Icelanders knit crafty response to global crisis
Could old-fashioned creativity stimulate this crisis-battered island?
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Boas Hallgrimsson is one of the latter. In his free time, the young schoolteacher runs a design community in a loft in the capital's hip 101 District. He sets up small shows for independent bands; his wife, Inga, does illustrations. They are joined by Jette Jonkers, a clothing designer; Myrra, a photographer; and Aron, a painter. All are regular citizens still fortunate enough to be employed: by day, they do their Clark Kent jobs, but after 5 p.m., they slip into their studios and become artistic Supermen.Skip to next paragraph
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Not far from the loft is more evidence of Icelanders' creative response to the crisis: the design shop Verslunin Herdubreid. Construction activity here has dropped 80 percent following the onset of the economic collapse in October. Architects Johann Sigurdsson and Elin Gunnlaugsdottir saw no sense in maintaining their architectural practice. So, they moved the white elephant to the basement and opened the Verslunin Herdubreid design shop in their firm's storefront.
The architects then contacted a few friends and artistic collectives, who filled the space with clothes, crocheted accessories, indie books, volcano-shaped chocolates, and wire teddy bears. Three weeks later, Verslunin Herdubreid opened.
Bryndis Sveinbjornsdottir, Hildur Jonsdottir, and Ottar Nordfjord – fashion designer, graphic designer, and illustrator, respectively – all answered the call.
How were they able to find so many handicrafts from creative sons and "dottirs" in only three weeks? For Mr. Sigurdsson, the store's co-owner, it's a jack-of-all-trades effect.
"We're only 150,000 people here in Reykjavik, so that means each one of us has to know how to do everything," he says. "And we really think we can do anything – arts and design included. Hey, that attitude is what got us into this financial problem. And it's probably what will get us out of it."
"My husband, a carpenter, was laid off," says Ms. Braga, a fashion aficionado and former talk-show host. "This is one of the few ways I can get some extra money."
Nothing virtual about response
Elections for a new prime minister are scheduled for May and the new caretaker government has put an emphasis on maintaining Iceland's legendary social welfare. But some retailers doubt things will improve much for a while.
"At least there's a silver lining," says Sara Eysosdottir, owner and head designer of the psychedelic clothing store Naked Ape. "Because of the exchange rate, more foreigners are coming here, and they're buying what we've got in the stores: local design.
"And in a sense, the financial collapse has gotten young people busy," Ms. Eysosdottir says. "They have realized that they can't just be on Facebook all day; that if they want to survive, they're going to have to use their creativity and start making things to sell."