How the Digital World Can Help us Preserve Cultural Craftsmanship!

Bunads, although more of a 20th-century invention, have been a Norwegian tradition for as long as most people can remember. While their true origins lay in the everyday clothing of rural people, the modern bunad has come to represent much more: the colorful variety of geographical regions found across the country, and a symbol of national pride that helps tie Norwegians together. But as the digital world grows and homogeneity threatens culture, how will the traditions surrounding bunad adapt? BUNAD Magasinet had the perfect solution.

The Bunad Story

While the modern bunad is synonymous with Norwegian culture and is, in fact, a Norwegian word, the origin of “bunad” has been around for centuries. Also existing in Iceland, Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands, Germany and the Czech Republic, the original Norse word “bunaðr” meant “equipment for the home” because it was just that - clothes to be worn around the house.

In 1814, the 400 year-long union between Norway and Denmark ended. Although still in a union with Sweden, Norway finally had its own constitution, and the Norwegian people were deeply motivated to revive their country’s unique identity and heritage.

On the spoken side of things, Ivar Aasen and Knud Knudsen began researching what would later become bokmål and nynorsk - Norway’s two written languages. Then on the clothing side, once the union with Sweden did end in 1905, interest in Norwegian folk costumes grew. Hulda Garborg is credited as the first person to use the word “bunad” as we know it today. And, because Hulda was involved with folk-dance groups around the country, she encouraged other folk dancers to use bunads and folk dresses from their home districts. Quickly swept up into popular Norwegian culture, today’s bunads generally span five distinct categories, including “unbroken traditional” bunads, reconstruction bunads based on traditional dress, and completely new bunads inspired by traditional dress.

Today’s bunads are still worn by both men and women. They are time-intensive, quality handmade garments of natural materials like wool, linen and silk. In other words, craftsmanship at its finest. Usually worn on national holidays, weddings, birthdays and confirmations, it is not uncommon to watch family bunads not only survive but be skillfully modified and adapted to each specific wearer throughout the decades. Which is why, if met with proper care and maintenance, you can expect a bunad to last for generations.

Preserving History

There has always been a dedicated group of craftspeople within the Norwegian population who believe there is so much more to bunad than meets the eye. And since 2004, their efforts to celebrate and preserve this piece of history have been supported by BUNAD Magasinet - the Nordic Region’s only magazine dedicated solely to national costumes and folk costumes. 

Launched in collaboration with members of the Norwegian Folk Costume Forum (NFF), the magazine’s goal was to shed light on all that goes into these iconic costumes via national research, reconstruction, and production processes. BUNAD’s work has been and continues to be heavily supported by its Founder, Editor-in-Chief and Art Director Heidi Fossnes, who has an incredible amount of experience in the field of national costumes, folk costumes, and book publishing.

Over the years, data continued to show that the bunad was still increasing in popularity among Norwegians. As a result, BUNAD felt driven to give this aspect of Norway’s living cultural heritage a stronger voice. So, in the spring of 2017, BUNAD formed their own publishing house: Smøyg Forlag. As a division of BUNAD Magasinet, the move offered additional resources to keep history alive through the publication of books on national costumes, folk costumes, traditional crafts, and cultural history.

After 17 years of printing and publishing, BUNAD had to reconsider how they wanted to continue. Could the magazine succeed online? Could they reduce their costs and carbon footprint by cutting down on printing and shipping? Would it be possible to preserve the history of bunad while adapting to the digital age? By 2021, such questions led BUNAD to an exciting new decision: to upgrade from a printed service to a 100% online service.

A Journey of Craftsmanship

Over nearly two decades, BUNAD Magasinet has undergone an incredible journey that took them from a leading print publisher, to a fully digital publisher. 

First, they accomplished publishing 44 beautifully crafted magazines. Then, joining forces with New Normal Group, Crystallize, and Snowball Digital, they worked hand in hand to shift the most traditional of media into an online space. Step one of this was digitalizing the entire print archive and launching the first online magazine. Step two was starting Smøyg, on a mission to print beautifully crafted books about bunad, folk costumes, and craftsmanship. Today, BUNAD Magasinet has successfully transitioned to being fully digital, and offers not only the entire archive of BUNAD work, stories, and history, but continues to support Smøyg as they publish and print beautiful books (fourteen books to date!).

Take the time to enter BUNAD’s website, and you will find countless stories about the craftsmen and craftswomen who dedicate hundreds of hours to the delicate work of bunad creation: assembling unique jewelry pieces, braiding beautiful ribbons, and resurrecting old embroidery patterns. As both an encyclopedia and storybook, here is where factual history meets the wisdom, craftsmanship, and storytelling of those before us. A place that can take a product like bunad and help it live well into the future. 

And this is why the digital world is so essential to traditional craftsmanship: it turns the exclusively physical into a widely sharable digital product to be celebrated and loved across the world. By building new digital spaces for traditional products, it becomes easy to share and grow across demographics. It preserves every detail of that product’s journey, preparing it for the digital generations to come. When we accept that the strength of today’s products lie in the power of shares, likes, frictionless checkouts, fast websites, and easily readable yet beautiful crafted and relatable content, it becomes normal to welcome a world of culturally-preserving digital publications and experiences.