What Iceland Can Teach Us About Ethical Clothing

What Iceland Can Teach Us About Ethical Clothing

cait bagby wearing a traditional white icelandic sweater with a brown patterned yolk. She is helping to short sheep at the annual rettir.


Founded in 1977 by a small group of women, the Handknitting Association of Iceland recently won a major battle in the fight for ethical clothing. You’d be forgiven for not thinking about ethical clothing in the land of ice and fire and yet it pervades throughout every aspect of the Icelandic way of life. 

The 2008 financial collapse presented a unique opportunity to a country that was often little more than a stop over from mainland Europe and North America. Deflation of the Icelandic króna led to a sharp increase in the rise of tourism which in turn helped the economy to rebound. An estimated 40% of the country’s export revenues and 10% of it’s GDP are linked to tourism. In 2019 around 2 million tourists visited the country and while that number has been declining the decade long boom left an enormous impact.

Whether it was the volcanic eruption of Eyjafjallajökull in 2010, the rise of instagram influencers flocking to the vast expanses to snap an envious picture, the airline stopover promotions, or the popularity of Game of Thrones; Iceland was on a whole not prepared for what the influx of tourism would mean. Infrastructure was quickly built, tourism companies boomed, Airbnb sprang up in just about every apartment building in Reykjavik and farmhouse through the countryside, restaurants diversified, souvenir shops popped up throughout, and the endless wave led to a creative expansion across the country. But, not everyone embraced the transformation. 

The lopapeysa sweater has long been the iconic garment of the Icelandic peoples. You won’t find a closet without one. And while there is a long history of knitting for both young and old, men and women, this particular sweater didn’t enter the vernacular until sometime between the 1920’s and 1950’s. It coincided with the more efficient mechanizations of processing wool. The sweaters are made from lopi a unique fiber to the sheep of Iceland and is heralded for both its lightness and strength while remaining waterproof. A must in the oftentimes harsh climate. Historically to be classified as a Lopapeysa the sweater must be knit from lopi in a continuous loop without seams. Additionally, it must include a circular pattern around the shoulders. It wasn’t until Iceland’s independence from Denmark in 1944 that the lopapeysa became a national symbol.

Cait Bagby wearing a traditional lopapeysa Icelandic sweater looking at a sheep at the annual rettir. Discussing ethical clothing with local farmers

Up until the tourism boom the lopapeysa could have been used as an ethical clothing measuring stick. It was made from local wool from sheep that were treated humanely, mainly coming from small family farms. They were made from natural fibers and knitted in the country where living wages were paid. The surge in tourism drastically shifted the demand and by virtue of that the means of production.

The modern economy for all of its positives also brings with it plenty of opportunity to increase profit margins at the expense of quality, safety, environmental and worker well being. In the case of the lopapeysa sweater, chasing the often elusive profit margin led many businesses to start outsourcing their manufacturing where wages remain depressed compared to that of Iceland’s. In short, to meet the demand while continuing to increase profits some high street Icelandic brands began contracting Chinese firms to either knit the sweaters from lopi at reduced wages or began making them from blended materials, sometimes both. A debate emerged as to whether or not they could truly be called Icelandic.

Clever marketing tags started popping up that without thorough research were difficult to differentiate. “Made in Iceland” or “Made from Icelandic Wool” became the greenwashing go-to for these companies. Made in Iceland may or may not mean that the sweater is made from a hundred percent lopi while made from Icelandic wool may or may not mean it was made in the country or contains a hundred percent lopi. Tourists were left to their own devices trying to figure out the authenticity but often became seduced by high street convenience and price differentiation while remaining none the wiser.

The Handknitting Association rallied against what they saw as a theft of local heritage and launched a campaign for clear and transparent labeling and protection. Members not only wanted to preserve the local craft but also ensure tourists and locals alike were buying the real deal: made in Iceland and from only Icelandic lopi. In March 2020 after years of lobbying they won. 

Cait Bagby with the handknitters association in Reykjavik Iceland after finishing up and interview with them on the importance of labels

The sweaters received the second only Designation of Origin Label granting it legal protection under The Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority. The ruling in short protects the pattern, craftsmanship, means of production, materials used, and ultimately enshrines the cultural values associated with each one. 

