fabric is cut, sewn, embellished, or spray-painted only after someone places an order. This, as the boys know, is an expensive and time-consuming business model, but it’s one that is important to them. Even though they’re currently looking into finding a manufacturer, they emphasize that they will always keep a small handmade collection in their studio. It’s the Inklaw way.

As a whole, Inklaw’s clothing is minimalist and simple while still obviously hip-hop-inspired. Cuts are clean and modern but the look is undeniably street. “Our pieces are usually oversized, loose-fitted, and long-lined,” Guðjón clarifies, taking a technical approach when asked to describe their aesthetic. Róbert gives a more marketable answer: “We just make clothes that we really want to wear.” The whole group immediately jumps in to agree; this, they say, could be the catchphrase of Inklaw.

Hip-hop is their biggest inspiration, with Future and the A$AP Crew being particularly formative. Róbert points to an embellished denim vest on a rack in the corner. “We actually have a piece already made [for A$AP Rocky] over there,” he says, grinning. Guðjón adds: “We were supposed to meet Future in New York, but he was warming up, so his stylist just took the clothing.” He shrugs and raises his eyebrows. “Yeah, we’ve been stalking him for months, just waiting for photos.” The boys all laugh—a joke, but not really.

Though the majority of their attention comes from abroad, they are still closely tied to the Icelandic hip-hop scene. At the summer festival Secret Solstice, Icelandic rappers such as Blaz Roca and Tiny donned Inklaw clothing. The brand was also featured in Alexander Jarl’s new video “ALLT UNDIR,” and has been seen on Gísli Pálmi and Shades of Reykjavík.

The Celebrity Touch

Most notably, though, they’ve become a personal favorite of Justin Bieber.

Everyone in the room lights up when it’s brought up. In a prior interview, the Inklaw crew was asked about their dream client, and immediately answered Bieber. It was a dream come true then, when, months later, they were given the opportunity to stock Bieber’s dressing room during his September stop in Iceland. They continually interrupt each other when telling the story, each wanting to be the one who spills the most exciting details. “He asked us to fly to Paris and meet him at his show.” Another interrupts: “He wore the shirt we gave him in Iceland for the next five concerts after. The same shirt every night.” Róbert smiles. “In Paris they drove us in a black car through a gate and girls were screaming like ‘Bieber’s friends! Bieber’s friends!’ It was crazy.’” Though they sound like fanboys, their excitement isn’t from some Beatles-Coming-to-America attitude. It’s rather the happiness of artists that were recognised by an artist they respect—the best kind of validation.

The next dream client on the list is Wiz Khalifa. Their not-dream client? “Maybe Donald Trump?” Róbert says. Guðjón grins. “Oh yeah, definitely Donald Trump.”

But what’s next for Inklaw? The brand will be at Reykjavík Fashion Festival—the only menswear brand present, in fact—where they will drop a new collection.“The last few years have been preparation for us,” Róbert says, seriously. “But this year is the beginning of the brand. We are going to do a lot. We’ve been experimenting, and this year will be big.”

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