Just over 20 years ago, the furs of the Greenlandic musk ox were considered useless and burnt as rubbish. What the hunters did not realise was that they were discarding a resource as precious as Greenlandic gold in the process: musk ox wool.

The Qiviut vision

The brownish-grey coloured musk ox wool, or qiviut as it is commonly known in North America, is considered one of the most luxurious fibres in the world. It is known for being softer than cashmere with a higher warmth to weight ratio.

It took one Greenlandic woman with a vision, Anita Høegh, to realize that the inner layers of the musk ox furs were worth a small fortune if treated properly. She pioneered the use of this untapped resource and spun it into gold in the form of musk ox wool.

 She pioneered the use of this untapped resource and spun it into gold in the form of musk ox wool.

“The hide now provides a good side income for the hunters – but we had to find out how to make this happen,”

Learning about the Musk ox

“The musk oxen are not native to West Greenland, so is it not part of the hunter’s traditional hunting practices. Back then, there was a hunting quota of 300 musk ox in the Kangerlussuaq area. As it was so new the Greenlandic people did not know how to use this animal - they used the meat but burnt the hides” Høegh explains.

That has changed since Anita learnt the techniques of how to treat the fur.

“The hide now provides a good side income for the hunters – but we had to find out how to make this happen,” Høegh says.

Good balance between tourism and the seasons

Anita had lived and worked in tourism in Kangerlussuaq for 10 years when she realized that the production of musk ox wool could benefit the settlement during the quieter tourism months of winter. So she learnt how to spin, and with that knowledge poured her efforts into learning how to produce musk ox wool.

“The first challenge was buying the musk ox hides from the hunters during the two month hunting season. There are so few raw materials, that there is a lot of competition.”

“The first challenge was buying the musk ox hides from the hunters during the two month hunting season. There are so few raw materials, that there is a lot of competition.”

“I had to do some research and also get some help from a friend in Edmonton, Canada before we were able to do this successfully. Today we have much greater knowledge.”

Wool production challenge

“After that, we had to figure out the process of drying the hides at the right temperature and then separating the thick hair from the inner wool. It is a long, smelly process which takes time to perfect,” Anita explained continuing, “I had to do some research and also get some help from a friend in Edmonton, Canada before we were able to do this successfully. Today we have much greater knowledge.”

“We need to make sure that our small production can support the demand. We want to provide only the best quality. All the production must be made in Greenland,”

The musk ox establishment

Today musk ox wool is a more readily available material in Greenland, but still highly prized for its quality. More players have also entered the market, but Høegh dominates the market with her famous 100 per cent musk ox wool premium products. She now lives in Sisimiut where she established a flagship store aptly called ‘Qiviut’, which sells locally produced sealskin and musk ox wool products. She has also expanded her business to Nuuk, but there are no concrete plans to create a new store.

“We need to make sure that our small production can support the demand. We want to provide only the best quality. All the production must be made in Greenland,” says Høegh firmly.

Qiviut has begun to organise some workshops for larger tourist groups that visit Sisimiut, in order to tell the story of musk ox wool production. And it seems that once the tourists learn about the intricacies of creating qiviut, they fall in line to purchase the material despite the premium price tag. It is, after all, worth its weight in gold.

For more information: www.qiviutonline.com