Interview with Heli Miikkulainen-Gilbert

Winner of Fashion Design Awards

Award Winning Designer Heli Miikkulainen-Gilbert shares insights


Interview with Heli Miikkulainen-Gilbert at Sunday 23rd of October 2016:

DL: Could you please tell us a bit about your design background and education?
HM : All my family members are - and were - great creatives and the creative design thinking was rooted in me straight after I started to understand the world around me. My Grandmother taught me to sew clothes for my dolls by her ancient Singer pedal sewing-machine before I entered the primary school. When I grew up I sewed the majority of my own clothes and was very much into designing interiors. I have a BA degree in Fashion Design and a special qualification in Service Product Design. I worked as a freelance clothing & accessories designer for the very first year since I graduated from the Kuopio Academy of Design, which is a campus of the Savonia University of Applied Sciences in Kuopio Finland. At the same time I was working in Fashion Sales and got good understanding on designing commercial Fashion collections. 2002-2007 I worked as a sole Designer for a Finnish boutique and manufacturing chain Tazzia Oy. The year 2007 brought me to Ireland where I worked for a while in the luxury design sales and later, in 2008, started my own company offering design and manufacturing services and also founded my own brand Heli MG Faux Furs. I came back to Finland in 2013 and am strongly focused in branding, new business development and learning from the best Finnish companies.

DL: What motivates you to design in general, why did you become a designer?
HM : I'm a very creative person and in my daily life I'm - and always have been - exploring the world around me with a critical eye and trying to think a better way of doing things, including Fashion; the customer centered ethical and environment clothing vs mass produced fashion.

DL: Did you choose to become a designer, or you were forced to become one?
HM : It was my own choice, please see the answer to the question 1.

DL: What do you design, what type of designs do you wish to design more of?
HM : At the moment I design my own collections i.e. the Heli MG Eco Faux Furs (please see which are multi-functional woollen faux furs made by using high standard tailoring skills and the traditional Scandinavian Rya (rug) sewing technique. All my products are somewhat convertible and hand-crafted with the very top quality, tightly spun and soft 100% lambs wool. Any genuine leather trimmings used are strictly second-hand or industrial waste pieces. I am also qualified to re-design the service-paths of the businesses in both public and private sector which I enjoy a lot. My approach to designers work is that any design project is to make the world - more or less - a better place for all of us - the plants, the animals and the humans - to live in.

DL: What should young designers do to become a design legend like you?
HM : When one is considering to become a designer he/she should pay some proper time thinking of whether he/she has a real calling to it as in any other profession the day-to-day activities are far from glamour, however if one is prepared to work very hard and not count the hours he/she may be rewarded by a few short moments of fame. Also one should be able to accept the fact that one's work will always be criticized; the successful design projects are barely a one-man's achievement, they're customer centered teamwork and more the customers the more criticism applies from which one has to be able to pick the constructive bits and filter out the irrelevant. And most importantly, one must have a great belief in oneself.

DL: What distinguishes between a good designer and a great designer?
HM : A good designer might be a natural creative talent, but a great designer has, in addition to the talent, great social and professional skills as described in the answer 5, and an ability to sell her/his ideas.

DL: What makes a good design a really good design, how do you evaluate good design?
HM : A really good design is ethical and ecological; constructed with high quality ingredients/ materials and by using production techniques that are proven to result in durable and safe product without a harm to anyone and anything. In addition to that the really great design is interesting in all its aspects and it pleases most of the people and sells lots so.

DL: What is the value of good design? Why should everyone invest in good design?
HM : Great design more or less saves the planet and is worth investing in so. However "money can't buy everything" so it's absolutely insane to over-price the great design that no-one actually can't buy, because one character of a great design is that it sells lots.

DL: What would you design and who would you design for if you had the time?
HM : I've been playing with an idea every so often lately and I'd love to test it in real life; I'd love to re-design the road-side services for the benefit of the thousands of truck-drivers to deliver more luxury and friendliness to the alone-working-souls who spend most of their life in a small cockpit of a truck under lots of pressure. Not forgetting the services for the builders who may spend a month in a construction site barrack accommodation far from their homes. A properly nice break time increases the length of the career and life.

