Interview with Heli Miikkulainen-Gilbert

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Editor Frank Scott (FS) from DesignPRWire has interviewed designer Heli Miikkulainen-Gilbert (HM) for A’ Design Awards and Competition. You can access the full profile of Heli Miikkulainen-Gilbert by clicking here.

Interview with Heli Miikkulainen-Gilbert at Friday 19th of February 2016
Heli Miikkulainen-Gilbert
FS: Could you please tell us more about your art and design background? What made you become an artist/designer? Have you always wanted to be a designer?
HM: All my family members are very crafty and especially my Dad was a very creative person and technically skilled carpenter - an inventor. While in Primary School I used to stay with my Grandma in the afternoons until my parents got home and she taught me to crochet, knit and sew dolls clothes by using her ancient - but so beautiful and silent - pedal Singer sewing machine. Later on, in my teens, I sewed most of my clothes too and after the High School I decided I want to become a Fashion Designer which I am now and I'm loving it!

FS: Can you tell us more about your company / design studio?
HM: I have a one-woman-home-studio with all tools and machines that I need for my work. I do everything myself from designing to production, marketing, selling and administration. Being a hard worker I enjoy that all lots.

FS: What is "design" for you?
HM: Design is art of everyday life, a perfect combination of durable functionalism, beauty and food for thought.

FS: What kinds of works do you like designing most?
HM: Super functional yet beautiful fashion pieces and home textiles.

FS: What is your most favorite design, could you please tell more about it?
HM: The convertible coat that was awarded with the Golden A' Fashion, Garment and Apparel Design Award last year and I love it because due to its convertibility it makes a wonderful i.e. time and money saving travel companion. It's also 'one-off' and very warm. I also like lots my convertible 'multivitamin' wall decór design. It's constructed of 6 round pads. There's a zip attached to the top and bottom edge of each pad which allows one to arrange them on the wall according to the wall space available, also to match the surrounding colours.

FS: What was the first thing you designed for a company?
HM: Relevant to the Rya sewing technique the first thing was a bespoke design, a 150cm x 150cm square logo wall decór for 'Suomen Mielenterveysseura' (The Finnish Association for Mental Health). They ordered it to decorate their expo/ show stands and also their office hallway. Other than tufted products the first thing was a part of a children's backpack collection (during my last year in a fashion college) and right after graduating in 1999 I designed a millenium collection of winter sports and motor sports outfits for another Finnish company.

FS: What is your favorite material / platform / technology?
HM: Wool, definitely, and other natural fibers such as silk because they show the richest colour tones. Wool is also very pleasant to shape and it makes guaranteed warm garments.

FS: When do you feel the most creative?
HM: When I'm traveling because I tend to absorb most inspiration from the different environments and seeing people doing the daily routines slightly different way outside my own daily environment.

FS: Which aspects of a design do you focus more during designing?
HM: Functionality and fit of the garment. Also the picture/pattern in the tuft must work perfectly not only in the whole coat/ piece of accessory but also when the different panels are worn solely. Also the colour blending is a big part of my design process.

FS: What kind of emotions do you feel when you design?
HM: I design as I go. I don't really sketch much, except the patterns that I'm going to tuft in the garment. I feel joy when I manage to achieve what I wanted at first go, real frustration if the colours don't look good together - as one can't really see how they blend before they're sewn on and photographed (because somehow the work looks right to me only through a camera lens) - and I need to pull the tuft out and re-do the area.

FS: What kind of emotions do you feel when your designs are realized?
HM: I feel like a winner, because this is something I have created and developed for so long time and there's not really many people in the world doing this. Why, it requires so much patience, however if one has it, he/she can become very fast in the technique, like I have done, and creating my pieces for larger scale sale is very possible then.

FS: What makes a design successful?
HM: It selling - lots. However in today's fashion market there's so lots of competition it's very challenging to pop out successfully with even the greatest design unless having a very good sales & marketing team working with you.

FS: When judging a design as good or bad, which aspects do you consider first?
HM: Visually pleasant, functional, safe and in general good quality product is of my choice.

FS: From your point of view, what are the responsibilities of a designer for society and environment?
HM: All designers are responsible for creating safe products i.e. its course of life in full is safe for the people who make the product, use it and dispose of it.

FS: How do you think the "design field" is evolving? What is the future of design?
HM: It looks to me that the real craftmanship has become more highly valued. The other direction is super technical design.

FS: When was your last exhibition and where was it? And when do you want to hold your next exhibition?
HM: My latest exhibitions were Showcase 2013 in Dublin, Ireland in January 2013 and the A'Design Award Winners Exhibition at Broletto del Como in August 2014. In Showcase 2013 I launched my very first fashion collection at my very own stand. My 'Black n' Blue 2 in 1 coat' also entered the curated 'Showcase 2013 Fashion Show' (4 times daily) and my 'Ms Butterfly Bolero' entered the curated 'Selected @ Showcase' exhibition held at the show.

FS: Where does the design inspiration for your works come from? How do you feed your creativity? What are your sources of inspirations?
HM: The inspiration for my work comes mostly from watching people and especially busy women who are coping with daily life - I'm a creative problem solver who wants to ease life by creating everyday-fashion and lifestyle goods that make life feel wonderful in all aspects. For the patterns and colours of my work I photograph nature and life in general and pick ideas from the details in the images. Also the Haute Couture collections and films feed my inspiration.

FS: How would you describe your design style? What made you explore more this style and what are the main characteristics of your style? What's your approach to design?
HM: My style is timeless, however to make it interesting and unique, I season it with a bit of Avant Garde.

