Skip to content
Group of people walking down a street in New York City

Major opportunities for Norwegian design in the US

Norwegian design is sought-after in the US but it’s not just a fluke.

Ten Norwegian design companies travelled to New York.

Thanks to “inside” help, they were met with open arms.

They got a rare opportunity and they seized it.

“He knows most people in the industry and is very ‘hands-on’ and quality conscious. We couldn’t have gotten a better mentor,” says Pernille Siem.

The entrepreneur has taken the childrenswear brand Lillelam across the pond to turn wool into gold in one of the world’s largest markets. She stands amidst the skyscrapers in New York, praising the man who has accompanied the company on its journey in the US, meeting with the largest department stores and dealers.

Two women saying hello to a man on a New York City street
Local mentors and contacts were of enormous value to Lillelam and the nine other Norwegian companies. From left: Mentor Gary Simmons with Kristin Aronsen and Pernille Siem of Lillelam.

The mentor is Gary Simmons, an expert in childrenswear with a valuable network. Lillelam was matched with Simmons through the Global Growth programme for Norwegian businesses, run by Innovation Norway, the official Norwegian trade promotion organisation.

Lillelam is one of 10 Norwegian design companies with a desire to think bigger who secured a spot in the programme in spring 2023. All were assigned American mentors, and Innovation Norway’s local office gave them unique access to the city where dreams come true.

The American market has become the largest export market for Norwegian design products in recent years.

Antonio Raposo

Senior advisor at Innovation Norway's New York office

Huge opportunities for Norwegian design

Norwegian design is in vogue in the US.

Americans can hardly get enough of functional and stylish Nordic design products, which are renowned for their high quality.

“The American market has become the largest export market for Norwegian design products in recent years. The growth is very strong and now surpasses the development in European markets,” says Antonio Raposo, a senior advisor at Innovation Norway’s New York office.

“It’s often smart to get help to think bigger. Being physically present positions us strategically to help Norwegian companies to exploit local market opportunities,” says Raposo.

Decorative floor mats made from 100 per cent recycled plastic bottles Norway_Design_Lifestyle_Sustainable_functional

Sustainable and functional Norwegian design reaches new heights internationally

View the article

Growing interest in wool clothing

“More and more Americans are discovering the many good properties of wool,” says Pernille Siem.

Lillelam has been producing wool garments for children since 2004, when the founder herself was a new mother who could not find warm, soft, high-quality wool clothing for her young children.

Lillelam’s garments quickly became popular among wool-loving Norwegian families.

The products have also gained ground among quality-conscious parents in other countries, including China, where the company has participated in a similar export programme run by Innovation Norway.

Three young children in green sweaters on the green grass.

Lillelam clothes small children in toxin-free, ultra-soft merino wool

View the solution

“We also have some dealers selling Lillelam in New York, and we’re experiencing increasing demand,” says Siem.

Mentor Gary Simmons believes that the company has fantastic potential in the US.

“Lillelam has outstanding products of high quality, and the company emphasises sustainability. This aligns with what higher-income Americans are seeking for their own children and as gifts,” says Simmons, who has 40 years of experience in building brands and large department stores in the US.

Three people exiting Saks Fifth Avenue in New York City
Gary Simmons ensured open doors for Lillelam at Saks Fifth Avenue.

Helping Norwegian companies to expand

Innovation Norway has more than 100 market advisors in 28 countries around the globe, working to help Norwegian companies to successfully expand internationally.

“We help companies that have never engaged in export before as well as companies who want to expand existing export activities. We assist with strategies and practicalities, and offer several different programmes and courses,” says Antonio Raposo. He continues:

“We also collaborate with experts who have valuable networks and knowledge of relevant sectors, market conditions and local business culture. Our goal is to give Norwegian companies market insight, help them to find customers and partners and make contact with relevant actors, and provide practical help.”

Inside Norway presentation booth at a fair
As part of the trip, the Norwegian companies shared a joint stand at ICFF.

Networks and knowledge Norwegian companies need

Several Norwegian furniture and design companies have achieved success in the US market in recent years. Lillelam and the other Global Growth participants – Heymat, Norvigroup Norsk Dun, Eikund, Fora Form, Hadeland Glassverk, Varier Furniture, Formfin, Lundhs and Woodling—are now making their way in.

Three wooden chairs, one in green, one in pink and one in whitewashed oak

Fora Form’s innovative office furniture fosters engaging meetings

View the solution

Before the trip, they had several gatherings and courses in Norway, as well as digital meetings with their mentors. During the three packed days of their stay in the Big Apple, they created contacts with some of the most important players within each segment and niche, such as distributors, retailers, editors and PR agencies.

“As a small player, we have limited financial and human resources to gather all the information we need about the American market – which is quite different from the Norwegian one. This became possible through Global Growth,” says Sonja Djønne, founder of Heymat.

People mingling at a party some holding food and a drink
Sonja Djønne presented Heymat at the Norwegian consulate in New York.

Heymat’s durable, sustainable and stylish doormats have already gained international attention, and the company won the prestigious Red Dot Award for product design in 2023. Now it hopes that many Americans will be wiping their feet on Heymat doormats.

“The US is the market of opportunities. It also means that space is tight, and there is fierce competition for consumer attention. We aim to build an international brand within interiors and are prepared to spend time on this going forward. With the help of Global Growth, we are better equipped to succeed,” says Djønne.

Grey marble shelf with abstract objects above a swirly brown carpet

Heymat designs award-winning commercial entrance flooring

View the solution

Companies with centuries-long traditions, such as Hadeland Glassverk, also took part in the trip to New York.

“Global Growth has generated good progress, given us valuable insights and a large network. This is of great help to us in entering the American market,” says John Jacobsen, International Business Development Manager at Hadeland Glassverk.

Hadeland Glassverk has already started collaborating with a well-established, nationwide lighting supplier in the US who has great ambitions for the company in the years to come.

“We look forward to bringing classic Norwegian design – and 261 years of traditional products and cultural heritage – to design-conscious consumers and interior architects in the US,” says Jacobsen.

Man speaking into a microphone
John Jacobsen presented Hadeland Glassverk at the interior design fair ICFF.

Exciting plans for the road ahead

Back home in Norway, an enthusiastic Pernille Siem described their eventful days in New York, where they jumped at every opportunity they came across.

“We wanted to see and learn as much as possible and were introduced to a significant network – which is the most important thing in the American market,” says the founder of Lillelam.

Among the most exciting meetings were with Saks Fifth Avenue and Nordstrom, two of the largest department stores in New York. From there, the ball started rolling.

“Both wish to stock Lillelam, and they spoke of an increasing demand for wool children’s clothes. Our quality was exactly what they were looking for, so things could get interesting.”

Now it’s about capitalising on the momentum and getting both investors and a good communication plan in place.

Two woman crossing a street in Manhattan
Lillelam returned home from New York with good deals in the bag.

Siem has no doubt that the Global Growth participants returned from New York with a greater chance of success in the US.

Getting to know the other companies was also useful. “We have become a valuable micro-network…. The future looks very exciting for us all,” she concludes.