Finnish fashion is experiencing a revival at the moment. New designers are entering the scene while established brands keep reinventing themselves. Nevertheless, Finnish fashion hardly has such worldwide recognition as the industries in France or Britain. What are the reasons for it? And how this situation can be changed?
Just last month, American’s Target launched its largest collaboration with Finnish designer brand Marimekko. Samu-Jossi Koski’s Samuji continues to expand its influence with more than 80 stockists in Finland and abroad. Minna Parikka’s elf-top sneakers are worn by Cara Delevigne and Susy Bubble. Young creatives are also catching up with older fashion houses, with two Finnish brands Rolf Ekroth and Hanne Jurmu & Anton Variainen reaching the final spots at the festival d’Hyeres this year and winning the Chloe Price. “There is a lot of up-and-coming designers at the moment, I think it’s getting more and more interesting”, says Katri Salminen, the editor-in-chief of Alvar Magazine. “At least now they realised that they have to start exporting and taking their products to other markets and leave Finland”.
Exporting abroad plays an essential part in any brand’s growth. However, despite all the advances, Finnish fashion still stays under the radar. Helsinki-born and raised Nora Syrjänen, who is currently studying Fashion Journalism at London College of Fashion, believes that the lack of promotion is the key to this issue. “The problem with Finnish fashion is that it is not marketed correctly”, says Nora. “If they did a better job at marketing, people would know about it a lot more”.
Another reason for this problem hides in the Finnish market as well, which for a long time has been focused inwards. But once the designers started to look outside the borders, the situation started to change. According to the Federation of Finnish Textiles and Clothing Industries statistics, Finnish fashion market was worth 337 million euros in 2013. A year later, the exports of textiles and clothing increased to 556 million euros.
Being part of the European union and sharing its borders with Russia, Finland’s main exports go to Sweden (14%), Germany (12%), Russia (23%) and other European countries, according to the same source. The relationship with Asia can be described as particularly promising. “We felt that Finnish fashion stood out in China due to its high-quality artistic design. There is a clear difference compared to other Scandinavian lines, which are very commercial,” says Martta Louekari Louekari, the founder of the annual fashion exhibition Pre Helsinki, in an interview for Helsinki Design Week’s website.
Indeed, breaking the Scandinavian box is a very important part in distinguishing Finnish design from its competitors, mainly Sweden and Norway. “If you think about biggest Scandinavian brands like COS and Acne, they are quite minimalistic,” says Nora. “And if you look at the big names in Finland like Minna Parikka… I think it’s more fun and more experimental… I think it’s a bit more colourful now if you’re talking about high fashion”. Finnish designer Justus K cannot agree more. “New designers are more concentrated on the artistic fashion which is very nice. It is not that commercial comparing to other Nordic countries,” says he.
This approach is also noticed in Finnish more established brands, with Marimekko’s creative director Anna Teurnell saying that “Marimekko is not about wanting the latest trends” in her latest interview for Business of Fashion. However, pursuing the artistic vision is often not cheap. “Most of the designers want to have the clothes made from really good fabrics, that the quality is good”, says Lisa-Marie. “Of course, it affects the price. So it’s the reason why they should be more promoted. They will be able to make super creative things and get to sell them in several different places so that they can make a living out of it”.
But most importantly, the change should start with Finnish people themselves and their attitudes to fashion. “I feel like Finnish fashion is more respected in other countries than in Finland, to be honest”, believes Nora. “In Finnish magazines, you never see it, even though there are only a couple proper fashion magazines in Finland. And you know there are usually H&M, or Acne, or COS, the bigger Scandinavian brands and International brands”. On the other hand, Katri believes that the lack of coverage in the magazines is partially the Finnish brands’ own fault. “I can’t blame that: if you don’t have stockists internationally, it’s very hard for magazines to even feature you”, says the editor.
Fashion stylist Salla Ceder, who also works in sales for the Finnish fashion brand R/H, shares Nora’s point of view. “In Finland it’s very different if you compare it to England and the fashion scene in London”, says Salla. “People think that if you’re into fashion, then you’re just not serious enough or too fancy in a way. So I think Finnish people aren’t’ really used to have fashion here and I think because of that the fashion scene is quite underground”. Being naturally cautious, the Finns tend to invest in more secure industries like housing or material production, which leaves designers with very little support.
Moreover, the weather conditions in Finland often dictate people’s fashion choices. “Finland is a large country by size, so it’s very different in the South of Finland”, says Katri. “Helsinki is a lot more contemporary, whereas the rest of Finland is still dictated by the weather, so it’s practical… It is crazy weather, really cold, long winter. So people just tend to not be very interested in the fashion side of things, they just want to stay warm and comfortable”. Nora Syrjänen shares Katri’s view on this division in Finnish fashion scene. “Some people aren’t interested at all,” says Nora. “But… people who are fashionable, they are really breaking boundaries and trying out different things and weird combinations but in a cool way. So they really stand out from the typical H&M crowd.”
On the upside, nature and the weather also serve as sources of inspiration, encouraging designers to create more effective yet stylish solutions regarding winter outwear. “Finnish fashion is natural in colours and shapes. It’s also practical, because of the weather variations. We use lot’s of earthly colours and ecological materials”, says Noora Natunen, who has an extensive experience working in Finnish fashion retail, including well-recognised retailers like Stockmann. Indeed, nature is a major theme in Finnish fashion, with the ideas of recycling and ethical clothing taken very seriously. Brands like Ensæmble and Dusty often use nature as their source of inspiration, giving them a more abstract and unusual form.
Therefore, it can be seen that as the time goes by, Finnish fashion scene is likely to change for the better. “Now that we have a lot of new designers coming through, I think people are going to notice that we have really great designers here”, says Salla. Lisa-Marie agrees. “As Finnish fashion gets more and more focused on other countries as well, it is getting noticed”. It is only left to hope that this transition will happen as fast yet as smoothly as possible.
Words by Kira Kolosova.