DL: What is the dream project you haven’t yet had time to realize?
HM : Among others, a collection of Heli MG Eco Faux Furs multi-functional and convertible handbags. And the project described in the answer 9.

DL: What is your secret recipe of success in design, what is your secret ingredient?
HM : I'm super determined, patient and hard work loving.

DL: Who are some other design masters and legends you get inspired from?
HM : Chanel - using the very best of everything to deliver the great product and the best customer service.

DL: What are your favorite designs by other designers, why do you like them?
HM : Marimekko thermos flask with white and black Lokki pattern - cool design, perfect size of 0,75 litres and the most I like the fact it keeps my coffee boiling hot until the late afternoon Converse All Star black leather trainers - relaxed, perfectly fitting shoes that go with anything Apple Macbook Pro - stylish design, it's lightweight and it meets my advanced user needs

DL: What is your greatest design, which aspects of that design makes you think it is great?
HM : So far my greatest design is the convertible coat design that was recognized by the A'Design Award jury who granted it with the Golden A'Design Award. It represents nearly all values I set for a great design myself.

DL: How could people improve themselves to be better designers, what did you do?
HM : Openly listen to the customer, without customers there's no business and new designs. Also listen to the masters' advice, don't ever refuse the constructive criticism. Open your eyes, absorb new things and do your own thing differently, don't copy. Study business, without sales skills and understanding in business a designer is only an artist.

DL: If you hadn’t become a designer, what would you have done?
HM : There's never been an option.

DL: How do you define design, what is design for you?
HM : Intensive problem solving.

DL: Who helped you to reach these heights, who was your biggest supporter?
HM : Can't name one really. My family has encouraged and supported me throughout my life. Without my education and work experience in design and sales I wold not be in this position so a huge thank you for great support goes to my entire professional network. And A'Design Award deserves a big thank you for recognizing my work.

DL: What helped you to become a great designer?
HM : My work ethics, social skills, curiosity and creativity.

DL: What were the obstacles you faced before becoming a design master?
HM : Surviving in the sea full of competitors.

DL: How do you think designers should present their work?
HM : Great branding is the key.

DL: What’s your next design project, what should we expect from you in future?
HM : I'd say it's the above mentioned collection of Heli MG Eco Faux Furs multi-functional and convertible handbags which is already on the way.

DL: What’s your ultimate goal as a designer?
HM : Make the world around me a happier place to live in.

DL: What people expect from an esteemed designer such as yourself?
HM : Creative problem solving.

DL: How does design help create a better society?
HM : All-senses-pleasing, needs & values meeting and functional public and private environments, products and services make the daily life more pleasant which feeds the positive thoughts i.e. being content which is a key thing when speaking about happiness in a society.

DL: What are you currently working on that you are especially excited about?
HM : I'm helping in getting one old Finnish organisation back to their feet. I'm afraid I can't tell more yet but I am very excited about the progress made so far.

DL: Which design projects gave you the most satisfaction, why?
HM : In fashion design the great feedback and recognition for the Heli MG Eco Faux Furs pieces - the wholesome successful project - has given me great satisfaction. When I worked as a ladies' wear collections designer for Tazzia Oy I was very proud spotting numerous amount of my well selling designs on the gorgeous ladies in different Finnish locations each day. In services design I got a lot of joy, as a member of an international team of designers, from creating a successful concept for improving the atmosphere of one Finnish Social Welfare office. The concept was to significantly change the attitude of the social workers and their customers by re-designing the reception area more private and self-respect-encouraging and, along the time, decrease the queues.

DL: What would you like to see changed in design industry in the coming years?
HM : Decrease in support for fashion mass production.

DL: Where do you think the design field is headed next?
HM : World is full of things, there's not much need for new mass production really. Meeting the individual needs, the real craftsmanship plus the smart high-technology and quality life improving products are the key things in design. To meet the individual needs the services are the future's most important objects in the design field.

