Usee Studio is a small design studio based in the center of Reykjavík. In its essence, it is a light-hearted, positive initiative between the two friends: Halla Hákonardóttir and Helga Björg Kjerúlf. Sustainability and eco-friendliness are at the core of everything they do, as is the case for plenty of fashion brands coming out of Iceland, and their creative endeavor grew from that common interest.
“It all started when both of us moved back home to Iceland after living abroad while studying. We come from different backgrounds in arts and design. Kjerúlf has a background in graphics, architecture, and music, and I have a master’s degree in fashion design,” Hákonardóttir explains. They had been friends for years and studied at the same time at the Iceland University of Arts.
Their collaboration sparked from this friendship: “Both of us needed a roommate, so we moved in together. In the beginning, the studio was in our living room and while we lived together we were always at work. It was a crazy experience, one of the best periods of my life,” Kjerúlf says.
“For two whole years, we were together in the studio all the time. A lot happened in the apartment – we had three cats and one child! We’re very different: I’m a morning person while Helga is a night owl. There were so many mornings when I woke up early to work while Helga was still sleeping and vice versa.”
This was the place that birthed Usee, as a close quarters and shift-like approach to work has created an inherent trust between the two friends. Now, the brand is a natural expression of this relationship.
“Both of us had ideas about sustainable fashion from the get-go. I had been reading about pattern cutting, pattern construction, and how those things feed into zero-waste design. We had so many ideas about how to widen our scope – going into companies and getting residuals from them, for example,” Hákonardóttir says.
“We knew straight away that we were not going to buy new materials, we only want to use waste.”
They give a lot of thought to the materials they decide to use. Mostly, it comes from dead-stock from Athens, the home of a design studio they collaborated with for a project on zero waste. “We accidentally found these stocks of textiles and fabrics [when working on this project],” Hákonardóttir explains. “Immediately our imaginations fired up and we got a lot of ideas.
“The brand’s aesthetic is very much based on the materials available to us. We search through these stocks in Athens until we find materials that have colors or textures that inspire us.”
It’s this concept that moves Usee beyond what other brands call sustainability – merely moving from unsustainable fabrics into organic ones or moving the production to Europe. “We knew that the shift wasn’t big enough. More radical methods are needed to overcome the problems in the clothing and textile industry,” Hákonardóttir says.
“We try to raise awareness about this with all the projects we do. We regularly organize events, we made a music video in collaboration with Special-K (formerly Katrín Helga Andrésdóttir), and we write articles about it on our website,” Kjerúlf adds.
It’s in these moments that the brand’s irrelevant nature is fully expressed. “We like to have a little fun. We both have a comic side and we’re not very serious people, so it’s great to get an outlet for that side of our temperament as well,” Kjerúlf explains.
Usee’s clothing, jewelry, and homeware pieces are all minimal in style and made to last. The durability of what they produce is vital:
“We think about how we can make a piece as timeless as possible so that you don’t slowly start to hate it. We want you to own the garment for years,” Hákonardóttir says. “We don’t want you to be constantly buying things from us. Once, of course, that would be great,” she adds.
With such an idiosyncratic brand it’s easy to keep coming back for more – albeit slowly, over many years to come. That is the nature of Usee after all.
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