Archives: September 2012

Reiðhjólaverzlunin Berlin

On a rainy afternoon we visited Reiðhjólaverzlunin Berlin, the new bicycle shop on Snorrabraut and met with owners Alexander Schepsky and Jón Gunnar Tynes. They welcomed us wholeheartedly, sat down with us in their relaxing shop and let us ask them some questions about their goods up for sale, Icelandic bicycle culture, and their hopes and dreams.

Is this your first venture in the bike-biz?

Alexander: Yes. We both enjoy riding around on classic style bikes. We also really like nice clothing. Last spring we noticed that Iceland’s bicycle culture was growing, but we saw room for improvement. We wanted to introduce fashionable clothing to the cyclists, and decided to make a business plan and the bank immediately green-lit it because they liked the idea.

Would you call this the dream job?

Alexander: Opening my own store has been a dream of mine for a long time. Since I was raised in Germany I got used to German bike culture. There, I would usually fix my own traditional bike, which was quite easy. I liked that culture a lot. I wanted to help to make life easier for people in Iceland, because they are used to mountain bikes which are harder to fix. That’s the reason we opened this shop. I called up Jón Gunnar [my now business partner] and asked him if he’d be willing to venture into the bicycle business with me. Even though he didn’t fully understand me with my german accent he immediately said “Yes, let’s do it!”

Jón: Sometimes when I don’t understand him I just nod my head and say “Sure, why not?”

What is the main idea?

Jón: I’ve always thought of this to be more than just a bike shop. It’s really a lifestyle shop. We wanted to introduce Icelanders to a new way of living. Our main idea is that you spend more time thinking about where you’re going and less how you get there. Your means of transport should not affect your choice of clothing.

Is that why you thought it was important to sell both bikes and bike related clothes in the same spot?

Alexander: Yes, we wanted to show people that they could wear fashionable and/or everyday clothes while cycling around the city on nice bikes. Spandex is unnecessary. Many of our customers have lived either in Denmark or Sweden and have noticed this element in those cultures. There, bicycles are eye catching and used for transport to and from cafés and theatres for example. Icelanders should have no less. Demand for traditional bikes for women, with accessories like baskets, has been high recently. We’ve had a lot of women come in and ask for bicycling clothes too.

Jón: We started out with classic style clothing for men as well as bikes for both genders. We’ve had so much positive reaction that we decided to add a lot of women’s clothing to our stock. Right now we are selling some overcoats but this fall we’ll be adding a whole line of clothing for women.

How do you divide the workload?

Alexander: I handle the bicycle department. That’s my specialty. We both find clothes that we like. That’s Jón’s strong suit though. I contact the companies and ask if they are willing to trade with us. A lot of companies have shown us support since we opened up our doors. Without having to buy a large quantity from their stock, which means less risk for us, they collaborated with us. There is definitely a growth in sale of bike related clothing these days. A lot of opportunities.

Do you collaborate with Icelandic clothing designers?

Alexander: We are really into it and already, we’re selling a line called Blik. It is a knitwear collection for women and men designed by Laufey Jónsdóttir for Varma Design. We also designed a few accessories ourselves. For example, a must have for the next picnic,- a wine bottle holder.

What’s your target group in regards to age, gender etc.?

Alexander: We sell bikes from two bicycle manufacturers based in England which suit different age groups. First it’s Bobbin Bicycles. They fit the twenty-something crowd with a little less between their hands. They are designed with influences from 1940s design and come in a variety of colors. Bobbins bikes are designed in England and produced under strict quality control in Taiwan but we get them straight from Britain. The latter is Pashley. Those bikes are a little more expensive and suit a more mature age group.

Jón: The Pashley bikes are specialty made. People can come to Berlin and try on different sizes and styles. Then we measure the correct size that fits you and order a unique bike from England, handmade just for you. It started in 1926 and is one of the oldest bike companies in England. The fact that they only manufacture around 10.000 bikes per year says something. Their quality control is very strict.

Is England on top in the city-bike game?

