Tokyo/Helsinki: Aya Iwaya’s award-winning graphic designs for Samuji

Image from ayaiwaya.com

Image Aya Iwaya from ayaiwaya.com

HÄN meets Samuji’s 24 years old graphic designer Aya Iwaya, who left eccentric Japan for the mysteriously calm Finnish lands.


Every year, millions of people visit Finland to experience its fairy-tale like winters nights and quite, almost mystical endless summer days. Some of them become so enchanted by its beauty, that they decide they never want to leave. Aya Iwaya, who moved to Finland all the way from Japan and is currently working as graphic designer for the Finnish legendary brand Samuji, is one of them, with a journey similar to a fairy-tale.

Born in the metropolitan Tokyo, Aya moved to study at high school in a small Finnish town of Kogula at the tender age of 16. The circumstances which lead to this brave decision are as magical as everything that happened to the designer afterwards. “There are lots of small things but it’s finally connected”, remembers Aya. “Maybe one of them is Marimekko design patterns and then the other is this huge nature of Finland”. Aya told HAN that one day she accidentally came across a small fabric shop in Tokyo that sold Marimekko fabrics. She was so fascinated by them that started to research more about Finland and felt instantly connected to it. She visited the country first eight years ago and it confirmed her decision to completely move there a year after. “Finland offers me so much in terms of nature”, says Aya. “And now I live very near by the seaside so I enjoy the silence, simplicity and the colours are much brighter here”.

Aya’s interest in graphic design sparked when she saw its both artistic yet communication potential. “I like those illustrators who are trying to blur the edge between the graphic design and art”, says Aya. “Because if the theme doesn’t read to the audience then it’s only self-expression, so it’s called art. But I am trying to be more on a design side so always has to be some concept behind and the idea behind the illustration”. Currently based in Helsinki, Aya is finishing off her bachelor in Graphic Design at Lahti Univesity.

In a traditionally modest Japanese fashion, Aya is being humble about her achievements in graphic design. When asked about her work for Samuji, with whom she has been closely collaborating since 2013, her immediate response is that it is “not a full-time job”. “I am doing this graphic design stuff, so nothing about printing or fabric design. But the whole thing includes visual communication”, says Aya. “Like advertising and then lookbooks layouts… Samuji produced this fabric in 2014 and I was responsible for Samuji home, which is called Samuji Cote in Finnish. Samuji Cote is all visual things such as logo design and tech design and then fabric design and then wrapping paper and other things”.


Image from ayaiwaya.com

Image by Aya Iwaya from ayaiwaya.com


It is this project that earned Aya the prestigious Golden Award for The Best Finnish Advertising and Design in the Young Talent category presented by Graphia, part of the global creative organisation ADC, which aims to celebrate and bring together advertising and fine art. Aya has been holding this title until April this year and was asked to become a judge for the 2016 nominations. 

So how did Aya manage to get this highly sought after work at Samuji in her first year at university? The story is as intriguing as the graphic designer’s initial move to Finland. “It was interesting, shares Aya, smiling. “I uploaded some drawings on my blog and I was writing a blog in the Japanese language… I wrote something about Samuji and then one Japanese woman, maybe buyer or something, who maybe came to Finland for business, then somehow connected me and Samuji”. Samuji became interested in Aya’s beautiful illustrations and proposed her to create some original campaign using them to promote his new Samuji Print collection. At the time, Samuji had Samuji Women, Samiju Men and then it was this Samuji Print. “He was trying to advertise this new collection in different ways”, says Aya. “Not just taking a picture of a model”.


Image from ayaiwaya.com

Image by Aya Iwaya from ayaiwaya.com


Despite seeming like a lucky coincidence, Samu-Jusii Koski’s interest in Aya’s illustrations is hardly surprising considering the designer’s consistent referencing of Asian motives in his own work. Aya herself believes that Japanese and Finnish designs have a lot in common. “Finnish designs are getting more popular because of the colour pallet and how Scandinavian use empty spaces… And there are some similarities as well”, says Aya. “I think the emptiness. Both are very good at using this like, for example, Issey Miyake”.

Now Aya gets more and more work offers from her country of origin. “It’s kind of funny because Finland brought me up”, says Aya. “There is my Japanese background but then my graphic design is more Finnish or Scandinavian. Yeah, they bring some atmosphere of this”. She confesses that distance from home helped Aya to see her own culture in a different way and now she longs to celebrate it more in her designs. “I think my style is more Scandinavian but still many Finnish people see some Japanese nuances in my graphic design. And then Japanese people say that my design is so Scandinavian”, says Aya, laughing. This mixture is reflected even in the way Aya is dressed. For our meeting, she paired light beige wide leg Samuji trousers with a blue shirt her mother passed on to her. A small golden kitty pendant and a statement metal watch were the only accessories that she chose that day.



Image by Aya Iwaya from ayaiwaya.com


Looking forward into the future, Aya is sure that she is on the right path. “I want to be a graphic designer so that I can be anywhere and clients would want my designs”, says Aya. “Normally clients want someone who is near or close, or who is available at any time. But then I want so that they can find me wherever I am. So I can be in Finland or Tokyo or somewhere else or maybe even in India and still be connected to everyone”. Aya’s free spirit is evident even in her day to day life: the day after our meeting she was heading to Milan. “I am going for 5 days. But I decided maybe 24 hours ago”, says Aya, smiling. They say that spontaneous decisions are often the best ones. Aya’s life seems to be the proof.


You can check out Aya Iwaya’s incredible work at http://ayaiwaya.com.


Words by Kira Kolosova.