There has been no mention as to whether or not the labels “Made in Iceland” or “Made from Icelandic Wool” will disappear or continue to adorn knockoff products but they can no longer be called Lopapeysa sweaters without adhering to the seven conditions laid out by the Designation of Origin Label.  What the Handknitting Association has accomplished is nothing short of a David versus Goliath narrative. They were able to preserve a traditional craft while at the same time laying a framework for companies, organizations, and governments around the world when it comes to the production of ethical clothing. Simultaneously they demonstrated that profit margins are not the be all and end all of today’s modern economy bringing hope to those who continue to fight for the widespread normalization of ethical clothing.

This interview was originally published on CaitBagby.com (now merged with this site) on 13 July 2020

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Is Patagonia Really Worth The Investment?

Is Patagonia Really Worth The Investment?


“Because in the end, you won’t remember the time you spent working in the office or mowing your lawn. Climb that goddamn mountain.”
― Jack Kerouac

In both the outdoor apparel world and the eco fashion world Patagonia has quite a reputation. It is known for quality goods that will last a lifetime and are shockingly good for the environment, both in production and in recycling. Realistically, most of us aren’t hiking everyday and/or eco fashion still isn’t quite on the radar. So what about Patagonia for everyday wear?

I have seen Patagonia outerwear just about everywhere you can imagine. From the mall, to a University classroom, to a jacket to wear out to dinner, museums, worn around the city, hiking and many, many other places. There seems to be no end to its versatility. It also seems that every teenager has a fleece or two to throw on at a moments notice. Did I miss a trend somewhere along the lines?

Not really. Americans have had a healthy obsession with athletic wear as day/night wear for quite some time now. Patagonia takes it to the next level in both style and price point. Nicknamed “Patagucci” because of some of the items often jaw dropping price tags, I wanted to see if it was all style with no substance so I decided to give them a try on my trip to Iceland. As a modest hiker and someone who was in need of versatile clothing I thought it was now or never to invest in a few pieces.

Here is what I bought:

1. Better Sweater Jacket in Dusk Blue at $139

2. Down Sweater Vest in Navy Blue at $89

3. Atom Sling in Feather Grey at $49

First impressions at the store: There weren’t as many options as I had hoped. I’m not a big online shopper. I like to try on for fit and feel the weight and texture between my fingers. For this very reason I headed to REI in Framingham, MA. Unfortunately, the end of the winter meant that heavy duty Patagonia items weren’t the top sellers at the moment and therefore size and inventory options were limited. However, I was happy to see a variety of vests and fleeces. In terms of versatility I liked the idea of a vest because I could pair it with other items or throw it on when I needed a quick warm up. The zip up sweater was also a great choice because I could layer it both under and over other options. As for the bag… well who doesn’t love a great bag to go with their outfit. I liked the sling style of the Atom bag and it held a lot more than I was expecting.

It turned out Iceland was windier than I thought and as a result it felt incredibly cold on some days. There were moments I literally couldn’t feel my fingers or lips. I was definitely surprised by Patagonia. I wore their gear towards the end of the trip and with the help of a pair of gloves felt the warmest I had been during my ten days there. The vest is made with 100% traceable goose down and 100% recyclable polyester. Don’t let the recyclable part throw you. Like their website says “it’s worth its weight in gold”. As for the sweater, it is made from a polyester fleece that is ridiculously warm! It also has the Bluesign technologies seal of approval. This basically means that apparel baring this mark has used only chemicals, materials, and processes that are safe for the environment, safe for workers, and safe for the consumer. It is a win-win for everyone involved.

Overall, I have to commend Patagonia on their creative genius to reuse and manufacture goods that the consumer will 100% benefit from. From the rugged terrain of Iceland to a dinner date in the city, Patagonia has become synonymous with style and sustainable fashion. As for the nickname “Patagucci” I don’t really think it is warranted. I personally own several other outdoor apparel items that are neither as warm, durable, or stylish and all cost much more. Patagonia is definitely worth the investment.

In case you needed one more reason to invest in Patagonia apparel they have several options under their “Worn Wear” program. This includes everything from repairs both professionally and DIY, to buying and selling used items, to taking in your worn out Patagonia apparel and transforming it into something brand new. Talk about serious sustainable commitment. You can read more about their Worn Wear Program here.

