Heli Miikkulainen-Gilbert

Specialized in Fashion Design.

Heli Miikkulainen-Gilbert

About Heli Miikkulainen-Gilbert

Finnish designer Heli Miikkulainen-Gilbert's work is inspired by the busy career ladies who opt for one-off yet functional daily wardrobe especially on the cool season travels. In a modern way Heli reinterprets the old yet again trendy Scandinavian Rya Rug textile by creating fitted woolen garments which are like furs in terms of their performance. The difference is in detail and animal and environment friendliness. Along the years Heli's pieces have been tested in different European winter climates that has helped her to develop the quality of her pieces into perfection. The luxury fashion brand Heli MG Eco Furs was founded by Heli in 2008 in Ireland where she lived and worked for 6 years. Apart from the Eco Furs Heli works as a Service Designer. She's part of the Finnish Muutosmuotoilu team who help rescuing businesses and the public sector organizations by using the service design tools.

  • Winner of the A' Design Award.
  • Specialized in Fashion Design.
  • Original Design.
  • Creative, Diligent and Innovative.
  • All Designs
  • Fashion
Eco Furs Convertible Coat

Eco Furs Convertible Coat

Fashion Design

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Interview with Heli Miikkulainen-Gilbert

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?
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!
Can you tell us more about your company / design studio?
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.
What is "design" for you?
Design is art of everyday life, a perfect combination of durable functionalism, beauty and food for thought.
What kinds of works do you like designing most?
Super functional yet beautiful fashion pieces and home textiles.
What is your most favorite design, could you please tell more about it?
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.
What was the first thing you designed for a company?
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.
What is your favorite material / platform / technology?
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.
When do you feel the most creative?
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.
Which aspects of a design do you focus more during designing?
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.
What kind of emotions do you feel when you design?
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.
What kind of emotions do you feel when your designs are realized?
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.
What makes a design successful?
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.
When judging a design as good or bad, which aspects do you consider first?
Visually pleasant, functional, safe and in general good quality product is of my choice.
From your point of view, what are the responsibilities of a designer for society and environment?
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.
How do you think the "design field" is evolving? What is the future of design?
It looks to me that the real craftmanship has become more highly valued. The other direction is super technical design.
When was your last exhibition and where was it? And when do you want to hold your next exhibition?
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.
Where does the design inspiration for your works come from? How do you feed your creativity? What are your sources of inspirations?
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.
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?
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.
How do you work with companies?
All kinds of collaboration - only sky is the limit - generates work.
What are your suggestions to companies for working with a designer? How can companies select a good designer?
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.
Can you talk a little about your design process?
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.
What are 5 of your favorite design items at home?
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.
Can you describe a day in your life?
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.
Could you please share some pearls of wisdom for young designers? What are your suggestions to young, up and coming designers?
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.
From your perspective, what would you say are some positives and negatives of being a designer?
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.
What is your "golden rule" in design?
Strongly customer centred thinking mixed with faith for your own instincts.
Which tools do you use during design? What is inside your toolbox? Such as software, application, hardware, books, sources of inspiration etc.?
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.
How long does it take to design an object from beginning to end?
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.
What is the most frequently asked question to you, as a designer?
Where do you get your inspiration from? AND How are your products washed?
What was your most important job experience?
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.
Who are some of your clients?
Former Finnish MP Leena Harkimo and other Finnish business representatives.
What type of design work do you enjoy the most and why?
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.
What are your future plans? What is next for you?
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.
Do you work as a team, or do you develop your designs yourself?
I work on my own and use help of contractors in printing my own marketing material, photography and sales.
Do you have any works-in-progress being designed that you would like to talk about?
At the moment I'm working on a collection of multi functional luxurious hand bags for ladies.
How can people contact you?
Best way to do it is by email and addressing the messages to heli at heli-mg dot com

