Five from Finland
Modern design from Finland is finding inspiration from different countries.Julia Helminen
With the world becoming more global and connected by the day, these Finland-based design companies, studios and brands are creating products by combining Nordic design expertise and lifestyle with the best of what the world has to offer in terms of crafts and materials.
Finnish design has gained a reputation for being not only innovative and functional, but also sustainable and responsible. Attracted by the country’s rich design heritage, more and more international designers are choosing Finland as their second home. At the same time, a growing number of Finnish design companies are collaborating with artisans worldwide, driven by a passion for quality, unique craftsmanship traditions and empowerment.
Here are five examples proving that modern design from Finland has no borders.
Sera Helsinki was established in 2016 by Anna Suoheimo, a Finnish entrepreneur who spent five years in Ethiopia only to fall in love with the country and its people. Since day one, the company has focused on making “revolutionary inclusive” and “radically ethical” rugs. Designed in Finland, the rugs are handcrafted in Ethiopia by local weavers and artisans coming from such vulnerable demographic groups as people with disabilities and single mothers.
A result of great teamwork, the rugs are made using pure and sustainably sourced sheep wool, with no harmful chemicals involved in the process. Moreover, the production methods are very traditional and don’t require electricity or machines.
“We make design products in Ethiopia that appeal to western consumers,” explained Suoheimo, who is also the company’s CEO.
According to Suoheimo, wool is an amazing material for the home due to its naturally anti-bacterial and dirt-repellent qualities. It was during her time in Addis Ababa that she noticed how easy to keep clean the wool rugs woven by local women were. When properly taken care of, these rugs are to last a lifetime, the company promises.
Hailing from Japan’s capital city of Tokyo, Aoi Yoshizawa developed an appreciation for Nordic countries and lifestyle after visiting Sweden as an exchange student. She then received a bachelor’s degree from the Bergen National Academy of Arts in Norway and graduated from Helsinki’s Aalto University in 2015, armed with a master of arts degree in textile design.
Since then, Yoshizawa has been living and working in the Finnish capital, gradually becoming one of the most sought-after textile designers and visual artists. She was among the four emerging designers selected for Habitare’s Talentshop in 2017, has created a series of performances on the Harakka island in Helsinki as a part of Harakka Collective and collaborated with, among others, Finnish clothing brand VIMMA and Lapuan Kankurit, one of the country’s most renowned manufacturers of sustainable interior textiles.
“My favourite thing about Finland is that you have nature everywhere around you and you can enjoy it anytime,” Yoshizawa told us a few years ago. “I love picking berries and mushrooms in the forest in the summertime and also swimming in the beautiful lakes – it is so refreshing and relaxing.”
Read the full interview here to learn more about Aoi Yoshizawa’s career path and integration into Finnish working life.
Targeted at eco-conscious consumers, this lifestyle brand specialises in wonderfully eclectic clothing, accessories and housewares that celebrate both Indian craftsmanship and the Nordic values of sustainable living and ethical production. The brand actively collaborates with female artisans across India and uses existing textiles, such as vintage sarees and quilts, in its handcrafted collections to reduce waste.
Operating an online shop and a physical showroom in Helsinki, Moi Namaste donates 10 per cent of its annual profits to partner charities to support artisan development, education and women’s empowerment in India. In addition to giving back to communities, the brand is giving back to nature by planting trees in co-operation with like-minded partners.
“At Moi Namaste, we believe that more and more people are looking for clothing and accessories that are both kind to the environment and the makers,” noted founder and CEO Pukhraj Ranjan. “For us, this is a beautiful opportunity to have a positive social and environmental impact.”
Lincoln Kayiwa moved to Finland from Uganda to pursue a master’s degree. After graduating from the University of Art and Design Helsinki (now Aalto University) in 2007, he stayed in the country and started his own atelier, making a name for himself for creating collectible design objects, ranging from kitchenware to home accessories and furniture.
“My Ugandan roots and Nordic life blend in a unique way,” said Kayiwa. “I borrow principles and aesthetic elements from the rich cultures and traditions of African and Nordic art, craft and design to make bold, playful, yet fully functional artefacts.”
Kayiwa actively uses birchwood, granite, porcelain and glass for his unique creations. More recently, the designer became interested in examining waste as raw material. One way is through working with artisans in Kenya to upcycle waste plastic, glass, rubber and metal into furniture and various functional objects.
“I provide the design concepts, and they iterate on them using the handicrafts and knowhow they’ve gathered over years,” Kayiwa revealed last spring. “The main objective is to show the artisans that they can use the crafts and techniques that they already know to make something functional instead of just decorative items for tourists.”
Iranian artist Pegah Sabeti moved from her home country to Finland’s Oulu after getting married to a Finnish man whom she met in Tehran in 2017. Finnish commitment to sustainability and responsible consumption, paired with a desire “to bring more colour to Finland”, has inspired Sabeti to start a company selling upcycled bags, jewellery, hair accessories and other design items.
“My brand vision is to be ethical and ecological,” Sabeti toldMun Oulu. “I do not use new materials. Almost everything is upcycled.”
Sabeti is particularly fascinated by old handwoven Persian rugs upcycled into beautiful bags and jewellery by Iranian artisan women, many of whom are single mothers or the only breadwinner for their families. Due to the nature of the material, each bag or jewellery item is unique.
“Many people think that second-hand is boring. I am on a mission to change that perspective, telling people that recycled products can be fun and fashionable,” Sabeti noted.
Although the business is still rather small, the artist-turned-businesswoman is planning to enter new markets, including other Nordic countries and the rest of Europe, in the near future.