Alexander: Originally I wanted to sell German and/or Danish bikes. They have a lot of good companies. Icelanders are generally moved by the British lifestyle. We decided to go with Pashley because of their high standard and interesting history. When we get a better feel for what’s popular amongst Icelanders we will start stocking up on a variety of manufacturers.

Will you be hosting some events in the near future in Berlin?

Alexander: We’ve hosted a few quite successful bicycle trips recently. There we invited people to bring their own picnic and ride their bike with us through town. Then we found a tranquil setting for a nice picnic. We’d like to host a course that would help Icelanders brush up on their traffic safety rules. The focus would be for cyclists. We are also thinking about offering special nights on Thursdays for either ladies or gents, introducing new fashion lines or bike models or show how to fix minor things on your bike.

Are Icelanders good cyclists?

Alexander: Recently we’ve ridden our bikes downtown a couple of times for an after work drink. We were surprised how few young people in Reykjavík were biking. Many of them get rides instead of riding their bikes.

Jón: Yes, in fair weather a bike trip can be an ideal and fun activity for almost anyone. Going on a tranquil trip downtown and sitting down at a café with your family for example.

Has the number of cyclists in Iceland increased in the past few years?

Alexander: Yes, definitely. The “ride your bike to work” program is quite popular here and has had a great influence. People keep riding their bikes even when the program is brought to an end. Icelanders have started riding their bikes earlier, in April or May and don’t generally stop until well into the fall. Some are more willing than ever to bear up in the snow.

Do you feel the Icelandic bicycle community is lacking in some way?

Alexander: I feel the Icelandic bicycle community is really on the rise. It is progressing in a cool way. I hope that cycling routes will continue to grow in numbers, quality and distance.

What do you think is the main reason for this growing enthusiasm?

Alexander: Economizing has a lot to do with it in post-recession Iceland. There are many however that are aware of their health and use bicycle riding for fitness. A daily 10 minute bike ride can be enough. A direct result that follows more bicycling is a decrease in risk for stroke and heart attacks. This means less burden on the Public Health Authority and money is saved. Icelanders have also started thinking in added measure in terms of environmentally friendly and green energy. The bike community is a part of that.

Do you have any advice for young cyclists out there?

Alexander: Reykjavík really isn’t too rural. You can get between places relatively fast on your bike. Here, it’s an ideal mode of transportation. Invest in a city bike on which you can sit upright so won’t get back aches. Naturally it doesn’t hurt that they look hip and come from a shop like Berlin!

We say farewell to the two entrepreneurs, both wearing comfortable yet stylish clothing for cycling, as we ponder their ideas about riding your bike done as a means of transport and leisure activity at the same time. They really practice what they preach and we wish them the best of luck.

Biking in Reykjavik is Underrated

Interview: Alexander Jean Edvard Le Sage de Fontenay
Photographs: Nanna Dís

Reykjavík Peace Þing

On a windy afternoon we sit down with Unnsteinn Jóhannsson and Inga Auðbjörg Kristjánsdóttir over cupcakes and coffee at Unnsteins home in Reykjavík. He is the project manager for the upcoming Peace Þing, which will be held in Harpa concert hall on the 12th – 14th of October. He is also a passionate scout and recently graduated from the Kaospilot programme. He´s been using his knowledge to organize the conference with fellow scout, Inga. She is the project manager for the Peace Camp, which will be held a week before the actual conference. We talked to them about Kaos piloting, being peaceful and the upcoming Peace Þing.

We are still confused, what is Kaospiloting all about?

Unnsteinn: It´s a bit freaky stuff actually. In essence it´s creative project management. We have both finished this course, I ended up there a year after she started.

Inga: The studies are very grounded in reality. There are very few hypothetical projects. In every year you are always working with real clients.

Unnsteinn: The course is divided into four main subjects, leadership training, project design, process design and business design. In leadership training you learn about what kind of a leader you are, what kind of leader you´d like to be, how would you see yourself as a leader and discussing the leadership role in general. The first year is mostly done in group projects.