FS: Where do you live? Do you feel the cultural heritage of your country affects your designs? What are the pros and cons during designing as a result of living in your country?
HM: I live in the capital area of Finland at the moment. Climate wise the location is ideal, also being one of the Nordic Countries Finland is home of traditional Ryas and one can see them everywhere here - in private homes, museums, corporate offices, etc. - which is inspiring. However due to the dark winter months and quite flat landscape one might experience the need to go abroad in search for other sources of inspiration which is quite expensive. Also in Finland Design companies are not supported well financially and the businesses are taxed heavily.

FS: How do you work with companies?
HM: All kinds of collaboration - only sky is the limit - generates work.

FS: What are your suggestions to companies for working with a designer? How can companies select a good designer?
HM: Would be great it the companies invested more time for meeting several more designers as even one with less experience on-paper can be really talented and hard-working plus easy-to-get-on-with-person in person. Design will be a huge factor in the public and private sector success in 2020.

FS: Can you talk a little about your design process?
HM: Depending on what I'm designing and for whom; I interview the client first to make sure I am familiar with all back ground info and the guidelines relevant to the project. Then I make the sketches to which I add detailed descriptions and material & colour samples and show all to the client. When the final designs are selected I start either working on them myself or if they're made in the client's factory I order the material and trimmings and prepare the patterns and instructions for production. When the samples are ready I view them through with the client and either make corrections or instruct the client's factory to do it.

FS: What are 5 of your favorite design items at home?
HM: 5) Irish Waterford Crystal photo frame - the heavy duty frame stands steadily on the table and folds the light nicely, 4) Marimekko fashion and home textiles - very good quality materials and work with beautiful patterns, 3) Chanel classic ballerina shoes - high all over quality and beautiful timeless design, 2) Iittala Taika Mugs - good size (400 ml) mug and beautiful design, 1) Nikon D7000 camera - stylish and very functional piece, always with me where ever I go.

FS: Can you describe a day in your life?
HM: I'm very organised and disciplined, my usual workday starts at 8 - 8:30 am, I check and reply my work emails first, place orders if I need anything and then start either designing or producing. Alternatively I can have marketing, material sourcing or meeting-up-with-clients days. I have regular breaks - coffee and lunch/ dinner and gym/ walk - during the day to keep myself energetic throughout it. During the breaks I also do status updates on social medias have any important things happened. I finish my day around 8 pm, if I'm tufting it's usually 10pm or later.

FS: Could you please share some pearls of wisdom for young designers? What are your suggestions to young, up and coming designers?
HM: Prepare to work hard. In it helpful is a load of self-discipline and in advance planned daily time-tables, ability to be flexible and most importantly the real passion for what you're doing.

FS: From your perspective, what would you say are some positives and negatives of being a designer?
HM: Positives: A designer is a director of different life stories and has the power in her/his hands to make the world a little bit better/ worse place. Negatives: the competition in the design field is very hard.

FS: What is your "golden rule" in design?
HM: Strongly customer centred thinking mixed with faith for your own instincts.

FS: What skills are most important for a designer?
HM: Listening and the customer centred problem solving skills.

FS: Which tools do you use during design? What is inside your toolbox? Such as software, application, hardware, books, sources of inspiration etc.?
HM: Sketchbook, pencil, water colour pencils, (yarn & fabric) colour cards, Adobe Illustrator & PhotoShop & InDesign, fashion magazines, internet, sewing machine, iron, pattern drawing and tracing papers, ruler, (base cloth, blunt knitters needle, tuft yarn), camera.

FS: Designing can sometimes be a really time consuming task, how do you manage your time?
HM: Please see question number 24.

FS: How long does it take to design an object from beginning to end?
HM: My award winning convertible coat took 6-7 weeks from a sketch to a finished sample. The hat I submitted this year took 3 weeks altogether.

FS: What is the most frequently asked question to you, as a designer?
HM: Where do you get your inspiration from? AND How are your products washed?

FS: What was your most important job experience?
HM: Working as a sole designer for Finnish high-end ladies wear wholesaler and retailer Tazzia Oy in 2002-2007. The job gave me wide experience not only on designing ladies wear, but also on merchandising and selling. Within those years I bumped into lots of the pieces, I designed, in Finland daily. I also spotted several Tazzia gowns during the direct broadcast from the Presidential Palace's party in every December 6th.

FS: Who are some of your clients?
HM: Former Finnish MP Leena Harkimo and other Finnish business representatives.

FS: What type of design work do you enjoy the most and why?
HM: I like most designing high-end ladies wear which my earlier experience both at Tazzia Oy and the Chanel-boutique Dublin support. Also designing children's prints is close to my heart. Recently I've taken a deep dive into the Service Design within which the development of both private and public sector internationalisation services is of my expertise.

FS: What are your future plans? What is next for you?
HM: I'm planning adding a little collection of new, very well thought, one-off accessories pieces to my continuing tufted product range for winter 2016-17 and looking to find retailers to stock them internationally. Due to my recent Service Design post-graduate degree course I'm qualified to design different kind of services for public and private sector now also.

FS: Do you work as a team, or do you develop your designs yourself?
HM: I work on my own and use help of contractors in printing my own marketing material, photography and sales.

FS: Do you have any works-in-progress being designed that you would like to talk about?
HM: At the moment I'm working on a collection of multi functional luxurious hand bags for ladies.

FS: How can people contact you?
HM: Best way to do it is by email and addressing the messages to heli at heli-mg dot com

FS: Any other things you would like to cover that have not been covered in these questions?
HM: N/a

FS: Thank you for providing us with this opportunity to interview you.

A’ Design Award and Competitions grants rights to press members and bloggers to use parts of this interview. This interview is provided as it is; DesignPRWire and A' Design Award and Competitions cannot be held responsible for the answers given by participating designers.

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