For centuries, Icelanders have knitted with lopic wool—yarn from Iceland’s 500,000 sheep.
Icelanders are saying that the quality of the Icelandic woolen fleece is superior to regular wool. This is because their sheep have not been interbred and hence their wool has evolved to tolerate the unforgiving sub-arctic Icelandic climate.
Now, concern is brewing in one of Iceland’s most traditional industries—the production of the Icelandic, hand-knitted “lopi” sweaters—much loved by tourists and worn by the locals with pride.
With made-in-China “Icelandic” sweaters taking over about 60 percent of the retail market share, knitting co-ops across Iceland have a valid reason to worry about their future.
The Icelandic Handknitting Association Chairwoman Thuridur Einarsdottir said that containers of Icelandic wool are now shipped to Hong Kong. Then the wool is knitted into sweaters, and shipped back to Iceland for sale in local stores as locally made products.
Einarsdottir stated that these woolen products are not authentically made in Iceland as such.
The Chinese imports are replicas and “not the real thing,” said Einarsdottir. But customers, including tourists, buy them thinking the products are authentically made in Iceland because the sweaters have labels stating: “Hand knitted from Icelandic wool.”
Nordic storeowner Bjarni Jonsson stated this is not deception. The local knitting industry cannot meet growing demands:, “The main reason for us to have it knitted outside Iceland is that we don’t have the capacity to do it here,” explained Jonsson.
“We would need something like 200 to 250 women or men to knit full time and we don’t have that many knitters,” Jonsson added.
His shop sells a wide selection of these Chinese imports that have become a must-have souvenir for tourists.
Casey Hedemann, a tourist from Texas in the United States, happily held up a sweater with Iceland classic patterns. “I am getting myself this to wear over all the layers that I have already packed … and then I am also getting the puffin beanie for my boyfriend as a souvenir,” said Hedemann.
Traditionally, Icelandic women supplement their incomes by knitting sweaters.
Now their home-based enterprise could be jeopardized as local knitters find themselves competing for business after their skills and labor have been outsourced to China.
They also see the profit margins for their locally handmade products greatly reduced by made-in-China “Icelandic” sweaters, from authentic wool from Iceland.
Last month the local knitters co-op urged the Icelandic government to ban companies from labeling woolen sweaters as “Icelandic,” unless they are made locally.
Concern is brewing in one of Iceland’s most traditional industries—the production of the Icelandic, hand-knitted “lopi” sweaters—as local knitters struggle to compete against Chinese imports.