“Once we even sat for eight hours, just discussing whether to buy coffee”

Inga: It´s about learning to work with a group. You have a very long leash, so you have to find your own ways to make it work. Once we even sat for eight hours, just discussing whether to buy coffee that was organic and fair trade or to buy the coffee that would cost 50 cents less. We discussed this for eight hours in the end, and it was an awful day, but we learned a lot in the process.

Unnsteinn: Project design involves setting up projects, designing the process which the project needs to go through from beginning to end.

Inga: Then there is process design, or process facilitation. Which is about coming into a certain group, and see how all the people inside interconnect and how the communication goes after certain routes. If there are problems we try to find ways with the group to solve those issues on their own. And in the end, the group usually comes up with the same things you would, or even more creative solutions than you might have ever thought of.

Unnsteinn: And the fourth area is business design. It´s mostly social entrepreneurship. It´s about business innovation, but it has to have the third profiteer. You have to profit from it, the customer and also the world, or the environment, or the society. It´s positive capitalism, well capitalism might not be negative for all, but you could call it hippy capitalism.

What kind of people are attracted to this course?

Inga: The students come from all walks of life, from total hippies to strong headed capitalists. It´s a very broad group that finds these studies interesting. The main thing in common is that people are very creative, and willing to jump into this course where you won’t get an official degree, only an diploma and it´s expensive since it´s private education. Still it´s not a massive risk, or at least it doesn’t seem to leave students in a risky situation after graduating. Around 97% of graduated Kaos pilots have jobs.

Unnsteinn: I don’t know how many percent are working in their dream jobs but many are working from their final projects. Mine revolved around Peace Þing, I wasn’t very excited with it at first, but then all these signs started popping up. So I thought I’d give it a chance and it just grew on its own and it´s my full time job at the moment. Many of the final projects turned into viable businesses. In some cases two or three people would start a school project together and I know about few businesses that are still going strong.

Inga: For example two guys from my class had a mission to become famous with their band, Reptiles and Retards. And they did! They have been playing all over, they came to the Icelandic Airwaves for example. That was their project from their beginning. So they used the knowledge from their studies in their pursuit of fame and they’ve done really well!

So where did the idea about Peace Þing come from?

Inga: Bragi Björnsson, Chief Scout, got this idea that we should have a Peace conference in honour of the 100 year anniversary of the Icelandic scouts in November. The scouts have been celebrating this anniversary throughout the year, for example we had hosted events at the Reykjavík Cultural Night in August and had a massive scout gathering during the summer at Úlfljótsvatn. In the beginning it was supposed to be a cute little conference but it has just grown on it´s own.

In the end I started working for the committee that organized it, and as staff, I started to convince Unnsteinn to do his final project about this. That was a year ago. Since then I’ve been working on other projects, but just haven’t been able to let this one go. And now we are working towards making this a fantastic event in Harpa, on the 12th to the 14th of October. We are very happy that the Messengers of Peace program within the international Scout movement is helping us fund this event. There will be 25 lecturers from Iceland and abroad, five workshops and before the conference there will be the Peace Camp. There we will gather young people at the ages 16 – 25 from various different countries.

They will come and do a project about peace and talk about peace and make the Peace Game for Icelandic people, which people can then play in Harpa during the conference. We don’t know yet how they game will be, since it will only be made the week before. We are very fortunate to get sponsorship from the Youth in Action Programme for the Peace Camp.

Unnsteinn: It will be open to everyone, and will be happening on the Saturday. We still have to see how it will played many times or only constantly, it all depends on how the game will be.. We don’t want the Peace Camp to be Icelandic scouts inviting a bunch of other people to participate in some organized event, but for everyone to come together and work together towards a common goal. That´s why it´s so exciting to have people from countries that don’t have much experience of war such as Iceland and Denmark, and then have people from Palestine or Georgia for example that live with war everyday.

Inga: Yes, or people from Austria or Germany, which have a generation gap. The young generation knows the history but have never really participated, but are in a way bound by what happened before they were even born .We are all convinced about working towards peace, but the views on how to go about it are very varied.

So what does the schedule look like now?

