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A furry relationship

Kerry McCluskey
Northern News Services

Iqaluit (Aug 26/02) - Rannva Erlingsdottir Simonsen has had a lifelong relationship with fur.

Today she's the driving force behind Rannva Designs, a sewing and clothing design business in Iqaluit, but says government inaction is harming the local sewing economy.

News/North: Why is there difficulty getting seal skins in Nunavut when there's an ocean full of seals beside us?

Rannva Erlingsdottir Simonsen: Somebody has got to take care of this part of the process. Nobody is doing what it takes

-- that's buying the raw skins from the hunters or their wives and getting them tanned and dyed and back to Nunavut to distribute.

N/N: What's happening instead? Are the skins going right to auction?

RES: Yes. The government is trying to support business but the only thing they're actually doing so far is buying the skins from the hunters and sending them off to auctions.

They go on the world market and get sold at world-market prices. None of these skins come back to Nunavut. I could go to these auctions and compete against the Russians and buy these skins and get them tanned and then bring them back home.

If you think about it they could save some of the skins and not sell them at auctions, and get them tanned and sell them to sewers in the North. It would support the sewing industry. Right now it's ridiculous. They're making people in their own economy compete with the world.

N/N: What needs to be changed?

RES: The government should get a person to be in charge of keeping some of the skins and getting them tanned and dyed and bringing them back up.

That business could be supported from the government at first to get it started and then it should take care of itself. If the sewers here can get skins at a better price, they can sell lower priced products. It's quite a task to sew things. It's expensive but it could be less expensive.

N/N: Have you approached the government with your idea?

RES: I don't know if I would put it exactly like that. I've been talking to them about it and asking where the skins are and telling them there's a link missing here. They said they're trying to do that and they've been trying to do that for three years. I don't know the history before that but there are still no skins.

I could do it myself and I do part of it myself. It requires money up front and lots of phone calls and patience and shipping and time -- time that I would rather spend sewing and being creative. I think the government should pay somebody a lot to do this.

They pay people a lot to do other things. It would be a big help to the sewing industry.

N/N: Have you spoken to other seamstresses? Do they have this problem too?

RES: Yes.

N/N: Where do you get your skins from?

RES: Sometimes I order from the Indian Craftsman. It's to support Native crafts. Those skins are from Norway. They're beautiful.

N/N: How much are skins?

RES: Last time they were $65. Probably now they're at least over $100 because the prices doubled.

N/N: Because the market is doing so well?

RES: Yes. I also get skins from a tannery in Newfoundland, which are beautiful. I just can't have on my labels Nunavut sustainable harvested seals, which I would like. That's an illusion.

N/N: Have you ever tried to buys the skins and tan them yourself?

RES: No. I could do it but it's very time consuming. And I know people from the South and people from here who want coats not for hunting but going to work (and) don't want to have traditionally tanned coats. They smell and you have to keep them in the freezer.

N/N: How long has Rannva Designs been in business?

RES: I started sewing two-and- a-half years ago. It's been three-quarters of a year since this became my main occupation and income.

N/N: Did you expect you would be this busy?

RES: No. In the beginning I was just having so much fun with it. I was thinking to myself, how long can I go on having fun with this? At the end of three months, the sales numbers showed me I didn't have to stop. It pays for my groceries and my bills. I really enjoy it.

N/N: What are you working on now?

RES: Baby slippers. These skins are actually from Qikiqtarjuaq. I sent them out for tanning and got them back. It's three or four months turn around from the time I made contact with a woman there until I got the skins back and ready to sew.

N/N: Does that increase the price of skins?

RES: If you look at the hassle, it should be more expensive but I try to sell them cheaper because I want to support the industry. I would like to see my business develop so I could have 20 coats ready to sell for the Christmas season, but there is no way for that to be possible for me.

N/N: Why isn't is possible?

RES: I don't have the capital to buy those skins. And they wouldn't be Nunavut skins. I don't have the skins or the time for them to be Nunavut skins.

N/N: Have you started getting Christmas orders already?

RES: Yes, I've ordered some skins from Norway. Imagine that -- it's faster for them to come from Norway than Qikiqtarjuaq.

That is really frustrating, especially when our government representatives go to the United States over and over again and talk about how they have to get the seal-skin ban lifted and then everything will be fine.

That's one big illusion. We've got a market right here. When that market is satisfied, which will take a lot of time and effort and seal skins, then we can go South. We can easily sell lots of products there.

N/N: So we need to worry about our own backyard first?

RES: Yes. It would take one person. For the amount of money they spend travelling to the States, they could use the money to occupy that person for a couple of years. That would be a solution.

N/N: Have you approached your MLA about this?

RES: No, I'm trying to talk to the minister of sustainable development about it. People at sustainable development have been promising me for the last three years there would be skins.

I think there's a problem when they haven't delivered yet.

It's frustrating, especially when they say they want to support business. Maybe they're trying.

You can try something for years -- trying sounds great, but it doesn't make any difference in reality.