Interview: Talking to 66North’s Helgi Rúnar Óskarsson

In Proper Mag 24 – and ahead of big coats time – we caught up with the CEO of Iceland’s most exciting clothing brand 66North. We discussed where the brand came from, it’s name, where headed and how super funky grime artist Skepta ended up wearing it. Here’s a preview.

Founded in 1926 by Hans Kristjánsson, 66°North has been making protective clothing for Icelandic fishermen and workers braving the North Atlantic elements for some time. Kristjansson lived in Suðureyri in Súgandafjörður in Westfjords of Iceland where the weather conditions were harsh and suitable clothing was a necessity for the Icelandic fishermen.

Now, 91 years on, 66°North is Iceland’s main man when it comes to outerwear with over 10 stores in the capital, Reykjavik, alone. With plans to expand across Europe – and even open a shop in the UK – we caught up with Helgi Rúnar Óskarsson, CEO of 66° North, to find out more about the brand, its rich icy history and what they plan on doing next.

Helgi, first tell me about the name 66° North. Where did that come from?
In 1926 Hans moved to Norway to learn how to sew and tailor. He was passionate about creating quality gear that would hold up to the harsh conditions, so he did what he had to do to do it. When he moved back he founded Sjóklæðagerð Íslands (Fishermen‘s clothing factory of Iceland) which then became known as 66°North because of the line of latitude of the Arctic Circle which passes through Súgandafjörður.

It’s described as ‘technical wear’, what’s technical wear?
Soon after the company was founded, it started making clothes for people working in different industries. Many people wanted to use their working clothes for their everyday life. The company responded by designing it‘s clothing in such way as to fit both for work and for private life. This was particularly true for items like parkas, jackets, sweaters and pullovers. Therefore, it is ingrained in the DNA of the company to use technical fabrics for everyday clothing in shapes and silhouettes that are functional and diverse. As technology evolves and new technical fabrics get developed, 66°North uses such fabrics to create garments that fall into the category of Everyday technical wear; in other words, garments that can both be use for the city as well as for the mountains or any place where protection from the elements is needed.

So I can go down to the pub in the same jacket I’d wear up a massive, big mountain?
Yes – exactly that.

Didn’t Skepta wear your gear at a big fashion thing recently?
Yes. What we are seeing with Skepta (below) and some other stars wearing our garments lately is in line with the current and upcoming trends where functional clothing is becoming part of the fashion and streetwear trends. It is also in line with and what we have seen through the years by stars who have been visiting Iceland and discovered the brand. Most recently Big Sean was seen in our clothing, and then there is people like Jake Gyllenhaal, Frank Ocean, Beyonce and  Jay Z and many more are examples of people who have got to know the brand in Iceland and have been wearing it on different occasions in their everyday life across the globe.

Everyone loves big coats right now and there are a lot of similar brands around, what makes you different?
Many brands making technical wear today were founded by enthusiastic mountaineers. These are brands that belong to outdoor categories. 66°North is a brand that has always made technical clothing for everyday use. If you are going to do any outdoor activity, we want you to make the same style requirements as you would do if you were walking the streets of New York or London.

Almost from the beginning we have made every day technical clothes and operated our own factories in Europe for 90 years Some of our garments take 8 hours to make by hand, a piece. Very few companies strive for the same quality; many of our garments are in use for decades, for the timelessness of the design and quality.

You’re one of many Scandinavian coat merchants. What sets you apart?
Most of our competitors are competing in categories that are very well defined and well known by the consumers. These are categories like outdoor clothing (The North Face, Arcteryx, Patagonia) and luxury outerwear (Moncler, Burberry). We, on the other hand, have the challenge of not belonging in a predefined category. Some say we are partly outdoor and partly premium fashion. We say we are Everyday premium technical wear. Carving a new path with this category is our challenge.

To read the full interview with 66North’s top boy, buy our magazine here. If you want to dress like 66North’s top boy and Skepta with some big, warm coats, visit their website and spend all your money: www.66north.com

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