The season of the bunad
For Aina Fjellanger of MollyMe clothing company, springtime ushers in the busiest season of the year
“The best part is when they try on the bunad for the first time, when I have just finished it,” says Aina Fjellanger. “Most people look great in their bunad, because it is measured and fitted just for them, and to see how beautiful and happy they look – wonderful!”
The season of Syttende Mai is both Fjellanger’s busiest and most rewarding. It is when she delivers bunads she has made herself to her customers to wear on the holiday.
“I have been working 24/7 for two months now!” says Fjellanger.
For many young people, this will be their first bunad; a very important coming-of-age symbol that goes along with their springtime (or autumn) confirmations.
It’s also, of course, a symbol of national pride to wear one on the 17th of May.
A little background information, for those who may not know: “bunad” is an umbrella term that encompasses all sorts of national folk dress costumes, from all different regions of Norway. The popularity and cultural importance of the bunad in Norway today is tied to the 19th century national romanticism movement, which spread not only throughout Norway but also in other parts of Europe, including Germany and Denmark.
However, Norway has held on to the tradition as a mark of national pride, and bunads are still today increasing in popular use. They are considered an acceptable alternative to formal wear – notably even at solemn royal events – but are more often worn for festive occasions, such as weddings, anniveresaries, confirmations, and holidays, the 17th of May in particular.
The creation and production of bunads in Norway is closely monitored; there are strict rules for patterns, and it is a hotly debated topic as to whether it is acceptable to deviate from these traditional standards. There is even a group, known as the “bunad police” in some circles, who keep a sharp eye for any violation of bunad-rules!
Aina Holsen Fjellanger, however, is familiar with the ins and outs of this complicated trade: she started on her bunad-making journey 12 years ago, when she got a job as a manager for a bunads shop, Husfliden, one of Norway’s largest and most respected bunad manufacturing company.
In April 2008, she started her clothing company, MollyMe in Lindås, Hordaland, Norway, and acts as the owner and manager of the store. She has two employees, one who helps take care of the shop, and one who helps make bunads. MollyMe sells women’s fashion, bunads, and yarn, as well as other locally produced products.
This wasn’t, at first, the business Fjellanger thought she would pursue.
When she started at Husfliden, “I could not sew much, but was very interested and curious about making bunads,” she says.
In fact, she’d been hired to do marketing for the company, a field in which she had some previous experience.
She worked for the husfliden for seven years, and came away from the position with much more than marketing experience.
“During the years I spent there, it turned into quite a great business, and I learned a lot from the women working there. After a couple of years I made my own bunad, and I also made one for each of my kids – one boy and one girl,” Fjellanger says.
Now, with MollyMe, Fjellanger makes over 30 bunads per year. She also does repairs. And of course: “Some bunads ‘shrink’ in the closet, and I have to make them bigger…” she says.
Fjellanger specializes in bunads from Northern Hordaland, Sogn og Fjordane and Hardanger for women, and the Nordhordaland bunad for men. It takes about three months to make a bunad, she explains.
“I also have several ‘home workers,’ making the difficult and time-demanding pieces of the bunad, like the chest cloth and the embroidery on the shirt.”
Her 17-year-old daughter and her mother-in-law also help out occasionally, making the work a family effort (her sister’s knit line, LiseKdesign, is also sold in the shop).
Even though bunad making can be time-consuming and demanding, for Fjellanger, the work is a joy.
“I foresee doing this for the rest of my life,” she says. “It is so rewarding having your hobby as a job. The days spent on work goes too fast, and I really enjoy sewing!”
Fjellanger has big plans for the future of her business, including a desire to take her business overseas to service the Norwegian-American population.
“My dream is to help people in the States if they want a bunad,” she says. “Or to fix an old bunad that does not fit anymore.”
This article originally appeared in the May 10, 2013 issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (800) 305-0271.