Katri Niskanen is a successful Finnish Designer who won the first Project Runway Finland Edition almost nine years ago.
We have been adoring her namesake label’s designs since then. (And our Creative Director actually worked as a model for her at a showroom event, right after her win!) We visited Katri’s intimate showroom in the centre of Helsinki.
How hard is it to grow your business in Finland? Did winning the Project Runway Finland Edition help you with your brand?
It’s very hard to market your brand and succeed in Finland. It actually was very important for me to win the competition – after that I really started my own brand. I think it’s the coolest thing in fashion that I can focus on doing my namesake brand. The attitude and how much you’re willing to sacrifice for your work is significant, perseverance to believe in your own thing. And I think that in the creative industry you need to be willing to dedicate yourself for your work, it’s unconditional love towards the work for me. You’ll have ups and downs but somehow you’ll just have that sense of direction.
Sorry for starting this with such deep questions. But let’s talk more about your business! So everything is sewn here? Do you have production anywhere else or does everything happen right here?
We’re sewing the clothes mostly here, and I also have production in Estonia. The collection is growing all the time. When I first started everything was made here with low quantities, but when the business grows you need bigger production. The Katri Niskanen collection is the main thing that I’m focusing on and that guides the direction, we’ll have something new coming twice in a year, but I have a strong base of classics that are timeless.
“You’ll have ups and downs but somehow you’ll just have that sense of direction.”
I’d like to chat more about that – there are preseasons that many of the brands are cutting out, because they want to decrease the overall consumption and focus on main collections. What is your mindset in your personal design philosophy?
I actually have those preseason collections now, but they’re spicing up the classics. The main focus is for the timeless classics that will live forever, like little black dresses, gowns and shirts that work in every season and occasion, but it’s good to have some new, seasonal color options or something that bring something more into the mix. But I feel like it’s important to think against the too-fast fashion cycle, it’s important to be able to offer something that you’ll be able to use for a long time. It also shows respect towards the clothes that you want to give them a longer period to be wearable.
That’s exactly what our mission with Fedited Oy LLC is: to show people why to buy and support Finnish design – it’s more valuable to have the high-quality clothes than some cheap fast fashion pieces.
That’s true – you’ll create a special relationship with the clothing, especially in consumption to have the consideration process before you buy anything, not about the price but more about the idea of if you’re going to need, love and take care of the clothing.
You have very classic style – how do you like the current trends, do you buy or make anything that would be trendy at the moment but that would be outdated next year? Do you follow any trends?
For me, fashion is about the joy of getting dressed and a form of self-expression. When you find your own style and you know what you’d wear you can buy some crazy pieces for your wardrobe, but I wouldn’t ever buy anything that I’d wear for two hours and then throw away. Also the fact that people would recycle and sell the clothes to second-hand shops would slow down the consumption cycle.
Do you have a recycling or redesigning service that, for example, if a client wanted to fix one of their old pieces of clothing they can do so?
For my own clients, I of course make changes – when we’re making custom made dresses, we’ve fixed those to be perfect but for the sake of my own schedule we haven’t expanded our business to fixing old clothes. When a client buys something from the collection we can sew those to fit them perfectly, or if our client wants to change something in her old Katri Niskanen clothing piece, then we’ll make fixes.
How about your fabrics, are you the buyer for them or is there someone to help you? Do you have some qualifying criteria for the fabrics before your purchase?
I do all the final decisions myself. The materials are very important to me, and to know where they come from, to feel them, and the durability. I usually choose the fabrics that I’ve already found to work well on my clothes – to know how it behaves, that’s one of the most important aspects of the design process, pattern making as well to make sure that the clothes fit well. I’m very ambitious when it comes to that.
I’ve admired your clothes for years, but especially when I now see the cuts and lines live, you have a specific style – how would you describe the Katri Niskanen brand in three words?
Feminine, timeless… I’d also like to choose soft or elegant but I value it is said that my clothes are comfortable. I’m thinking about the clothing piece so much that when I’ve been in front of a large audience or somewhere with a lot of stress, I love it that my clothes release energy for my use and I can be and act a lot more comfortably and feel more secure and confident, that supports my appearance. I love to get that kind of feedback from my clients, too.
“For me, fashion is about the joy of getting dressed and a form of self-expression”
We’re focusing on supporting entrepreneurs and brands with our company and our website, so I’d like to know how you would describe yourself as an entrepreneur?
I’m the one to throw myself in the unknown, I’m very determined and I’d say very easygoing or hilarious.. let’s just say crazy! That I’m creative and I’m also an entrepreneur, the CEO of my own company, makes it hard to balance between these two aspects and how to make them to work. I’m very interested in growing the company and creating the brand, everything comes from the creativity, passion that supports everything that I do. The brand is kind of like my first child, even though I have a child now as well, but I’ve always taken good care of the brand, never leaving it behind.
