Icelandic designer and entrepreneur Jón Bjarni Baldursson created his line of twelve original bindrune symbols in response to the deep personal connection he feels to Nordic cultural history. The ancient Norse believed that a bindrune could intensify the meaning of a personal message and invoke its power in their lives. We spent 5 minutes with Jón to get a glimpse inside his world.
How did Alrún Nordic Jewelry begin?
The idea for Alrún Nordic Jewelry came to me while I was travelling in Egypt many years ago. The personalised nature of Egyptian cartouches made me think about my own Nordic culture and the way that Norse bindrunes were thought to intensify the meaning of a personal message, invoking a symbolic power. I think runes are inherently mysterious and carry a hint of dark magic, and I wanted to add a personal touch to that mystique – to reach customers on an emotional level. Alrún reworks the traditional art form of binding runes, making it relevant to modern buyers. At our foundation is a desire to bring positivity and uplifting power into our customer’s lives.
My career began in management and finance. From there I moved into international business and studied abroad in Canada, where I took the first steps to make Alrún a reality. I met my wife Melanie at university in Canada, and she has worked on Alrún alongside me ever since. I now think of myself as a Runesmith and an entrepreneur. Alrún challenges me everyday, and I love the variety of projects I deal with on a regular basis. My jewelry is currently carried by retailers in nine countries, and the great response we are seeing is so rewarding.
Have you always been interested in fashion?
Actually no, since my background is in international business. But once I began developing Alrún seriously, I started to meet other people within the industry and I was able to gain inspiration from and knowledge of fashion through the design communities in Reykjavík and abroad. Iceland has an incredibly vibrant creative culture, with many successful artists working in all disciplines. I am very grateful to have a strong understanding of business, which has proved an invaluable asset in my creative pursuits.
What have been the highest and lowest points on your journey so far?
The high points would have to include the day I received the prototypes of my first symbols, and the first showcase I attended in Canada early on in Alrún’s development. It was the first time I had presented my products in a large, international festival. From then on there was no turning back – I realised that my pieces spoke to people of diverse backgrounds, and that the idea had endless potential.
Another high point was being contacted by Harper’s Bazaar while on summer vacation in the far northwest of Iceland – it came out of the blue and was an exciting moment for a small brand like ours. It has also been fantastic to have my jewelry in Wolf & Badger – the exposure has been priceless.
A low point would have been during Iceland’s financial crisis, when my wife went to work abroad for six months, and that was hard for us. Although the separation was a challenge, we managed to build our business even then by making tough, but right, decisions.
What was the inspiration behind your latest collection?
We are debuting a new collection of tiny stud earrings that we think are really charming. Our inspiration is rooted in Nordic cultural heritage – the mystery and magic that bindrunes so compellingly express.
Do you ever struggle to stay inspired?
Alrún has been in constant growth since its inception. The period of time when I was designing my symbols was one of the most exciting times of my career, and so the challenge now is to not become complacent with the current level of success. For me, it’s all about finding new ways to expand the growth of my company and develop the great ideas that we have. My original source of inspiration is always there, and is the cornerstone of all our products.
Where is your go-to meeting spot?
We love to meet up with friends and business partners at Slippbarinn in the Reykjavík Marina Hotel. It’s full of quirky Icelandic design and is a cozy spot where we can delve into creative discussion. They serve great cocktails too!
How would you describe your customer base?
Our customer base is diverse, to say the least, and we’re proud of Alrún’s inclusivity. We’ve sold pendants to 90 year-old twins! Our core clients are people who are looking for high-quality pieces that endure beyond seasonal trends – jewelry that conveys a personal message and can be worn for daily inspiration.
Is there anyone you would love to see wearing your designs?
I would really love to see the Icelandic men’s soccer team wearing my pendants – their performance in the European Championships was amazing. Maybe also Liam Neeson, and Sia – they’re favourites of ours.
In reality though, it is the best feeling to meet a regular person around town wearing something by Alrún. I love to hear people’s stories about why they chose the symbols they did, and what makes my jewelry meaningful to them.
What are the morals you run your brand by?
It is crucial to me to follow through on my promises and to provide the exceptional service that my customers expect. Alrún is founded on principles of integrity and honesty, both in terms of design and in how we run our business. My designs are deeply thoughtful, and the connection we forge with our customers will always be of utmost importance.
Do you have a mentor?
I don’t have a single mentor per se, but I really value my relationship with a close group of Icelandic designers and entrepreneurs who have given me, through their experience and expertise, a lot of guidance over the years.
What apps keep you sane?
I am a ridiculously technophobic person. I rely on my wife a great deal.
If you could only wear one piece from your collection, what would it be and why?
It would have to be my silver Strength bindrune. It is a constant reminder to persevere.
What’s the biggest style mistake you’ve ever made?
There are too many to count, but a pair of enormous tortoise-shell rimmed glasses I wore in the 80’s were pretty mortifying.
Is there another designer whose work you particularly admire?
I admire the abstract work of an Icelandic sculptor named Hallstein Sigurðsson, particularly his series of huge, aluminum sculptures that sit atop a hill in Reykjavík. I enjoy the way the metal angles reflect light and create visual textures, and I see a similar aesthetic in my symbols.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
The best piece of advice I was ever given was quite simply to ignore what anyone else thought about my designs. It is essential to work with conviction, and it was really important for me to commit to my unusual concept and not compare my brand with anyone else’s.
What drew you to Wolf & Badger?
Wolf & Badger has offered Alrún a much wider exposure than we have previously achieved. I liked the variety of unique brands in-store, and felt that the shops were perfectly situated to introduce our jewelry to a new design-savvy demographic.
Where do you see the brand in 5 years?
In five years we will have expanded into textiles and designer products for the home. Our aim is to diversify our product range and build upon the success we are enjoying today.