Designer of the Day Interview with Heli Miikkulainen-Gilbert

Could you please tell us about your experience as a designer, artist, architect or creator?
I've been in the fashion industry nearly 20 years now; since I got my BA Degree in Fashion Design from the Finnish Kuopio Academy of Design in 1999. After the graduation, having had started the work already during the last years of my studies, I continued design work for the Finnish bag supplier Cassinna Oy and created several successful collections of children's rucksacks and prints. In spring 2002 I was selected for the high-end ladies wear designer's position in Tazzia Oy, an indigenous Finnish wholesaler and boutique chain, and I was their sole designer for 5 years. In my spare time I worked on my own design projects such as custom-made print-shirts for men. I moved to Ireland in spring 2007 and dove in the Irish crafts & design circles while working as a sales consultant for Chanel ready-to-wear for a little while, in the beginning of my Irish life. Having had introduced my own creations/inventions, among others, the woollen tufted Eco Faux Furs, to lots of people by that time I was highly encouraged to start developing my own brand which I did later on along with running my own design & making business. Life threw me back to Finland in 2013. For the last half a decade I have been working in sales of Finnish fashion & lifestyle brand Marimekko, participated in some service design projects for the Finnish public & private sector and focused on growing the Eco Faux Furs brand.
How did you become a designer?
Both my late Grandma and Father were real craftspeople who encouraged and inspired my creativity already when I was a very little girl. After the school days I used to cycle to my Grandma's and stay there for a few hours until my parents were off work and home. She taught me to sew clothes for my dolls and later on for myself with her super cool antique Singer pedal sewing machine. My Father taught me the principals of the wood and metal work. I didn't really need to think what I wanted to do after finishing the high-school as I naturally wanted to educate myself to work as a (clothing) designer for the rest of my life.
What are your priorities, technique and style when designing?
My Father had been quite an inventor, I also have always had tendency to do something more than just high-street mass-produce-fashion so I kept my eyes and mind wide-open throughout the studies of 5-6 years; I absorbed all possible skills and knowledge in different types of clothing (women, men, children, elderly, sports, work, etc) and wanted to learn wide variety of manufacturing techniques and materials. To be able to create commercial fashion and sell myself as a professional I did very intensive studies in business & marketing and got 3rd level Degree in Business & Administration 2 years later. I top up my skill-bank continuously. My strengths as a designer are innovative customer-centred solutions which are made possible only by spending a big part of my design career with the potential end-customers at different shop floors. The real need is the force that drives my design work. I study the customers and everyday life endlessly. I try to allow myself as much time as possible for carefully thinking through the production process in my head at the start of the process which saves me time, energy and materials. In illustration of my ideas and work process I use both the old-fashioned and digital tools - lately mostly the last ones mentioned - for efficiency and the environment health.
Which emotions do you feel when designing?
Probably all emotions are included. The 'invention'-moment after the pre-research gives feeling of excitement and inspiration that drives for the fast testing of the idea. The end result looking and working the same way or better as the original idea and getting the good feedback from the tester is a huge source of joy for me. Seeing strangers wearing my creations in the streets and on-line every time makes my heart take an extra jump of joy.
What particular aspects of your background shaped you as a designer?
Being born into a creative and crafty family, having encouraging and supportive parents and real calling to the creative industry. For more answers to this question please see the former answers.
What is your growth path? What are your future plans? What is your dream design project?
I'm still only in the start of developing my own Eco Faux Furs brand and my dream is to grow it bigger, to the international catwalks and have a showcase of my own. But I want to keep it non-mass-produce and as ecological as possible and I'm dreaming of creating a new and actual 'still-secret-concept' around it to bring up the profits i.e. make my own living full-time with it and at the same time help the world.
What are your advices to designers who are at the beginning of their career?
Learn to sell yourself as a professional and do it constantly. Learn new things and update your knowledge continuously. Prepare to work hard and be different, your own individual. To work for someone else you need to have excellent business-mindset in addition to your creative and artistic skills as there's no continuity in the designer's position if there's no sales.
You are truly successful as a designer, what do you suggest to fellow designers, artists and architects?
Learn new things and update your knowledge continuously, create new things and push them through the old-fashioned sales and marketing people: once a great designer doesn't mean always a good designer - one day you're in and one day you're out, the end-users are hungry for new. To achieve new, don't be afraid to put your heads together with the other artists, even with your competitor, and learn from them.
What is your day to day look like?
I'm disciplined and get up the same time every morning whatever my timetable is. I go out every day and in full live the routines and observe carefully life and people around me. I listen to people and make notes in my day job in the lifestyle & fashion sales. I limit the usage of mobile devices and connecting online to the very minimum when I'm with people - I exist - which makes me feel productive and inspired in my creative problem solving when it's scheduled in my daily routine.
How do you keep up with latest design trends? To what extent do design trends matter?
Like Mademoiselle Chanel put it into words: Style stays, fashion goes. I agree with her. However, the trends matter in some extent, of course; the lines and cut of clothing have to reflect the times and I try to fit them in my own work as timeless as possible. During the digital times following the current and up-coming trends has been made so easy and efficient one can save lots of time in trend-hunting when compared to the days 20 years ago.