DL: How long does it take you to finalize a design project?
HM : It depends on what I'm doing. A Heli MG Eco Faux Furs fashion piece can take 1-2 weeks at minimum, one month at maximum. Service design projects usually take 1-3 years at minimum.

DL: When you have a new design project, where do you start?
HM : In interaction with a customer I define the problem(s) that the project is to solve.

DL: What is your life motto as a designer?
HM : Without the customer there's no business or new design.

DL: Do you think design sets the trends or trends set the designs?
HM : Customers' needs are to set the designs, however, among others, the brands create the customer needs by targeting their feelings with their designs. The more skilled the marketing and sales teams of a brand are the design of theirs is selling the more and it can create a trend so.

DL: What is the role of technology when you design?
HM : The use of the professional tools and machines is essential to achieve a professional end-result.

DL: What kind of design software and equipment do you use in your work?
HM : Among others, I use an industrial sewing machine, over-locker, a Macbook, pro DSLR camera and Adobe photo editing, illustration and layout design applications when I design.

DL: What is the role of the color, materials and ambient in design?
HM : They play significant roles which change along the needs of the customers. When either of them changes the design becomes new and fitting to someone it didn't fit originally, the usage increases.

DL: What do you wish people to ask about your design?
HM : How the Convertible Heli MG Eco Faux Furs Coat that was granted the Golden A' Design Award can be worn by the different body types?

DL: When you see a new great design or product what comes into your mind?
HM : I think about its pros and cons and try to think how I could turn the possible cons into pros myself. Should the design be with only pros, if I need such a product and can afford getting one, I'd probably buy it.

DL: Who is your ideal design partner? Do you believe in co-design?
HM : My ideal design team consists of minimum 3 design professionals of different fields which brings a few different points of view to the projects. The countries are internationalizing and the best design team is international so.

DL: Which people you interacted had the most influence on your design?
HM : Can't really name one only, generally the design and commercial brand gurus I've spoken with in Ireland and Finland have encouraged my unusual work ahead.

DL: Which books you read had the most effect on your design?
HM : Biographies of the great names in design and the stories of the big brands.

DL: How did you develop your skills as a master designer?
HM : By learning from the masters and losers, by throwing myself in and doing; succeeding and failing. By constantly being eager to develop myself with new supportive skills and knowledge.

DL: Irrelative of time and space, who you would want to meet, talk and discuss with?
HM : Bono of the U2 and Karl Lagerfeld, the leading figures of the great brands.

DL: How do you feel about all the awards and recognition you had, is it hard to be famous?
HM : Not hard at all; after getting the award I've been taken more seriously as a designer.

DL: What is your favorite color, place, food, season, thing and brand?
HM : Can't really point out my favourite colour because it changes along the state of mind. In my own outfits black and white I trust the most and often add a hint of blue to "spice them up". My favourite place is my late Dad's farm which I look after today. My favourite meal is pan fried chicken breast with sweet potato wedges and a glass of full bodied red wine, followed by fresh wild blueberries and raspberries with coconut cream as the dessert. For seasons I absolutely love the Finnish summer with the midnight sun. My favourite and the most used things are my iPhone and the Nikon D700. The brand that has ever influenced me most is Chanel.

DL: Please tell us a little memoir, a funny thing you had experienced as a designer?
HM : N/a

DL: What makes your day great as a designer, how do you motivate yourself?
HM : Making good progress, getting feedback either positive or negative to be able to proceed to the right direction. The target of the project i.e. the happy customer at the end is the greatest motivator for doing my very best and an extra mile more.

DL: When you were a little child, was it obvious that you would become a great designer?
HM : Naturally!

DL: What do you think about future; what do you see will happen in thousand years from now?
HM : The Science Fiction scripts will become the reality.

DL: Please tell us anything you wish your fans to know about you, your design and anything else?
HM : The best story of me tell my Instagram profile helimg_ecofurs and my Twitter profile @Heli_Gilbert