I’d like to ask more about the environmental approach in the fashion industry, as these days there are a lot of alternatives. For example, leather, similar fabric can be made of banana leaves – does your company have any specific vision, in addition to your timeless designs fighting against the fast fashion?
All of our values are based on common sense: to make things well, with a lot of thought. I use a lot of time for choosing the fabrics, so that the clothing would live a long life. I also use all the leftover materials, we’ll use them for new samples. I have a lot of ambition for making the whole process better and more sustainable, there are always new innovative materials being introduced, and we’d use the ones that we feel are a good match for our brand.
More on the environmental issues – in Finland the whole shopping culture is already more balanced, but for example, in the States, people are going crazy over fast fashion finds. What would you say to those who are battling between choosing the 5$ t-shirt and the 80$ t-shirt? How could they understand focusing on the authentic designs and sustainability?
If a person has been buying fast fashion for all her life, she should think about her buying habits. For me, fashion and getting dressed is not about the money – you can buy cool things from second hand shops and mix the clothes that you already have. It should be never about the money, and not even about choosing between the cheapest and the most expensive option. Many people also want to support specific brands and support the designers behind them. Even if a person is not buying because of a specific expensive brand label, they might be thinking about the amount of time they would be wearing the clothing. It’s horrible to watch this fast fashion culture because all of the clothes are made by the same processes, hardworking people in a factory for hours a day. While I was doing my internship for a large, international company, I went on a field trip to India, and I also saw that side of the business. With that experience I already got the anti-reaction to that fast fashion world, since then I’ve felt responsible for what I’m creating.
With FEDITED we want to introduce role models, like you, for teenagers or tweenies too, who are still in searching for themselves and unaware of the possibilities in the world of fashion. We want to encourage them to find their passion, in their style and in their career, so that not everyone aspires to look like the Kardashian sisters. Your style can be a great mix of vintage finds and your career options are unlimited! Do you have any advice for the people who are willing to be entrepreneurs or work in the fashion industry?
I’d like to point out that clothes are a good form of self-expression: if you want to be a stylist, all the second hand shops are an extremely fascinating way of finding new inspiration, and also a great way to create trends. I’d encourage them to be brave and try different things, in the field of fashion. There are so many options, like in journalism or designing or sewing: the whole production process is very intriguing, especially if you’re more interested in the clothes themselves. There you’ll get to be a bigger part of making the decisions in materials, patterns etc. But this is an industry where you need to be ready to work. The surface of the business is, of course, glamorous and cool, but when you see the whole picture, there’s so much more under the surface. It might come as a surprise for many, but no it’s not a sad thing! There are these two worlds, and the reality will show who really are into fashion. Many people dream of being a designer, but it requires a certain type of personality to be actually able to do the job. As a designer, at some point the feeling either gets stronger or you realize that you’re more willing to do something else. My advise would be to start working at a clothing store, if you’re willing to work with clothes, so that you get a more complete picture of the industry than just starting to make clothes. For some, it might be that they just start drawing clothes and they’re really good at that and they become a guru.. But usually it takes time, practice, internships… and going to fashion school. Of course you can be successful without a background in fashion school, too.
How would you say the quality of fashion schools in Finland is? Aalto University and other schools? And how do you feel about Sweden still being the successful neighbor who creates worldwide known brands?
Last few years we have gained a lot more international interest because of the Finnish fashion schools, which is great. We have a great boost in the fashion industry going on in Finland, but it takes time and luck to really succeed internationally. In Finland, we’ve had the factories and producing the clothes here, kind of having the whole process in Finland, under control and with smaller quantities – while in Sweden there has not been that many factories of clothing production, they have had the courage to have bigger plans and to work internationally, way before us. Their mentality and understanding of the marketing process and everything is great, how to realize that the processes need a lot of money, support and persistence.
That’s exactly what we have been thinking of.. and about changing that! How about your vision and mission for the future of your brand? What are your future plans and ideas, do you have any boards for your next ten years or so?
No, I make the board in my head and try to focus on the big picture. I’m not willing to get any fast lottery wins but to succeed in the long run with the company. It’s a lifestyle and a part of me, we have certain goals and I want to create my career slowly but surely. I’m working with it full time, but don’t have any lists for what I need to accomplish in the near future with the brand.
Any last tips you’re willing to share regarding entrepreneurship and dreams?
If you have a vision, a fire burning inside of you to do something, I want you to trust your gut and be brave enough to try and reach your dreams. Maybe people are so afraid of failing, what if I don’t succeed with this – and this is what kills the dreams the most. The truth is: You will have failures, everyone will, but the point is to be brave to try and move forward. Self development – it’s in the spirit of this time, even all the hobbies seem to be ambitious, and it’s great that people are really doing the things that they love the most.
We’re so honored to share such great talents such as Katri for larger audiences around the world. Her sophisticated and timeless designs have been seen on many red carpets in Finland – but we’d love to see them on the red carpets of Hollywood! Visit katriniskanen.com to browse her collection.