On a sunny summer afternoon I park outside a lush garden and a wooden old house, just like the one Pippi Långstrump lives with her horse and monkey. Instead, I’m gladly woffed by a dog, Chewbacca, who obviously wants to be my next best friend. I am in the Arabia area where Helsinki was born some 460 years ago (you can take tram number 6 to Arabia, takes about 20 minutes). The area is developing into a new art and design ‘hood of Helsinki.
I’m meeting a happy family of three: Milla, Hiro and Chewbacca, the dog, who recently established a design business of handmade textiles called Kauniste. I feel like entering the Garden of Eden, the environs are just for creative, made by hand work with a twist of flower power, granny-made bisquits and juice.
Kauniste manufactures beautiful, playful kitchen textiles. The studio is small and simple, like the surroundings away from large factories and concrete walls. Two design talents, Leena Kisonen and Matti Pikkujämsä, are the young minds of the collections, inspired by nature, countrylife and childhood memories.
We are having afternoon coffee and buns in the garden while chatting about life, design, inspiration, entrepreneurship and neighbourgoodness.
HN: How did Kauniste get started?
Milla: The area is excellent for networking and idea exchange with all kind of talented out of the box thinkers as there is a good mixture of young students, established creative businesses and small entrepreneurs, who all contribute to the creativeness blurring in the neighbourhood. Kauniste is about a group of students and friends, who decided to make something useful and fun together. Leena is actually my cousin, too.
HN: How does it feel being young design entrepreneurs?
Milla: We wanted to create something beautiful, useful and lasting in a world full of meaningless materia. Something that makes you smile even years from now. Something you want to keep for a long time.
We started from scratch, and we still are a tiny business with a tiny studio, but all of this is superduperfun and rewarding! I feel like we could keep doing this forever. Hiro and I, we both come from entrepreneur families, so starting our own business felt like the most natural step for us.
First year (2009), we attended the Design Market event at Cable Factory and sold out our stock in a minute. Lately, Monocle contacted us for a feature in their magazine and we were totally boomed! We have also started social media feeds on Twitter. There are a few blogposts, one of them in Mjölk, a Canadian-Scandinavian design blog. Seems like the word is out there.
HN: We really like your website and logo in all of its simplicity. Who is the mastermind behind?
Hiro: I have studied web design and programming so I play with our ideas online. The bird came litterally just out of the blue – we sketched and sketched and there it suddenly was. It connects our designs with nature and beauty. Kaunis means good in Japanese (and beautiful in Finnish) and it is one of my favourite words in Finnish. So we became Kauniste.
HN: Tell us a little about the textiles and designers Leena and Matti?
Milla: We have four collections: “In the kitchen (Keittiössä)” and “Crop (Satoa)” by Leena and “Mushrooms (Sienet)” and “Farm (Maatila)” by Matti. Leena’s speciality is her technique, paper cutting. It requires a lot of work, but makes an edgy, personal pattern. Matti combines various techniques and usually adds a fun factor into his designs. We will be presenting our newest collections at Helsinki Design Market 28-29 August.
HN: Describe a typical working day here in the Garden of Eden, if I may call it so.
Hiro: Well, as we are only the three of us (Chewbacca is a hard-worker, too), we get to do a variety of things. There isn’t really a typical day – everyday is different. Normally we do a lot of testing on the screens and fix colours. We produce two collections per year and are looking for new designers in the area. We also talk a lot about ideas, techniques and using of colours with others to come up with new ideas for products and to improve our working methods.
Milla: I focus more on finding retailers and quality control. Buyers are unique so it feels good to get direct feedback from the market on our products as well as to be there negotiating in person. I have a background in exporting design products especially to Japan, which naturally helps a lot. Most of our clients are in Japan, who seem to be fond of the balance of colourful splashes, simplicity and pureness in our products. In Finland, Design Forum is our biggest retailer. Our products can be bought in Japan, Italy, Sweden, US, Canada and Ireland at the moment.
HN: Where do you get your own inspiration? Who is your favourite designer at the moment, and why?
Hiro: I get my inspiration from the nature and change of seasons. Finland is a beautiful country with so many contrasts. It’s like a big play of all the colours in life – from light to darkness, from water and grass to snow and ice and everything in between. It’s a bliss.
Milla: Oh, there are so many wonderful and talented designers through the years. One of my all time favourite is Esteri Tomula with her fantastic patterns and use of colour in a playful, exciting and fun way. I also like some of the young designers of the Napa Gallery.
HN: Tell us about the Arabia area? What are the best things around here? How would you like to develop the area from a design perspective?
Milla: We felt immediately at home here. There is a feeling of a real community and belonging, here ideas flow and everyone gets to be themselves. It is a creative hub of gardeners, designers, freelancers and craftsmen who spice up the area with amazing social energy. You feel safe here. People don’t lock doors when they leave – the neighbourwatch is there for you.
There is also an active community hub in the area, who arrange spontane street markets, exhibitions, foodie get-togethers and other artsy events without big money or hassle and a lot less attitude. People come and go as they like and share what they have – whether it is a garden, a coffee pot, story or a pie – it always adds up to a feist!
I believe the strenght of this area is the independency, hyperlocality and sharing thinking. We hope to see the area developing into a mini Design District, like the one downtown – but more intimate, yet open, and original. Here the different design locations are in a more compact area, which also makes interaction and sharing of thoughts within the group easy and casual. It generates a greater level of engagement what seems to be a true win-win concept for us all.
HN: What do you do when you are not working? Where are your best Helsinki hotspots and why?
Hiro: We love going to the Hakaniemi Market to buy some salmon, cheese and local delicacies on weekends. It has become a ritual. I also play football with a group of guys and gals at the local sports field. Milla goes jogging in the old Helsinki shore (Helsinki was established in the area over 450 years ago) – makes a perfect 45min run covered with calming seaviews, greenery and culture.
Milla: We stay a lot on our summer cottage, just like typical Finns. We pack our car and head out for digging dirt and enjoying quietness in the country. I guess it’s one of the Helsinki-deluxes – being in a big city yet so close to nature. I also like to go to Napa Gallery for exhibitions. Another sweet spot is the Alppila park for pique-nique and live music as the outdoor concerts of Finnair stadium can be heard all the way and all for free!
Thank You Milla, Arigato Hiro and Woff Chewbacca! Good luck with your business!
Kauniste, Kongontie 12 A, Helsinki – Do notice this is not a shop, but a studio. Please call in advance and ask for an appointment, if you want to visit. Otherwise feel free to stroll in the area!