Sourcing Qiviut Locally and Ethically
Nunavut Qiviut fibre from muskox, Arctic fox, Arctic hare and other Arctic fibre sources come from the Kugluktuk area. Some fibre originates from the remaining area of the Kitikmeot Regional and other parts of Nunavut where there are lower populations of muskox. Nunavut Qiviut works directly with local hunters who engage in hard work to secure and share protein for Elders, families, and people unable to hunt for themselves. Nunavut Qiviut buys the animal skins from hunters according to government regulations. All hunters are consistently and fairly compensated for their extra muskox hides that they choose not keep for traditional purposes, like winter sleeping mats. The revenue from hide sales helps them pay for the cost of securing food for the community. Nunavut Qiviut activities support food security, a wage economy, cultural continuity, and traditional Inuit lifestyles in an ethical manner.
Because remote Arctic communities are air-access only, the cost of food in local stores is very expensive. The cold Arctic climate and permanently frozen soil is not suited to gardening or plant-based agriculture. Wild meat, fish, and fur-bearing animals are the staple of Inuit for food and warmth. Berries are picked in August, but the climate produces enough berries for a tasty treat and not much more.
Maximizing Local Value-Added Processing
Nunavut Qiviut supports as much value-added processing as possible within the community. The company leverages the natural environment to its maximum like depending on the freezing winter temperatures to store unprocessed fur, so that energy-consuming freezers are not needed.
The Nunavut Qiviut team works outside in the summer when its windy enough to keep the mosquitos away! A team of seasonal workers remove the fibres from muskox, Arctic hare, and Arctic fox hides mostly in the summer and fall. Kugluktuk is the ideal location to develop a commercial hub for qiviut yarn production because the Kugluktuk area has the largest muskox population anywhere in Nunavut, and the planet.
Once fibre from the hides is secured, the fibre is sent to small cottage-scale fibre mills for the next steps in processing before it is returned as yarn to Kugluktuk for further product development.
Yarn production that demands quality and consistency at a scale beyond artisanal hand-spinning requires a specialized cottage-scale fibre mill suitable for exotic fibres. There are many significant financial, and technical challenges associated with operating this kind of equipment in a remote Arctic location. One of many challenges is that all electricity in Kugluktuk is delivered from diesel-powered generators. Subsequently, the cost of power is 10 times greater than southern locations on the modern electrical grid. It makes sense to avoid power use wherever possible and focus on other Arctic advantages not available in southern communities. Certain steps in spinning yarn are not taken in Kugluktuk. All Nunavut Qiviut yarn production partners are small, reputable, family-run businesses in Canada and the USA that share a passion for quality production of rare natural fibre. Nunavut Qiviut applies the same processing technology as luxury fibre mills in Europe.
Once the yarn is spun, it is shipped back to Nunavut Qiviut for further local value-added opportunities. Nunavut Qiviut’s owner believes that there should be enough profit in the value chain to pay fair wages to all workers who handle Nunavut Qiviut products. Some competitors process their yarn in countries like Peru or China and pay 10 cents on the dollar to local workers. Nunavut Qiviut’s owner believes this is an unfair practice that negatively impacts small cottage and micro businesses trying to build and maintain a qiviut fibre industry in North America. When qiviut is processed offshore, control of yarn quality, and production reliability is lost, while local communities suffer loss of income.
Yarn production process and where the yarn is produced are important questions to explore when dealing with qiviut yarn retailers. If they don’t know, or answers are vague, you may be set to purchase qiviut fibre produced in a factory in Asia or South America.
Knitting Nunavut Qiviut Yarns
Once the yarn is produced, it is returned to Kugluktuk, where it is either developed as knit accessories or sold as yarn to retail partners.
For knitting qiviut accessories, Nunavut Qiviut uses hand powered knitting machines that require no electricity to produce luxury qiviut knitwear. Each item is knit one-at-a-time, at a pace that is faster than hand knitting but with the same individualized attention to detail and quality.
Hand-powered knitting machines were developed in the Victorian era in England to speed hand-knitting production. There are a variety of machines for socks, fabrics, and more. Knitting machines look like a piano keyboard of knitting needles with many dials and buttons. For a brief period in the 1970s they were made by companies in Japan and Europe, spawning a knitting machine fad in North America. Most of the best machines were discontinued and only a vintage used market remains. The knitting process used by Nunavut Qiviut is energy efficient and completely compatible with the harsh Arctic environment.
The hand-powered knitting machine process is much slower than fully automated knitting options. Fully automated factory knitting facilities have largely vanished from Canada and the USA to third-world countries mainly engaged producing disposable short-lived pieces for the fashion industry. All Nunavut Qiviut knit accessories are intended to be heirloom pieces treasured for decades where quality and service life are of high concern. An aim of Nunavut Qiviut is to build local capacity to make luxury knit goods in Kugluktuk using hand-powered knitting machines.
Retail Channels and Partners
Located in Kugluktuk, Nunavut Qiviut is far from most clients. Therefore, the company partners with small business owners in the Arctic that have stores in communities with larger customer bases and more tourists. Arctic-based small-businesses earn a retail mark-up on the final sale of the product and employ local staff. This sales model extends the vision of Nunavut Qiviut to optimize the benefits of an Arctic micro-economy based on a healthy herd of wild muskox and other qiviut-bearing animals while adhering to the three pillars of sustainable development: social, economic, environment.
Nunavut Qiviut has completed its Arctic retail partnership strategy and is considering additional distribution models to continue growing the benefits of qiviut products to customers and partners. The next business development stage is to supply luxury fashion retailers who share the mission of keeping as much social, economic and environmental benefit as possible in the Arctic.