For Hovden, history and value are key
Emily C. Skaftun
The Norwegian American
It’s no secret that The Norwegian American and Hovden Formal Farm Wear have a close relationship. We’ve been covering the return of the busserull since the company’s fist Kickstarter campaign in 2014, and the company has helped us out with offerings for our Indiegogo campaigns. You may even recognize Hovden’s founder, Ingvill Montgomery, if you look at the video we made for our second fundraising campaign in 2017.
So it was a natural fit to check back in with Montgomery about the progress Hovden has made in the last few years and what the future holds.
Emily C. Skaftun: What’s the idea behind Hovden? Why the busserull?
Ingvill Montgomery: I was home in Norway for Christmas in 2013 and my dad, who has been a farmer his whole life, had gotten a job with the local government. He had to upgrade his wardrobe a little, but he was not comfortable wearing a shirt and a tie. He wanted a busserull shirt, but they were not being made anymore, so he had one custom made. When I saw him trying it on I couldn’t believe that these beautiful, historic shirts weren’t being made anymore. So I decided to give it a go and see if other people would like the shirts and the story as much as I did. Five years and many busserull shirts later I know the answer. The busserull shirt is here to stay this time.
ECS: Your product line has been expanding rapidly. How do you choose what new offerings to produce?
IM: Compared to fast fashion companies, Hovden’s product line changes very slowly. But, yes, I do like to add a few new fabrics and non-shirt items each year. That’s how I keep it fun and interesting for myself and my customers.
There is no real science behind it. It’s more about what the customers seem to like and also what I like.
My favorite place to find inspiration is in old photos of workers from 100-200 years ago. It is so special to look at these photos and imagine how they lived back then and how their clothes were made, worn, and taken care of. Also, being able to use these photos in Hovden’s marketing, rather than fancy fashion photos, gives me a lot of joy. I have a history degree and was never interested in fashion, so maybe that is why.
ECS: Have you made any that flopped?
IM: Ha, very good question. I have slow movers, but it doesn’t mean it has flopped. It just means that the right person hasn’t seen it yet. Our leather aprons, for example, are slow movers. They are beautiful and people love them, but not everyone needs a leather apron. I still love making these unique things, though.
ECS: Your products are… not cheap. Given the busserull’s simplicity, how do you explain the high price tags on these?
IM: I could talk a lot about this subject. But to keep it kind of short… I keep production in the United States and Europe, and I pay the sewers fairly. If I moved production to Asia, the cost would go down a lot, but I prefer to keep production as local as I can. That is how the shirts were originally sewn—locally. I also buy high-quality fabrics. Linen, wool, organic cotton, and hemp. I don’t want the shirts to fail because of cheap fabric, so that is another area where I’m not willing to cut corners.
However, in my opinion, it’s not the Hovden clothes that are expensive. It’s fast fashion clothes that are cheap—so cheap that most of us have too much of it. Clothes have turned into a fast-moving commodity. To respect the earth and the work that goes into a piece of clothing, we should treasure it more, wear it more, and take better care of it. If clothing were priced according to its actual value, people would treat it accordingly. I hope that because Hovden items are of high quality, sustainably and locally made, and because someone consciously invested in a piece rather than mindlessly buying it, they will treasure it and take better care of it and it will have a longer life in their closet. And when you wear a piece of clothing for 20 years rather than three, and you do the math, the cost per year or per wear is lower than with fast fashion pieces. However, I do understand that it is a lot of money for people to spend, and I do appreciate it when people spend their hard-earned money on a Hovden shirt.
ECS: What’s so wonderful about small businesses is the connections that they can make with customers and other community members. What are some of your favorite stories?
IM: I love going to Scan Fair and the Midsummer Festival here in Portland. That is when I get to connect with people face to face. And I love seeing their faces light up when they touch the fabrics and see how good they look wearing the shirt. And I love meeting the same people every year as well as new people.
I have met most of the makers that I work with at festivals. Augusta makes the bracelets, Luke makes the leather items, Kari weaves the kitchen towels, Diane weaves the rag-rugs. And Jeff is working on some wood toys that I can’t wait to show you all. They are all makers I met at Scan Fair, and I’m so honored that they want to work with Hovden. I couldn’t do this without their expertise.
ECS: What’s next for Hovden Formal Farm Wear?
IM: I’m working on a bunad shirt. That is something people keep requesting, so I’m hoping to develop a shirt that will work with many different bunad styles. The pattern for the busserull and the bunad skjorte is actually the same; it just needs to be tweaked slightly. There are no buttons, for example. The prototype is being developed now, so I hope I will have some ready in the spring, in time for Syttende Mai.
This article originally appeared in the October 19, 2018, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.