Heli Miikkulainen-Gilbert

Professional in Fashion Design.

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 Fashion Design Award.
  • Specialized in Fashion Design.
  • Original Design.
  • Creative, Diligent and Innovative.
  • All Designs
  • Fashion
Eco Furs Convertible Coat

Eco Furs Convertible Coat

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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

Extended Interview with Heli Miikkulainen-Gilbert

Could you please tell us a bit about your design background and education?
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.
What motivates you to design in general, why 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.
What do you design, what type of designs do you wish to design more of?
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 should young designers do to become a design legend like you?
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 distinguishes between a good designer and a great designer?
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 makes a good design a really good design, how do you evaluate good design?
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.
What is the value of good design? Why should everyone invest in good design?
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 would you design and who would you design for if you had the time?
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.
What is the dream project you haven’t yet had time to realize?
Among others, a collection of Heli MG Eco Faux Furs multi-functional and convertible handbags. And the project described in the answer 9.
Who are some other design masters and legends you get inspired from?
Chanel - using the very best of everything to deliver the great product and the best customer service.
What are your favorite designs by other designers, why do you like them?
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
What is your greatest design, which aspects of that design makes you think it is great?
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.
How could people improve themselves to be better designers, what did you do?
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.
Who helped you to reach these heights, who was your biggest supporter?
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.
What’s your next design project, what should we expect from you in future?
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.
How does design help create a better society?
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.
What are you currently working on that you are especially excited about?
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.
Which design projects gave you the most satisfaction, why?
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.
Where do you think the design field is headed next?
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.
How long does it take you to finalize a design project?
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.
When you have a new design project, where do you start?
In interaction with a customer I define the problem(s) that the project is to solve.
Do you think design sets the trends or trends set the designs?
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.
What is the role of technology when you design?
The use of the professional tools and machines is essential to achieve a professional end-result.
What kind of design software and equipment do you use in your work?
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.
What is the role of the color, materials and ambient in design?
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.
What do you wish people to ask about your design?
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?
When you see a new great design or product what comes into your mind?
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.
Who is your ideal design partner? Do you believe in co-design?
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.
Which people you interacted had the most influence on your design?
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.
Which books you read had the most effect on your design?
Biographies of the great names in design and the stories of the big brands.
How did you develop your skills as a master designer?
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.
Irrelative of time and space, who you would want to meet, talk and discuss with?
Bono of the U2 and Karl Lagerfeld, the leading figures of the great brands.
How do you feel about all the awards and recognition you had, is it hard to be famous?
Not hard at all; after getting the award I've been taken more seriously as a designer.
What is your favorite color, place, food, season, thing and brand?
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.
What makes your day great as a designer, how do you motivate yourself?
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.
Please tell us anything you wish your fans to know about you, your design and anything else?
The best story of me tell my Instagram profile helimg_ecofurs and my Twitter profile @Heli_Gilbert

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