Interview with designer Heli Miikkulainen-Gilbert (HM), regarding views on design, and for the award-winning design Eco Furs Convertible Coat.

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Interview with Heli Miikkulainen-Gilbert at Friday 19th of February 2016: DI: What is the main principle, idea and inspiration behind your design?
HM : I wanted to create animal friendly furs i.e. faux furs that are also environment friendly. I also wanted to prove that intelligent i.e. functional and everyday wearable clothing can feel and look fabulous!

DI: What has been your main focus in designing this work? Especially what did you want to achieve?
HM : To create garments for busy ladies, like myself, who travel lots especially with airlines and don't have any interest in paying high baggage fees or spending time for queuing at the airports. Also my pieces are to serve working mothers who don't have time and money to shop different coat for every hour of a cooler day. In addition to creating intelligent and ecological furs I wanted, by creating tufted garments, to add versatility to the use of a hundreds of years old crafts technique that still today is mainly used to create flat wall decors and floor rugs only.

DI: What are your future plans for this award winning design?
HM : I'm working on finding a few suitable retailers for this coat and the whole collection, I am also looking to expand my clientele for bespoke pieces.

DI: How long did it take you to design this particular concept?
HM : I started creating the collection in autumn 2009 in Roundwood, Ireland and launched in full at the Showcase 2013 trade show in Dublin, Ireland in January 2013. It takes 6 full weeks to put together this particular coat, at my most efficient.

DI: Why did you design this particular concept? Was this design commissioned or did you decide to pursuit an inspiration?
HM : I created my very first convertible tufted coat - different from this - for curated Elsku Helsinki Fashion Exhibition in Reykjavik, Iceland in spring 2000. It received warm feedback from the organizers, press and visitors and was invited to another Icelandic Fashion Exhibition called Ur og I, in Akureyri Art Museum in autumn 2001 of which organizers told it had again received lots of admiration among other things from the editor of British Dazed and Confused magazine. The coat came back to Finland from its almost 1-year-long Icelandic tour and I started wearing it myself, everywhere and daily, it became my favorite garment simply because it was so functional, comfortable, warm and simply different why it grabbed people’s positive attention everywhere I went in it. At the time I was working for someone else and had no time to do anything except test my creation. In autumn 2009, when I had lived in Ireland for a couple of years already and done loads of coat testing in both countries - and been happy for a while of how good the product is and how much it was liked everywhere it was seen I was encouraged to start developing a full collection of the Ecological Furs for women – who are like me i.e. who appreciate a super functional, good quality, minimal size and beautiful wardrobe and easy, money and time saving but fabulous traveling. This coat is my very last and the very best piece.

DI: Is your design being produced or used by another company, or do you plan to sell or lease the production rights or do you intent to produce your work yourself?
HM : At the moment I'm producing all orders myself, however I'm open to new business ventures.

DI: What made you design this particular type of work?
HM : My love for traditional Scandinavian Rugs and creating something different for women in a need for functional clothing.

DI: Where there any other designs and/or designers that helped the influence the design of your work?
HM : I've always admired the work of Alexander McQueen and the other grand Couturists. My collection wasn't inspired by any particular design or designer though; it is more of their everything-is-possible attitude that inspired and encouraged me to create my pieces.

DI: Who is the target customer for his design?
HM : Strong women, stylish working Moms.

DI: What sets this design apart from other similar or resembling concepts?
HM : The every-day-wearability and its environment friendliness.

DI: How did you come up with the name for this design? What does it mean?
HM : I wanted it to be the most descriptive. It means that the production of my pieces does not harm animals - shearing the lambs, of which produce the wool is, actually prevents deceases in their skin, so it's necessary. Nor the disposal of the coat harms the environment like the disposal of the regular 100 percent synthetic faux furs do. The timeless design and carefully tested high quality materials ensure the pieces are lifetime companions.

DI: Which design tools did you use when you were working on this project?
HM : I sketch by hand and use old fashioned water color pencils for testing color combinations and shapes of the patterns. I also design as I go - I try the pattern by tufting it. If it doesn't look as I want, I pull the tuft out and re-do it as many times as needed for it to look the way I want.

DI: What is the most unique aspect of your design?
HM : Its convertibility and the unique production technique.

DI: Who did you collaborate with for this design? Did you work with people with technical / specialized skills?
HM : No, all is done by myself.

DI: What is the role of technology in this particular design?
HM : The zips, fabrics, tuft yarns and the other trimmings I use in my work are factory made, the end result is purely hand crafted with those listed.

DI: Is your design influenced by data or analytical research in any way? What kind of research did you conduct for making this design?
HM : Testing on humans only.

DI: What are some of the challenges you faced during the design/realization of your concept?
HM : To find a material combo that would make the garments last hard wear day after day - like the Vikings' tufted capes would have done at the time. After testing my very first coat for 5 winters in daily basis and deliberately putting the coat under lots of pressure, some wear-and-tear appeared in the original silk lining. I replaced it with synthetic lining which after 5 more winters still looks like new, like the tightly spun tuft and the dense jute canvas base cloth do, too.

DI: How did you decide to submit your design to an international design competition?
HM : I got some very good feed back for my coat design from Irish Fashion Community at the Showcase 2013 trade show in Dublin where I launched my very first tufted fashion collection in January 2013. Also one piece of it, the Crowned Crane inspired 2 in 1 vest was selected among 23 projects in designboom's ITO JAKUCHU INSPIRED design competition and exhibited at Tokyo Designers Week 2012 in autumn 2012. These 2 events encouraged me to submit my piece.

DI: What did you learn or how did you improve yourself during the designing of this work?
HM : It certainly improved my patience and also encouraged me to be braver and nothing but 'myself' in my design work.

DI: Any other things you would like to cover that have not been covered in these questions?
HM : N/a