Someone You Should Know: Elísabet Elfa

Elísabet Elfa lives the life she designs for. As a designer for the outdoor gear company Fjällräven, she gets to solve the problems that come up when she’s out traversing the globe and trekking/ climbing/ hiking/ skiing/ being a badass. Tired of bulky trekking pants? Make tights. Pants snag on a sharp rock while sliding down a rock face? Make ones that won’t. If you’ve got shorts that don’t shred when you’re sliding down a rock face at Joshua Tree, you’ve got someone like Elísabet to thank for keeping you modest. We’re also pretty sure we can finally say Fjällräven correctly now. So, we’ve got Elísabet to thank for that, too.

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You come from the land of ice and snow. Where do you now reside? How long have you lived there?
I’m from Iceland and grew up there, but I went to university in Denmark, interned in California and for the last 5 years I’ve lived in Stockholm, Sweden, working for Fjällräven.

Which city has the best food: Copenhagen, Stockholm, Reykjavík or New York?
Reykjavík has the best food, I think. Amazing fresh fish every day and the best lamb you can think of, organic and free-range, from the highlands of Iceland.

Do you get tired of people asking if you know Bjork?
It used to happen a lot when I first moved from Iceland. But it’s pretty rare now. Now I get asked about Of Monsters and Men, Sigurrós and, from a few, Ásgeir Trausti.

Do you know Bjork?
Unfortunately, I don’t know any of [those artists] but I love their music, especially Ásgeir Trausti.

How do approach the design process? What are the insights they led to the unique features in the Absko Trekking Tights?
Coming from Iceland, nature is in your backyard and never more than 15 minutes away. It has shaped and influenced who I am and how I design. It is my favorite place to find peace and quiet as well as exciting adventures.

After the initial inspiration for a new design, the team and I do research, make a thorough brief and then start proto-typing and shaping the details of the product.

After getting the green light, we were still not sure Fjällräven was ready.

The Abisko Trekking Tights came about a bit differently. The R&D team was hiking in the Swedish mountains. I’m a former dancer and have worn a fair few pairs of tights in my lifetime, and somewhere between the mountain tops, as we were taking big strides up a steep hill, we came to the conclusion that Fjällräven should create the world’s first trekking-specific tights. You should be able to carry items like a map, phone and power bar in the pockets and you should never have to worry about where you sit down—a new approach to strong and durable trekking trousers in the Fjällräven assortment. After getting the green light, we were still not sure Fjällräven was ready, so we developed them outside of a specific season. We wanted to make sure we had enough time to lab and field test the materials and the designs. There were a few skeptics in the company at the start. But when the first prototypes arrived everyone was very excited. It was a super fun project to work on and my favorite to this day.

Do you have a trick to tell people how to pronounce Fjällräven? 
I feel many of my colleagues in the states pronounce it “Fall-Raven” which is pretty close, even though Fjällräven means “Mountain-Fox.” To say it more like the Swedes I’d try this way of pronouncing it: “F-yell-rehv-en”.

Do you have a special keyboard to type all those umlauts and rings and other diacritics?
My keyboard is a US Qwerty keyboard for Mac, but that only tells half the story. I’ve set my keyboard to have an Icelandic setting, that means that many of the symbols on the keys are not where they should be. Luckily, I learned good finger placement in primary school in Iceland, so I don’t look down as I type. When my colleagues use my keyboard they get all confused so I make sure I can switch to a Swedish and English keyboard as well.

Your mind is your only limitation.

We mostly wear our Abisko Trekking Tights curled up on the couch with our laptop watching Netflix under a blanket. Are there key functionalities we’re missing out on?
Leave the couch and Netflix behind and hit the trail. Nature is out there, waiting for you! There is no better way to re-energize and relax. The Abisko Trekking Tights are great for hiking and trekking. We have reinforced the rear and knees so you can easily sit down anywhere, even rough rocks and trees. There is a big map pocket on the right side and a more secure pocket on the left.

I use mine mostly for climbing, hiking and backcountry skiing on the sunny days. There is something magical about having no restraints in movement. It is possible to use them for just about anything, your mind is your only limitation.


We hear men are from Mars and women Venus. How did you adapt the designs to those different scenarios? (Please correct us if these aren’t actually for space travel and just fill us in on how you adapted the design for each gender.)
The designs vary a bit between genders. We wanted both women and men to feel comfortable in the tights. When we started the design process we focused on women, both because we were looking into how to reinforce the women’s collection—that we felt needed a bit of TLC—and because women are a bigger target group than men in the tights category. The further we got with the women’s design and testing, we decided that men needed a pair, too. We saw that many men chose to have shorts over their tights. We wanted to make them comfortable, without the shorts on top. So we designed a more trouser-like top to the men’s tights, with small hand pockets, a normal waistband with belt loops, and a fly. I’ve seen both men and women in both models and I think they work for both genders, depending on your personal preference.

What’s one thing you wish every designer would do when they begin a project?
From all the amazing designers that I’ve gotten to know in my career, I’ve learned that everyone works differently when it comes to inspiration and research. I’d wish for all designers to be true to their own unique process and to make sure to incorporate sustainability at the earliest stages because, as Yvon Chouinard and Vincent Stanley write in their book, The Responsible Company, “90 percent of a product’s environmental impact is determined at the design stage.” His books and environmental views have influenced me in my design process and career. It is easier to design a product with low impact from the ground up rather than to try to minimize its impact after designing the completed product.

Where is your ideal trip to and what are you packing?
My ideal trip, hard question. Well I think life is all about the people in it and those you share your experiences with. That being said, I think my ideal trip is always the next one up, as I like to travel with, or to, the people I love. Adding to that, there is no place like home. Iceland is, and likely always will be, my number one location: the people, the nature, the warm water and the amazing fresh fish.