I hope all of you that want to get to experience the beauty and tranquility of Iceland at some point in your lives. But, I also hope that we all help to do our part in preserving the natural beauty of such places by investing in companies such as Patagonia. With the continued rate of pollution from the fashion industry it will inevitably have a negative impact on the places we hold so dear if we all don’t make a change. One small purchase can make an enormous change!

For more information on Patagonia, to read more about the company, and to shop for apparel make sure to check out their website.

This article was not sponsored or promoted by Patagonia or Bluesign Technologies. All apparel mentioned and worn in the article and accompanying pictures were purchased by myselfA huge thank you to REI in Framingham, MA for helping me to pick out the perfect pieces!

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What I Wore (Iceland)

What I Wore (Iceland)


Lengthy lists were written detailing the most minute necessities: three pairs of socks, two pencils. spare batteries, rope.”
― Barbara Hodgson, The Tattooed Map

Packing is something that I have learned over the years. I’m not a naturally organized person so putting outfits together ahead of time doesn’t come easy. However, there is some serious benefits to being organized before you leave. This was the first trip where I laid out my clothing and accessories and carefully selected each piece. It made the entire trip so much more enjoyable as I wasn’t wondering what to wear each day. Here are a couple of the outfits I chose. A lot are repeats from this winter, it was pretty cold,  with a few new pieces added in!

Day One: I chose a Tory Burch mock turtleneck from their winter collectionand a pair of JCrew straight legged pant. They are very similar to the current Martie Pant. I paired them with a pair of Alligator flats from Brooks Brothers, a cross body bag I picked up from Marshalls, Mulberry Scarf (similar), and a rain coat from REI. I always wore a long sleeve basic shirt and nylons underneath everything! It was pretty cold.


Day Two: I was still in Reykjavik which meant I could wear none hiking attire :). I only packed one pair of jeans and wore them frequently. I probably should have brought two. These ones are the Alyssa High Rise Skinny from Abercrombie and Fitch. I find they are the best fit. They were paired with Louise et Cie Andora boots from Nordstrom and a junky knit scarf and sweater in black from Zara. Lastly, my Barbour International Quilted Jacket was a staple! I picked it up in Scotland a few years ago and it has become a repeat wear ever since.

Day Three: I decided to keep I opted for my jeans, Salomon hiking boots, Mulberry Scarf and chunky sweater from Banana Republic.


Day Four: I wore the same items from the day before only I included my REI raincoat and Coach gloves. I actually repeat wear quite a few items 🙂


Day Five: We did some light hiking so instead of boots I opted for Mizuno Wave Rider 18 sneakers in Black/Silver, Under Armour All Weather Legging, my Barbour Jacket, and junky scarf from Zara. I wore a sweater from Zara underneath but in reality it was so cold my jacket never came off 🙂


Day Six: We spent most of the day in the car so there was no need for a jacket however, I did opt for a blanket scarf from De Bijenkorf, sweater from Vanilia, leggings from Abercrombie & Fitch, and hiking boots. The life jacket was complimentary from the boat tour operator and the gloves I “borrowed” from my fiance.


Day Seven: We did quite a bit of hiking so I decked out in Patagonia. It was incredibly warm and comfortable but there will be more details about each individual piece in the Look on Location post!


Day Eight: Was all about Under Armour! I chose All Weather legging, zip up hoodie, and paired it with my hiking boots and Mulberry Scarf. This was the day I definitely could have used a heavier coat. We traveled to the northern most point in Iceland and it was unbelievably windy and cold.


Day Nine: I picked up this awesome cape from Geysir. It is handmade from local wool and unbelievably warm! I can’t wait to break it out again this winter. I layered it over a black chunky sweater from Banana Republic and wore my Zara scarf when out riding. It wasn’t really the temperature so much as the wind which made layering essential.


Day Ten: The last day we picked up a few gifts for friends and family and then was off to the airport. This meant I didn’t have to layer up! I wore my Mizuno sneakers, leggings from BCBG and Eileen Fischer ethically sourced poncho from Nordstrom.

I’ll be posting a packing list soon that will cover everything from clothing to electronics for the perfect 10 day trip!

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