Handmade graphical clothes, jewellery and the Indian in me. What´s it all about? On a Saturday morning we sat down with Inga Björk and got to know a little more. Inga graduated from University of Icelandic Arts as a fashion designer in 2008 and has been sewing and designing her own line ever since. She is an independent designer who has also produced her own jewellery line under the same name. All the clothing in the line is hand- coloured and sewn, and is inspired by multiple spirituality of Indians and their detection of individuality and uniqueness of things.
What was the dream in the beginning, was it to be a fashion designer?
Well my grandmother used to sew everything on me when I was little. Also it was just me and my mom, and she didn’t have a lot of money. So that was also the reason that almost everything was homemade-sewed, that is, our clothes. My grandma used to teach me a little bit when I was younger, and the craft of making clothes was always very present.
As a matter of fact I refused to take sewing lessons when I was at junior high, but I came around later and started to enjoy to make handmade craft. In collage I decided I wanted to be an artist, but I took a design turn-around when I had to choose my major, from that time I was sold.
When did you get your first sewing machine?
I could always try out my grandmas sewing machine, she worked at Henson and at one point in time she owned a factory sewing-machine from them, which I thought was a fascinating thing. She also let me try leftovers to try the machines that she owned. Then I started to sew on my mothers machine, then I bought myself my own overlock- machine, but I got my first when I graduated collage.
I once got a panties pattern for kids from my grandmother, I have sometimes sewed panties for kids because I think it has a good history, because originally this pattern was for my own panties. So I have made some panties.
Well this isnt a market, right, to buy designers panties for kids?
No maybe not, but maybe if you could do it with something extra special.
Well but this area is very political anyways, right?
Well yes, you cant do anything under the sun when you are making underwear for children, that’s a thought.
What else do you burn for, what else is your passion?
Arts and drawing has always been my passion, and I try to keep myself in shape by sketching for my fashion design. That’s why I think its great to use graphics and drawings to print my own patterns on fabrics. I think it is very important, because we live in Iceland where we only have few shops, its not easy to buy fabrics and specially made prints from abroad, that’s why its great to have your own prints and fabrics, so you don’t have the same fabrics as everybody else.
It can be a problem, for example after the crises, people are interested in sewing their own clothes, they don’t hesitate to imitate others designs. It is a question of principles, I am a designer, and I would be very happy if I could make a living out of it one day, that is why I think its very difficult for me to be ok with somebody copying my designs in the future. It can be a plus also if people do something that is a little bit alike something else, to use for themselves, but it’s another story if they systematically produce something that is not their design, just to sell for a lower price or something, elsewhere.
Do you think that designers should have a stronger voice in these matters?
I think it’s a little difficult, because the title to be a fashion designer is not a protected working title, it’s a question about respecting others intellectual property, some people just don’t have the same ideas about this. It is also not possible to draw the line and say, you can only be a designer if you have the education, it’s a gray area, really.
But its great to see people being very experimental, I have been working since the crisis in a textile shop, and I saw many young women to try to sew something easy, they got the idea and made it happen so I am very excited about that. Icelanders are very practical, they are always thinking about the weather, they are always thinking about things that can last. And well, of course, about what is the newest trend. They are sometimes stuck with the crowds opinion, instead of taking their own decision.
Well it has been said that clothes represent who you are, but if you have a position, you are not wearing artistic things. How do you feel about that?
I think its kind of funny that people have to have a front, for example when you are in high positions, that they cant be like they want to be. Its funny that the image is definitive on your persona.
You started out sewing your own clothes and colour your fabrics in your place, how was that?
Well that was ok, because I have two rooms, I could jump into things. I thought of it as I could save money by having the work under the same roof I lived in, it would save me transport and time to begin with. Then you could maybe build up a tiny inventory stock.
“I really think I have some kind of ADHD”
The apartment, is on the top floor, in the attic so it has great light and the neighborhood attracted me, even though I got the place by accident. But I really think I have some kind of ADHD, because when I was working everything was all over the place, in every room, and I never finished things completely I had no structure. But now I have a working space elsewhere where I can structure my work better, and have things in their own place etc.
But can you make a living by being a designer?
I think that you have to have a side job to begin with, but maybe someday you could try to stock up your products, so that you can have things if people want to buy your designs, that is, you don’t have to then sit down and make the things people order.
That’s why I think that the work space I have outside the home now is a stepping stone for me to be a full- time designer, because I look at it as a full time work to be at my work space, then I come home and this division helps a lot.
Do you feel obligated to wear your own designs?
I design clothes that I want to wear myself. There are many designers that do not design for their own taste or even for their own gender, for example if you work for a large company. I usually mix it together, both my own and others peoples designs, because I take interest in many other designers.
