Greinasafni: Icelandic Times
Álafoss: Conserving the Wool Tradition
Every Icelander knows the name Álafoss and connects it immediately with wool. It could be said that the Icelandic wool industry was born in Kvosin in Mosfellsbær when Álafoss was established at the end of the 19th century.

Named after a waterfall in the river Varmá, Álafoss is now a spacious store that concentrates on products made from Icelandic sheep wool while preserving the traditions related to Icelandic wool. If you seek to buy an authentic hand-knitted Icelandic wool sweater and want to be sure to get the best quality for a reasonable price, a visit to this special area in Mosfellsbær, right outside Reykjavik, is worth the visit.

When Álafoss was founded in 1896, it was the true beginning of Iceland’s wool industry. A visionary farmer, named Björn Þorláksson, who imported machinery for processing wool, built a factory a short distance below the waterfall Álafoss in the Varmá River. Throughout the 20th century, Álafoss played a major role in establishing Mosfellsbær as a town as well as its growth. Álafoss helped change the surrounding community of scattered farmsteads into the beautiful town of Mosfellsbær.

Today, in the era of global mobility of the production side of goods like woollens, Álafoss, as a wool-handling factory is history, but in the original factory house by the waterfall, you will find a store that treats this traditional material of Iceland with due respect. Here you can find almost any wool product you can think of as well as experience this important side of Iceland’s industrial history in the form of the factory building and its machinery.

The Álafoss wool store offers all sorts of wool products, ranging from traditional wool sweaters, whole sheepskins, wool caps and mittens to high-end wool designs. These warm sweaters are close to being the national uniform of Iceland. You can often spot Icelanders in other countries, wearing their Icelandic wool sweater proudly. According to Guðmundur Jónsson, owner of Álafoss, this Icelandic trademark is well known to other North Europeans but often comes as great surprise to those coming from further away. “Nowadays we also have wool vests with Icelandic patterns, which have gained in popularity with visitors, especially with the women of Japan. The Álafoss store offers its visitors handmade sweaters from hard-working knitters from all over the country and is probably one of the most popular products in the store.

“Although tradition is important, one cannot forget that people are also making something new and creative out of the Icelandic wool today. We are selling products from AS design, which have been quite popular. You can only buy those products in two places, here and at the Blue Lagoon, and the better price is here, of course,” says Guðmundur. Among the products of AS design are coats, sweaters, hats and shawls.

“As we are located on the outskirts of the Reykjavik area, our prices are much more reasonable and the variety wider than you would find in a store in downtown Reykjavik,” says Guðmundur. Kvosin in Mosfellsbær, where the Álafoss store is situated, is north of Reykjavik, which makes it an ideal stop on your way to and from the North, or even when you are visiting Þingvellir, the old parliamentary site of Iceland, as one needs to go through Mosfellsbær on the way to Þingvellir.

The Icelandic wool is somewhat different from the wool of foreign sheep. It has two distinct fibres, each with its own special properties. The inner fibre is fine, soft and highly insulating while the outer fibres are long, glossy and water repellent. Therefore products made of Icelandic wool are light in weight, water repellent and breathable, which means that they provide the perfect protection from the Icelandic elements. The wool has without a doubt been crucial to the survival of the Icelandic nation over centuries of trying weather and primitive circumstances. Although perhaps such durable material might not offer the most sensitive texture you could find and for some can be a bit coarse and itchy, this appears to only add to the romance connected with wearing the traditional Icelandic wool sweater.

The Álafoss store puts great emphasis on preserving its history. Whilst visiting the store, you will see the old machinery and equipment used in making clothes for the nation over the last hundred years. There are also many old photographs showing the life of the factory over the decades. A visit will give you the chance to see a unique society in Iceland as Kvosin is a creative environment where various artists and creative people live together. For example, the world-famous band Sigurrós has its studio here in the old swimming pool that used to belong to Álafoss. You will also find Palli the knife maker there, a local legend who designs and makes his knives right next to the Álafoss factory outlet and Ásgarður, a workshop where disabled people make some extraordinary toys, furniture and other wood crafts.

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