How do you know if a product or project is well designed? How do you define good design?
Good design works well and safely in multiple needs. Its full life circle is environment friendly. It's durable and timeless design - a lifetime companion. It's pleasant for all senses not forgetting being an excellent seller.
How do you decide if your design is ready?
My design process is at final when after intensively testing the mock-ups/ concepts myself and getting honest & satisfied feedback for them from the other testers the reviews-drawn-together meet the targets I've set for the designs.
What is your biggest design work?
Generally I'm the proudest of my work load given to the companies I have worked for throughout my career as by it I have managed to help their business to grow. That makes me realise I'm a professional and talented designer. Also I'm proud of my own brand that I have managed to develop to its current state of success from the scratch - the product being such unusual.
Who is your favourite designer?
I really have many favourite designers, however the two of them are really standing up from the crowd; Sarah Burton for Alexander McQueen and Karl Lagerfeld for Chanel. They share the same values as I do in design & arts of which one can be described by the Finnish word 'sisu' which means the very extreme patience and force to help in doing almost impossible things. Plus the quality of both brands is not negotiable.
Would you tell us a bit about your lifestyle and culture?
I live in Finland, the country with 4 proper seasons that all inspire me the different way. Not any day of the year is boring as every season brings new things to do and get energy & inspiration from. I used to dislike the dark wintertime, however since I moved back from Ireland 5 years ago I've learned to survive it and have highly enjoyed the bright light and colour therapy during my workdays all year round in Marimekko, the colourful and joyful Finnish fashion & lifestyle brand. I have arranged my home the most minimalistic but lived-alike to ensure my family and myself have the space to breathe and unwind in the middle of the demanding life, also make the friends feel welcome and my flow of creative thoughts to flow. I prefer functional design in my life and I tend to re-design as I go. Finland is very inspiring country for that with the countless amount of opportunities based on the 4 seasons of the year.
Would you tell us more about your work culture and business philosophy?
My colleagues throughout my career have told it's easy to work with me as I create a friendly, equal and professional space around me. Talking about business I have a very strong business mind-set and I expect my partners to be the same. Working for the others I fully commit to achieve the corporate targets and I treat my job as if it was a position within my own company. I have strong work ethics, however I have also very clear sense of right and wrong which I don't allow to be questioned.
What are your philanthropic contributions to society as a designer, artist and architect?
I do and am very happy to volunteer with my workload and arts to help my community, family and friends. However, learned by my mistakes throughout the years - which is the best way to learn really and one shouldn't be afraid of it - it's very important to be aware of where to draw the line in giving away your time and ideas for free. One must stand on solid ground her/ himself to be able to help the others. Be selfish the healthy way when thinking of involving yourself in the projects. You must carefully think upfront what's in it for the real improvement of that something asking you to join, not forgetting for a minute what's in it for you/ your brand/ your business. To find the suitable events and opportunities growing actively your network first is the best way get involved. I continuously look for people to collaborate with and every proposal I make for my own profit I offer fair profit in return.
What positive experiences you had when you attend the A’ Design Award?
Attending the A'Design award has lifted up both my personal and fashion brands by recognising my talent and original designs professionally and internationally. Set standing up in the big crowd of designers in the times of very aggressive competition has helped my message as a designer being heard. The decisions of the professional and international jury are very carefully thought and based on the attendee's real merits. You have to earn your trophy, money can't buy it. I also find the networking opportunity with the other winners very valuable. The competition is loaded with the collaboration opportunities. It's a big honour being the Designer of the Day - the title encourages continuously getting better and doing better work to keep the title as "one day you're in and one day you're out".

Extended Interview with Heli Miikkulainen-Gilbert

Could you please tell us about your experience as a designer, artist, architect or creator?
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.
How did you become a designer?
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.
Which emotions do you feel when designing?
At the moment I design my own collections i.e. the Heli MG Eco Faux Furs (please see www.heli-mg.com) 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.
What particular aspects of your background shaped you as a designer?
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.
What is your growth path? What are your future plans? What is your dream design project?
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.
What are your advices to designers who are at the beginning of their career?
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.
You are truly successful as a designer, what do you suggest to fellow designers, artists and architects?
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.
What is your day to day look like?
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.
How do you keep up with latest design trends? To what extent do design trends matter?
Among others, a collection of Heli MG Eco Faux Furs multi-functional and convertible handbags. And the project described in the answer 9.
How do you decide if your design is ready?
Chanel - using the very best of everything to deliver the great product and the best customer service.
What is your biggest design work?
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
Who is your favourite designer?
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.
Would you tell us a bit about your lifestyle and culture?
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.
What positive experiences you had when you attend the A’ Design Award?
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.

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