What is your favorite piece of clothing?
I shopped a lot of vintage, I always look at old clothes, how they are made and what materials they are made of. But I´ve been buying a lot of accessories, for example by Icelandic designers, I can use it endlessly with almost all my wardrobe. If I had more money I would definitely buy more expensive things like clothing. I also think that it is very good for many designers to make accessories, because its easier to sell, and also for them to put their own artistic vision out there.
Do people say that Icelandic designs are expensive?
Yes, its common that people complain that Icelandic designers clothes are expensive, but if you look at it, you could buy something’s for the same price in Kringlan – the shopping mall that is mass produced and not unique.
What is this thing with the intermediary commerce trade – straight from the designer to the buyer stuff that you are involved in?
Hmm, I think that the girls that founded this thing at first, thought of it as an introductive method, that is a way to give young designers to be seen and heard by hosting pop-up markets for them to sell their designs.
It is a very good thing, they are choosing people in that apply for participation, and they often choose designers that have not been in the limelight before. People think it’s a great thing, to come and chat with the designers. Well, and as for me as a designer, I can meet my clients and hear what they have to say about my things and that is fantastic. Its precious to be on the spot. Its also useful for the buyers and shop-owners to come, and see what is new in the field of design.
“But I´m an Icelandic designer, that I can assure you of”
Are they others in the pop-up markets your competition?
No, I think that in general, we have a mutual trust between us. The designers try to be enlightened about what is going on with others, and the respect-atmosphere is present. You do not imitate others and you share the joy on the pop- up markets.
Is the designer world in Iceland going bad, as in everything that is old must be made again?
Well I think its not bad at all, maybe if you are always doing the same doodles over and over again. But if we don’t preserve the great things we had and know how to make, we will loose the knowledge and things will disappear.
For example, there is only one old lady left in Iceland that knows how to make a certain wire- structure thing. This craftsmanship will maybe vanish if we don’t cherish those things we value from the old days.
But people are a little too focused on those things have to be inspired by Icelandic traditions. My patterns are inspired from Indian cultures, and then all of the sudden some people don’t believe that they are made by an Icelandic designer, because they are not inspired by Iceland and Icelandic traditions.
Well its not a puffin, lava or moss, is it!
No, its certainly not inspired by those things. But I´m an Icelandic designer, that I can assure you of.
The Indian in me, are maybe you 1/8 Indian, is that it?
No I have not been asked about that, directly. But my point is, that when I´m asked if my designs are Icelandic I tell them that it comes from many things. When I was a child I was always collecting stones, many different kinds, and my mother found them everywhere. I made tons of jewellery.
The thing is that the Indians are so spiritual, they believe that stones have powers and the nature as a whole. The patterns and the materials from there are also very fascinating.
“we are like sheep’s – one sheep buys something and all the other sheep do the same”
And the jewellery making…
I started very early, in collage produced a lot, and sold in stores and such. I am a fashion designer, so I think of it as a part of my artistic self. It goes hand in hand with my clothes, they are unique and every piece has a meaning.
I´m a huge collector, sometimes I think I have to stop at some point. It’s a mania in someway, but you´ll have to watch yourself. It’s a thing that I have to have in mind. (Inga laughs at herself at this point).
Back to business, do you think Iceland is too little for fashion?
We are so few, we are like sheep’s – one sheep buys something and all the other sheep do the same. Everybody owns some things all at the same time, just in time that it goes “out of fashion”. In the outlands its not like this, because I think individuality is more present. People are too quick to judge you sometimes, by your outlooks. But so many things are positive.
Tell us about the positives
Well, the innovation level in design and arts is very high here on our little island. In my opinion, that is fantastic. Many things are happening here that are not even commerce, events, organizations, projects, databases and many other things that are great. The technology is a definite participant for our positives in our information seeking designers world.
What do you think of it all, some final thoughts?
Well to sum it up, you have to be a little egocentric to make it in the design business and its important that you believe in what you do. I would love to have a public-relation person employed though, to do all the stuff that has to be done- marketing etc. Well that’s a thought at least.
My designs are various, every piece is unique, for example comfortable clothes, different kind of jewellery and patterns. As a designer or an artist, you are always quoting stories, something that you sense or experience and that is what I think about when I´m asked to describe my designs at least, that they are inspired by the Indian in me- in whatever context you´d like to put it in.
We leave Inga´s apartment with a smile on our faces, reminded of that uniqueness is all around us,we just have to dare to go or own ways, even if that is with the crowd or not.
Interview: Ása Baldursdóttir
Photographs: Nanna Dís