Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Iceland, home to world’s best duvets



Iceland, home to world’s best duvets

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Owner and manager of King Eider, Erla Fridriksdottir (left), fills a duvet with eiderdown catering to those looking for exclusive products. AFP

Iceland, home to world’s best duvets

On a remote island in Breidafjordur Bay off the west coast of Iceland, a thousand-year-old harvest takes place – the hunt for elusive eiderdown, used to make some of the world’s best duvets and quilts.

The handpicked down sells for thousands of dollars per kilogramme, catering to those looking for exclusive products.

Every summer, nearly 400 Icelandic farmers comb through hollow surfaces in the rock, on the sand or in the tall grass to unearth a few handfuls of the grey feathers of this polar duck.

From May onwards, the eider comes to nest in sparsely populated marine landscapes around much of Iceland’s coast where there is seaweed to feed its ducklings.

“When there are eggs, we only take a part of the down. And when the eider has already left the nest, we take everything,” Erla Fridriksdottir, head of King Eider, one of the country’s main exporters, said.

The eider, a sea duck from the subarctic oceans, leaves a trail behind consisting of a natural treasure: one of the warmest natural fibres on the planet, both light and highly insulating.

The female, with her dark brown plumage with black stripes – similar to that of a mallard but slightly larger – releases the down from her breast and lines her nest with it to insulate it during incubation.

Meticulous cleaning

About 60 nests are needed to produce 1kg of down – a quilt needs between 600g and 1,600g, depending on the quality chosen.

Worldwide, the annual harvest of eiderdown is no more than four tonnes, three quarters of which comes from Iceland, by far the world’s largest producer, ahead of Canada and other countries bordering the Arctic.

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
11-year-old Bryndis Jonsdottir, Erla Fridriksdottir’s niece, removes an eggshell before harvesting eiderdown from an eider nest. AFP

There are five Icelandic companies exporting eiderdown, according to the Eider Farming Association, but around 15 companies in total involved in some capacity in its production.

On the island of Bjarneyjar, the tradition of searching for abandoned nests has been passed down for generations.

The local practice is said to have started in Iceland as Vikings from Norway settled on the island at the end of the 9th century.

Since 1847, the eider has been fully protected in Iceland, as hunting and picking its eggs are prohibited.

But it still faces dangers, as predators such as seagulls, crows, eagles, minks and foxes eat the sea ducks or their eggs.

“We feel that the ducks like to have their nests close to us, where we are staying,” said Erla’s brother Jon Fridriksson, adding that it could be a strategy to keep predators at bay.

Once harvested, the down is dried in the open air so it doesn’t mould.

Then Fridriksdottir’s employees begin the first stage of sterilising and cleaning the down in a huge oven at a temperature of 120 degrees Celsius for eight hours.

“When the down comes in here, it’s mostly going to be full of grass, eggshells and all kinds of things from the ocean . . . and we put it in the oven to kill off any organism and it [the high temperature] also makes the grass brittle,” Pall Jonsson, in charge of the machines at the workshop in the nearby town of Stykkisholmur, said.

In a second step, rotating machines remove other dirt from the down by pressing it against a thin wire mesh.

As a last touch, expert hands – which no technology has been able to replace for this process so far – do another thorough cleaning.

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
An eider female sits on a nest in between rocks on the Bjarneyjar island, Breidafjordur Bay, Iceland. AFP

Even for the most experienced, it takes four to five hours to clean out a kilogramme of down by hand.

Finally, the down feathers are washed with water and disinfected, again by hand, before being wrung out and dried.

$5,000 blankets

While world famous, eiderdown production is a drop in the bucket of the world’s total down production, estimated at 175,000 tonnes per year, according to the International Down and Feather Bureau.

According to Icelandic law, eiderdown must pass strict quality controls before being sold, ensuring cleanliness, smell, colour and consistency.

“You have to be able to pick up a 40-50g package between two fingers and if it remains intact and does not fall out, then the down is of good quality,” Asgeir Jonsson, one of the inspectors, explains.

In addition to its rarity, the production of eiderdown – from its manual collection to its rigorous cleaning – helps explain its high price.

A simple duvet containing 800g of feathers is sold for about 640,000 Icelandic kronur ($5,116).

The customers “are often nature lovers and people who care about the environment,” Fridriksdottir said.

“It is the only one that is harvested, the other down is often a by-product of the food industry” added Fridriksdottir, whose small business mostly ships to Germany and Japan.

MOST VIEWED

  • WHO: Covid in Cambodia goes into new phase

    The World Health Organisation (WHO) in Cambodia said that Cambodia has reached a new phase of the pandemic with “decreasing case numbers, high vaccination coverage and a more transmissible circulating variant threatening a hidden surge”. In a press release on September 6, the WHO said that

  • Purging Sihanoukville’s past with a new masterplan

    Amid illicit activities, haphazard development and abandoned projects, the coastal city of Sihanouk province needs a reset to move forward. A new masterplan might be the answer to shake off its seemingly mucky image to become the Shenzhen of the south Gun toting, shootouts, police

  • 'Pursue your goals, reach out to me': Young diplomat tapped as envoy to South Korea

    Chring Botum Rangsay was a secretary of state at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation before being designated as the new Cambodian ambassador to South Korea. According to her official CV published on the foreign ministry’s website, she started her first government

  • International air visitor arrivals dip 93%

    The number of foreign tourists entering Cambodia through the Kingdom’s three international airports witnessed a sharp 92.5 per cent year-on-year decline in the first seven months of this year, according to the Ministry of Tourism. The airports handled 51,729 international tourists in the January-July period versus

  • School reopening ‘offers model for other sectors’

    World Health Organisation (WHO) representative to Cambodia Li Ailan said school reopening process should be used as a role model for reopening other sectors currently mothballed by the Covid-19 pandemic. Li strongly supports the government’s decision to reopen schools, saying it is a decision

  • Tourism concerns laid bare

    To ensure the success of plans to reopen the tourism market for international visitors, Cambodia must pay utmost attention to two primary determinants – the ongoing paradigm shift in domestic tourism services towards the ‘new normal’, and the factors influencing choices of destinations among foreign holidaymakers.