Interview on August 12, 2011

Hey, Tuula! How are you?

I could not be better! I’ve been seven weeks in Köyliö for summer vacation - enough that I began to yearn for work. Usually this time of year I begin to become frightened for November (dark winters), but this fall seems to be so interesting, that I guess I will survive.

Do you tell a little about yourself.

I am a 45 year old woman, a mother and a designer - at the moment everything is quite in harmony. The beginning of my career was rich; I did everything from youth clothing and denim design to furniture and textiles. The cross-disciplinary projects with colleagues I did were also very important to me. Then the children came and the return and recovery back to work seemed challenging. I started with small, self-motivated projects and now things seem to be back rolling again. It is a great feeling now things are going again – like a student, without the added responsibilities and hassles of kids.  

How did you become a designer?

This style of work that I use is inherited from my home. My father is a carpenter and all is made at home himself.  In the art school I studied textile design in addition to clothing design and some design management. In the field of design there are certain laws which apply to all but it has been interesting to expand beyond that.  A change in my field of work has never been in mind, so I'm probably on the right sector.

The ONNI shop Tuula Pöyhönen runs from home

You have your own ONNI-fashion brand, which includes clothing, accessories and shoes. What words would you describe ONNI products?

ONNI products are definitely crafted in my appearance and size. I make them completely on my own initiative and a very small scale. I experience it as if I had my own testing laboratory.

You brought your work home and now keep the ONNI shop at home as well as your home studio. How does it work at home?

We tried first with my colleague Susan Elo working with a normal business location. It proved to be unworkable: Rental ate the profit and the time ran to waste, when work was not possible because of the normal activity in the shop. I live with my family in an old sewing factory, which has a large hall and a second entrance on the street. It seemed silly to rent shop space, when there is plenty of room at home. The home is empty during the day, when my husband is working and the kids are at school and kindergarten. I like the fact that I can do many things at the same time. Then there is not a problem if the child is ill or if you wish to work even in the middle of the night.

So, the house is open to individuals. What are the good sides?

Initially I have to say that the door is not used very much.  Most customers are handled with e-mail.  However, it is fun to meet people in person.  It does not seem to interfere with my family, at least not on this scale. The real image and the style of thinking will also be conveyed to the customer when they go to the place where everything happens. Privacy is a state of mind and I do not feel my life is open even though there are guests in my home: it is only space and furnishings. This could be compared to purchasing directly from the farm, for example. The farmer, their family and pets are all greeting the customer. Also customers are able to understand the difference in coming to the home or the mall.

What about the downsides?

I always find myself realizing, until the beginning of the summer holidays and after changing the country, how much I will spent time within the same walls. The feeling is amazing when you drive through the fields in a constant landscape where there is more sky than land.

Tuula Pöyhönen is also involved in Marimekko’s Surrur book, which gives tips on do-it-yourself products

How important is it to you that ONNI products are made in Finland?

This small-scale means any other place would not be possible. It's great to feel the personal connection with the makers and to communicate in the same language. However, it is annoying at the same time that the professionalism of Finland is disappearing. It is difficult to find a factory whose work quality is good, and which also produces small batches.

You are involved in the beautiful book Surrur - Make your own Marimekko, which sets out Marimekko's designer’s ideas and instructions to make more creative do-it-yourself products. Was it hard to invent the ideas?

The invention of items was not difficult, but fun. That's my job.

In Marimekko’s Surrur book you will find tips on how to do Seepra clothes

Do you do any other forms of cooperation with Marimekko? Is there some new products coming?

Yes, but the launch still needs to wait.

Do you have a designer role model?

In particular of course are Finland's own greats like Vuokko Nurmesniemi, Annika Rimala and Maija Isola. Of course I have my favourites among contemporary Finnish designers as well. I admire a lot Susan Elo’s works, Tuija Asta Järvenpää thinking and Harri Koskinen’s attitude of being Finnish. My foreign favorite is the Belgian Martin Margiela. Interested to know where he's gone - really mysterious figure. A major source of inspiration is also my son Mosse, who is constantly crafting things.

What does your home look like?

Crazily messy right now. The shop space is filled with stuff in need of cleaning from the aftermath of the flea market. The children enjoyed a rainy day indoors and they have built sandboxes for dinosaurs on oven trays on the kitchen table.

Soft toys have been attached to children's bags

Do you have a favorite object?

Ear protector and head lamp. I am dependent on them.

What is coming this autumn for you?

I will return to everyday life, when schools and daycare centers begin.  A few trips to the city to buy some fabrics and a couple of parties. Mainly it’s  everyday life is what is best.

ONNI-Shop Kulmakatu 5, Helsinki.

Text: Mikko Vaija

Translation: Darby Thomas