How three guys from Iceland with zero fashion experience started Inklaw, a unisex sportswear label that now has the support of a major-league investor, sounds like a wind-up if ever there was one.
But it gets better. Unsure of what he wanted to do with his life, Gudjon Geirsson borrowed his grandmother’s sewing machine, spent six months glued to YouTube tutorials learning how to sew and in time launched Inklaw. Now with an indeterminate amount of financial support and guidance from tech investor and entrepreneur Oliver Luckett, the 21-year-old Geirsson will no longer be sewing every garment himself.
In New York for the first time with his childhood friends and cofounders Robert Elmarsson and Anton Sigfússon, the three men were still recovering from their first SoulCycle class during an interview. Through Monday they will be making and selling clothes in a pop-up space at People’s Revolution. Rappers Marty Ballerr and A$AP Ferg buzzed by recently to pick up some new clothes. Reeling in musicians and other influencers has been a calling card for Inklaw, a social media and Internet-driven brand.
Geirsson’s sewing has improved substantially. A T-shirt takes 10 minutes to make compared to four hours in the early days. Laughing at the unlikelihood of it all, he said. “I quit school and everything just to watch YouTube, sew and find fabric. Once I was better, I went to this sewing school and they promoted me to the graduation year on my first day. But then I quit. I wanted to learn by myself.”
After people started asking about the bomber jackets, distressed jeans and other styles he was wearing, Geirsson and Elmarsson decided to try to get sales going, so they set up an Inklaw e-commerce site. The brand got a jolt after Manchester City’s Raheem Sterling Instagrammed a photo of himself wearing his Inklaw find. Before too long Liverpool’s Raul Meireles, Bayern Munich’s Robert Lewandowski and Real Madrid’s Isco somehow found the brand. Geirsson said, “We’re all big soccer fans. We were like, ‘What is happening?’”
Similar disbelief may have washed over Geirsson and Elmarsson when they casually met Oliver Luckett at a show of the work of Heather Shaw of Vita Modus in Reykjavik. Luckett, who relocated to Iceland after 17 years in Hollywood at the end of last year, organized the art project through his nonprofit The Best Peace Solution. Chatting about art, they had no idea Luckett, cofounded theAudience (the creative force behind last year’s #MyCalvins campaign) as well as DigiSynd, which he sold to Disney in 2008. When Luckett’s boyfriend Scott Guinn complimented Geirsson’s spray-painted jacket, the designer gave it to him. “So that was a good move,” Luckett said with a laugh.
After learning more about Inklaw, his confidence in their digital-mindedness made him invest. Fifty percent of the brand’s sales stem from the U.S., about 20 percent are from Iceland, with the remainder from Europe and more far-flung locales as Suriname and Bahrain, Luckett said, “They have done it themselves from a remote place, were a profitable little company and they used all of the tools that I teach people about. I really see this as a sustainable business,” he said.
Like Inklaw, Luckett’s business is rooted in Iceland. Aside from naming his foundation after influential former Reykjavik Mayor Jon Gnarr (the first to build a political party via Facebook), Luckett hired Gnarr’s former campaign manager Heida Kristín Helgadóttir to serve as chief executive officer of his own accelerator company, Efni Media, which lists Inklaw among its startups. With his pal Björk and the author Andri Magnason, Luckett is knee-deep in Hálendi, a project designed to protect Iceland’s glaciers by establishing a national park and will announce sponsors on Monday.
Iceland’s sustainability, nature, culture and humanism are rooted in Inklaw’s branding. Its new advertising was shot near their homeland’s Bruarfoss waterfall (albeit a frozen one) by the photographer behind the Made by Iceland site. As island dwellers, Inklaw’s founders are mindful of shipping costs and environmental waste so they offer free shipping for orders of $150 or more. Recently, they started sending each customer handwritten notes thanking them for their support and encouraging them to post on Instagram. First-year retail sales should hit $300,000, with prices of $19 for long-sleeved T-shirts, $200 bomber jackets and a $490 painted parka.
Luckett said, “I’m interested in the idea that you can be anywhere in the world, and influence the world through all of these tools and technologies, by making good stuff and to make it sustainable.” So much so that he is penning his first book, “The Social Organism,” about how all of these ideas exhibit themselves as a biological system inside social media, with former Wall Street Journal columnist Michael Casey, who is now specializing in cryptocurrency at MIT’s Media Lab. Hachette will publish it in November.
Luckett is all about Iceland and, subsequently, Inklaw, what with the country’s unemployment rate of less than 2 percent, the highest density of social media in the Western world at 94 percent and two million visitors expected this year. “It’s very powerful to have people, who have influence, inside of these social systems making stuff like Inklaw discoverable. Because it’s not marketing, it’s discovery, right?” Luckett said. “These guys were already making good content and Iceland itself as a brand is inherent in them. Iceland went through a bankruptcy, it’s 100 percent clean energy, 100 percent built around nature, so they have all those values in their business, which is important.”