Sylvsmidja charmed by Seattle
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Business & Sports Editor
The Norwegian American
Third time was the charm. Representatives from Sylvsmidja, the premier makers of bunad silver located in Voss, Norway, had attempted to visit Seattle twice before. Almost two years ago, they visited the Midwest, primarily Minneapolis, where they’ve set up headquarters for entry into the U.S. market.
They were charmed in and by Seattle, March 15-21, thanks to the Seattle-Bergen Sister City Association (SBSCA), whose president is The Norwegian American Editor-in-chief Lori Ann Reinhall. The association covers all of Hordaland County, which includes Voss and Bergen.
“We met so many nice people everywhere,” said co-owner Anne Kari Salbu. “We met so much positivity. We have never had a luxury to be treated by an organization like the Seattle Bergen Association. To be driven around, being collected at the airport—we felt so blessed in Seattle.”
Generally, their goals with the trip were the same.
“Our goal was to continue the process to gain market insight and also to build a network, get connections, and business affiliates that we can cooperate with,” said CEO Trond Syversen. “I would say that has been a really successful part of what we’ve done in Seattle. We started the same process one and a half years ago in the Midwest. This was a continuation, which we were supposed to do more than a year ago.”
One of the fascinating discoveries was a generational and cultural difference between the Seattle and Midwest areas in relation to Norwegian national and regional attire and culture in general.
“We met some people who moved to the Seattle area recently,” said Syversen. “There were probably more people speaking Norwegian in the Seattle area than in the Midwest. I have the feeling that the interest to buy bunad silver was higher in the Seattle area than in the Midwest.”
Offered Reinhall: “The communities in the Midwest are further removed from Norway, like second, third, fourth generation, and we have more first-generation Norwegian Americans in Seattle. I can’t put numbers on it, but we think that we have a higher percentage of people who own bunads here in the Seattle area, because they are first-generation Norwegian Americans. They came and became very successful fishermen and businesspeople. They go back to Norway a lot, and they wear their bunads on the 17th of May.”
Sales venues were established at: the National Nordic Museum (NNM), where they also had a tour of the museum with director of development Erik Pihl; Scandinavian Specialties, where they had lunch with owner Bjørn Ruud; Nordiska shop in Poulsbo, coordinated by owner Kristin Klassert; and a successful pitch at the Swedish Club SBSCA event.
At many of the events, a big hit was goldsmith Anders Fagerthun’s sølje evaluations and advice on how to care for silver jewelry.
And then there were dinners out with the SBSCA and at the home of Kristine Leander, president of Leif Erikson International Foundation following the opening of the “FLÓÐ” exhibit by Icelandic rock music legend Jónsi at the NNM; breakfast with Honorary Norwegian Consul Viggo Forde and Deane Motis, president of the Norwegian American Chamber of Commerce; sightseeing; and finally, an event at Scandinavian Cultural Center at Pacific Lutheran University (PLU) in Tacoma.
“We were very well received by the management and staff at the National Nordic Museum,” said Syversen. “It is a fantastically beautiful museum. We felt very privileged to be invited to the opening of the Jónsi exhibition. That was really nice and fantastic.”
At PLU, “there were a lot of bunads,” said Salbu. “They were so professional and had everything lined up so nicely. We would love to come back there as well. We were so well received. They were so interested in everything. They know a lot about bunads, maybe a lot more than we do. They had a lot of interesting thoughts on how to develop a cooperation, showing off bunads together with the silver jewelry later on.”
They also visited Vesterheim Museum in Decorah, Iowa, which carries the silver, and Minneapolis, where they had an event at Ingebretsen’s Nordic Marketplace and met with students at Augsburg University, who did market research for them.
“The analysis tells us very clearly that it’s important to have customer support in the United States to succeed,” said Syversen. “Since we also have the ambition to establish an online store in the United States in the fall of 2023, this is a key factor.”
To this end, they also talked with goldsmiths they could potentially work with. Among the challenges is that the bunad is not pan-Nordic; they are almost exclusively Norwegian. Swedes have folk costumes but not to the extent of Norway, and the Danes hardly wear them at all.
Efforts are being made to create silver pieces that complement other clothing. Education and history about the silver must be learned and appreciated.
“The silver can be older than the bunad,” said Salbu. “It can be 500 years old, and the bunad is from the 1800s.”
“Our experience so far is that earrings and rings are easier to sell,” said Sylvsmidja goldsmith Anders Fagerthun. “We started developing new broaches and that has been quite successful. As Trond said, when they can use it for dual purposes as a pendant, then it will sell more. Some of the younger people get the silver from their parents and grandparents and then they want to know the history. I think the interest is from both the old people and the young.”
An American online store is essential. Sylvsmidja can make silver specific to a district-specific bunad. A customer can go to the website and select their district, but Norwegian-American customers can’t necessarily do that.
“In Seattle, people were aware of their district, but in Minnesota, nobody was aware of their relevant district, so you need to start from the beginning,” said Salbu.
“In the Minneapolis area, we are working on the products where you don’t need a bunad, telling the people that they don’t need a bunad to wear our products. That’s what we’ve learned. We have received a lot of feedback about our new products developed to be dual-purpose since we came there, so that you can use something as a pendant and as a hair pin (or clip).
“To be more flexible is knowledge we have experienced in the United States.”
Learn more at sylvsmidja.no/en.
This article originally appeared in the May 2023 issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.