Unnsteinn: We´ve already registered lots of people for the event, but it´s still possible to get tickets from our website. There will be three workshops that are especially aimed at young people. One is Scouts and Peace. It´s about how the scout method can be used in peacework. That one involves a lot of games and will be partly outdoors. Another is Messengers of Peace Training and the third is Peer to Peer Mediation

Two are aimed at teachers and people that work with young people. Christina Barruel is coming from New Zealand to talk about the Cool Schools Peer Mediation Programme and the other is a workshop in Consciousness Based Education taught by Dr. Ashley James Deans who is the Executive director of the Maharishi school in Iowa. We are working with a wide range of organizations such as AFS and CSIV that will participate or help out with the conference. Seeds will also be sending us 10-12 volunteers to help out with the event.

“working towards peace and human rights”

There will be 25 lecturers spread over the three days. To name a few we have Páll Óskar and Bergsteinn talking on the behalf of Unicef, Herdís Egilsdóttir, Amal Tamimi and many many more interesting lecturers. In fact we have people who range from being strong feminists like Katrín Oddsdóttir, human rights lawyer, to the CEO of the Landsbankinn, Steinþór Pálsson, but they are all working towards peace using their own ways.

And since we obviously didn’t think it was enough to have 25 lecturers and 5 workshops, we have offered organizations to come and introduce themselves at the expo, organizations like Amnesty International, Save the Children, ICE-SAR and many more. These people all have in common to be working towards peace and human rights and better world in general!

So what is the goal with Peace Þing?

Inga: That people leave with the longing to work actively towards peace. Not just listening and agreeing but to find ways to participate. To have some effect. We don’t want to leave people just inspired to do good, but also leave them with methods to do so.

Unnsteinn: We are focusing on that things start from the heart, and then you can take it wider. You don’t have to Africa to find conflict, it´s about domestic violence, it´s about abuse and bullying. We have all these people talking about peace from different points of views.It doesn´t need to be complicated. Peace can be so big to intake.

When I decided to participate in this project, I was overwhelmed by this idea of peace. But when I started thinking more about it, I realised that all the work I’ve been doing as a scout is about peace and helping others. It´s not about telling people to stop arguing, we realise that there will always be conflict, but how you meet these conflicts is a whole different matter. The world be much better if we could meet these conflicts without violence, be it physical or verbal.

You are using the scout philosophy in the making of this event?

Yes, and we want it to be interactive, and peer to peer. We have young people controlling the game for young people, we have a lot of group work and such. The scouts are founded as a movement of peace and the first international scout gathering was held to promote peace and connections throughout the world. When you know people from around the world, you can better understand that we all have to live on this planet in peace. It´s incredible to think that you can hold a scout gathering for 30.000 people and there is almost nothing negative that happens.There is a very beautiful society that evolves from this.

Peace Þing – at Harpa, concert hall, 12th – 14th of October.

Interview: Erla Björk Barldursdóttir
Photographs: Nanna Dís

As we grow

Snoop-Around interviews As We Grow for the Reykjavík Grapevine,
issue #14 7.9.2012
This interview originally appeared in The Reykjavík Grapevine

Snoop-Around meets María and Guðrún fashion designers and Gréta the lawyer mba. They are the co-founders of AS WE GROW a fashion label for children. It all begun from a single sweater that has now travelled through Guðrún‘s family for 9 years and was their muse for creating clothes that were eco-friendly and promote sustainability. They are currently preparing their new studio so we meet at María‘s home. Guðrún‘s youngest is with us, just two months old and as we munch through chocolate and peanuts we get to know them three a bit better and about their brand new product.

María, Guðrún & Gréta

You are in the first year of AS WE GROW, how did it all start?

María: It‘s been developing for about a year now. Gréta had travelled to Peru a few years ago where she met their suppliers in Lima, Peru. There she learned all about the Alpaca fibre they use in all their clothing, hypo-allergic, soft and strong wool.

