Not only is Norway well reputed internationally for its welfare and foreign aid policies, but Norwegian products are also renowned for their adherence to strict quality standards. There is much to be said for ancient and well-tried methods, combined with a respect for the natural and the organic; Norwegian brands have a renommé for being founded on traditions. There is a multitude of environments to be found in Norway, each of which make their own unique contribution towards growth in many areas of industry. The result is a wide variety of products, all of which share the common qualities of handcraft and culture.
The sources of inspiration are many and perhaps the most basic of these is the weather and the Norwegian countryside, both of which have in various fashions stimulated a number of industries. Wool, the oldest textile known to man, is a prime example. Given the chilly climes, wool is an excellent insulator and stays warm even when wet, as it possesses the capacity to absorb large amounts of moisture without becoming wet or clammy. A man with first hand knowledge of these attributes is Vegard Ulvang.
A former world-class ski champion, Ulvang has skied across Greenland, paddled through Siberia and climbed some of the highest mountains in the world. This is a man who knows about the demands rough climates place on clothing materials. Taking advantage of this unique expertise, he founded Ulvang AS, a company that produces clothing custom-made for the great outdoors. His hard won experience has taught him about the needs of the market and the Ulvang Collection has been expanded to include all the articles of clothing needed to tackle a challenging outdoor life.
Once best known for its wearable blankets LIllunn AS Design of Norway celebrates its 50th anniversary this year and continues to create pure wool products
The company Lillunn AS Design of Norway is an example of Norwegian entrepreneurship in wool products drawing upon traditional values, in the creation of contemporary knitwear that stands out internationally within the world of fashion design. Perhaps best known for their wearable blankets, Lillunn celebrates it 50 year anniversary in 2003. With five full decades of design innovation behind it, the company is still going strong in the creation of pure wool products based on sound Norwegian traditions and quality standards.
Norway has a strong knitting tradition, as one might expect of a country where temperatures easily, and often, reach -25°C if not more. Making quality clothing from wool that is also in touch with the pulse of today’s markets is no easy feat. Yet companies such as Volund AS and Devold AS have succeeded in collaborating with skilful Norwegian manufacturers and designers to create unique garments that are light yet durable. All the while, they have maintained their attachment to the local communities in which they were originally founded. Volund AS is a family owned company and their sweaters are still knitted in the village of Løkken in Sør Trøndelag County. Another company worthy of a mention is Devold who has been making apparel since 1853. Their first customers were fishermen and other workers struggling in the harsh climate along the Norwegian coast. Their designs have been worn by the likes of Nansen and Amundsen on their expeditions to the North Pole. The amazing fact is that some of the very styles worn by members of these expeditions are still in production today! Drawing on the experience of the past and giving today’s generation access to tried and tested garments is an asset only companies with a respect for tradition can provide.
Another area of excellence where handicraft meets modern needs is ceramics and glassworks. Masters, glass blowers and artists all follow professions that tend to run in families with secrets passed down from generation to generation. Magnor Glassverk is no exception. The history of an entire district has been shaped by glass blowers. The glassworks were founded as early as 1896 in the deep forests close to the Swedish border and it is these forests that have supplied fuel for the furnaces producing hand-made glass and crystal. Knowledge and experience are treasures to be integrated with care into new markets and products. An important factor for any industry is rejuvenation and this can frequently be accomplished by pooling the resources of generations of valuable knowledge and experience with fresh incentives from up and coming youth.
Magnor and Porsgrund Porselen are two excellent examples of companies willing to invest in a future where contemporary design converges with traditional production skills to create exciting results. Promoting young talent is a sure fire way to ensure input on the needs of a new generation. Porsgrund’s latest projects have reaped rewards through this approach. Porsgrund encourages students to focus their projects during course work on acquiring skills and talents that may, in time, be put into production at their facility in Porsgrunn. One such student was Sigrid Haugen, who developed her project as part of her studies in Product Design at Blaker Akershus University College. Making use of the factory’s on site residence for artists, she developed a cake form using a mixture of aluminium, plastic and porcelain – three materials, with three very different qualities, and very much appreciated by the public. The product has been sold out since its launch. The Norwegian Design Council recently awarded her an Award for Good Design for her ‘Bake It Easy’ cake form, which can be used to bake a cake, serve it and store it.
Today, one of the biggest challenges in the creation of innovative products lies in appeasing an ever more critical consumer. People have a much greater awareness of design and the arts in general, with a corresponding wish to see this represented in all areas of consumption. The ceramics industry is no exception; A silent revolution has taken place in the industry in Norway, and with the advent of more highly educated designers from the institutes of higher education, a change in styles has occurred whereby more emphasis is placed on modern design. Another student in the field of ceramics has also benefited from Porsgrund’s expertise in order to rise to this particular challenge. Student Synne Christiansen was given a project to complete within four months, and was treated as a member of Porsgrund’s own design team. The educational benefits of such an experience are immeasurable. Christiansen also works with a team of ceramicists called Embla Keramikk enabling her to reap the benefits of the hardwon skills of a group of dedicated craftsmen whilst drawing inspiration from contemporary surroundings and trends. Similar tendencies are visible in all industries as Norwegian companies recognize the ever increasing importance of catering to contemporary needs and desires. Complex demands are thus made of today’s companies. Ethical practices and responsible production methods are but two factors that play an important role in current Norwegian markets; design and easy availability are two more. Norwegian manufacturers in all areas are able to meet these demands whilst maintaining the values of tradition. While quality is never sacrificed for quantity, this neither implies a failure to recognize, respond and adapt to the needs of consumers and suppliers.