Gréta:The Alpacas camels have developed a quality for staying 400 meters above sea level, which gives their wool it‘s strong thermal insulator and makes the fibre warmer and lighter that other natural fibres. It‘s warmer than normal wool when it‘s cold and let‘s more air through when it‘s hot.

Guðrún: Usually it‘s the designers that search for a producer but in this case it happened the other way around when Gréta initiated this collaboration. She is definitely the driving force while we the designers are the dreamers.

What was your inspiration for making this kind of product?

Guðrún: There are mainly two motives, first of all it‘s the travelling sweater (more on that later) and the fact that me and María have always wanted to work together. We have similar ideas on how to design children’s clothes. It derives from how we want to dress our own children as well as the idea of the clothes being timeless; we stay away from logos and decorations that might be following a certain trend.

María: My experience is that I never found anything nice enough for my twin boys, except something quite pricy, so it made me think about having fewer clothes that last longer, even a whole year even though they are growing fast. As a result we sought a solution for creating clothes that children could use as they grow.

So what is different about your design from what we are used to?

María: The cut is made specifically so that children can use the garment for longer, the armhole is bigger, and the waist stretches wider. For a child with a few months of age the trousers will reach up close to the armpits and gradually lower towards the waist with time. The trouser leg is long so you fold it to begin with but end up as knee high trousers and the same goes with sleeves. Today you will pay around five to six thousand krona for a sweater and it lasts perhaps for a few months with the usual wear and tear marks. Here you will pay around 13.000 krona and get a piece of clothing that will last your baby for years and because of the quality, our non-trend and timeless design you will want to give it to the next baby in line too. You can therefor use it for decades, going through friends and family. We know how it is to buy clothes for your children, you think of how good the material is you want the best and softest material for your child. And you also want them to be environmentally friendly.

Guðrún: We don’t want for people to buy and throw away endlessly, the long lasting clothes are also a part of the notion that the fewer clothes you need, less harmful chemical are used in the process of making them.

Gréta: We are the opposite of HM, although HM is great at times, but we want to promote endurance of the product and we think that today people’s disposition on sustainability is changing for the better, we are starting to make demands on the matter.

Can you tell me more about the sweater and its voyage?

Guðrún: The sweater was hand knitted by my mother and it’s been travelling for nine years. A friend of mine Carolyn got it for her son Julian in 2003. After that Tinna in Iceland got it for her son Tryggvi, which then gave it to Ísafold. In the winter of 2006 it got lost but was found again the coming spring with a few dropped stitches that gave it even more character. Ísafold had outgrown it so next was Markús and in the end Kjartan Ragnar his cousin who wears it still. I would love to mark one of our sweaters and somehow track its journey, see where it’ll end up in 30 years to come.

Where and when will we be able to buy it?

Gréta: We introduced our first line last February at the CHP Kids trade show in Copenhagen. We start selling in September in various places, Barnabúðin Laugavegur 27, Mýrin Kringlan shopping mall, Saga Boutique with Icelandair, Rammagerðin which includes Hafnarstæti Reykjavík, Egilsstaðir, Keflavík Airport and soon Akureyri. As well Berlin, Copenhagen and we have been selling our summer line at an internet shop in New York and we plan on selling from our website as well. We are building it up nice and easy selling 85% here in Iceland and 15% abroad.

María: Barnabúðin told us that tourists are asking about Icelandic labels in children clothing, they can’t keep up with knitting the traditional wool sweater in baby sizes. We didn’t realize that there was a demand for it; our motivation was different as we have said.

Gréta: Soon we will have 100 hand knitted scarfs from Peru which are made from left over yarn and the profit of it will go to a charity we haven’t chosen yet. Exiting times ahead and now we just wait and see whether it’s going to be a success.

At this moment they show us the clothes, they are so tender and soft, particularly the ones with 100% baby Alpaca wool, María describes for us how you can mix and match almost every piece for the age of 6 months to 4 years old. The clothes aren’t too decorated or bright, but simple and cute, and beside the pink dress, it’s quite unisex as well, so you have endless choices to create your personal combination.

Interview: Erla Steinþórsdóttir
Photograpgs: Nanna Dís