Samuji on Being the Change
The inspiration to start Advance Copy came from meeting individuals who work in fashion and share a common regard for philosophy, purpose and quality aesthetics. Samu-Jussi Koski, Founder of Finnish womenswear and lifestyle brand Samuji, is the perfect example of such person. Samu and his team have proven that it’s possible to be graceful and honest even in the toughest times that can be faced when managing an independent fashion brand. And so, I’m pleased to share my conversion with the charming and humble Samu from spring 2018, an insight into the grounding values behind his Helsinki-based brand.
AC: Hello Samu, thank you for taking this time to chat with Advance Copy. Could you begin by telling us about your career, what was your journey into fashion?
Samu-Jussi Koski: I studied here in Finland, first at Lahti University and after that, I was working at Helsinki’s Design Museum, I learnt everything from the old masters and that was amazing. Later on I had an opportunity to work for Marimekko, assisting many different people and then, suddenly, I started designing my own line for them. I ended up staying [with the company] for almost 10 years but around 2008, I moved on to study my Master in Polimoda, Florence.
I came back to Marimekko to take the role of a Creative Director, but after a year I wanted to leave, I was a little bit tired of how the fashion industry worked, not Marimekko, but everything together. It was somehow a professional turning point. I was away for about half a year and I didn’t do anything at all but then I begun to miss working and to think that maybe I can be the change that I was looking for, it sounds like a big thing, but they say that little rivers make the ocean…
“I started to think that maybe I can be the change.”
AC: How did this feeling of wanting a personal change turn to reality of starting your brand, Samuji?
Samu: I started to wonder about my kind of company, and what it could be like: how should it work, what should I do, in what ways? I started to think about the idea of a complete wardrobe. I heard from my friends that they were searching for a particular t-shirt from somewhere and the best jeans from somewhere else… that led to a thought that maybe there should be a company where you can find all these pieces in the same place.
I started to interview my friends, asking: if there were only 10 pieces of clothing that they could design for the rest of their life, what would they be? It was amazing, because almost all of them said the same basic things: t-shirt, perfect jeans, perfect black dress, cardigan, something like this. I created the classic line for the complete wardrobe from these pieces, doing a lot of research into each one. That was the starting point and then I added a seasonal line that worked together with the classics: more bohemian, colourful, a little bit of print.
AC: How did you build the brand from these few initial capsule collections into one of the first Finish fashion companies to sell internationally?
Samu: Samuji is small and we are not well known everywhere, but somewhere we are a little bit. When we started here, almost 9 years ago in the middle of nowhere, there wasn’t much going on for fashion in Finland, apart from Marimekko. We did our first photoshoot, lookbook and a little press release, we were just sending it out everywhere we could. And then we suddenly started to get press interviews, from big magazines like Monocle, Wallpaper and The New York Times. It was amazing, we were surprised, and then I realised that the biggest thing is to put your money into photography, because that’s what takes you where you want to go. As a brand, it’s the only thing you can show someone for the first time and it’s amazing what power this has.
AC: Earlier today I visited your store, Samuji Koti in Helsinki’s city center, which houses different design objects as well as Samuji’s ready to wear. There seems to be a strong connection between the brand and other creative fields, building on your overall love for design, craft and making.
Samu: That’s nice to hear. I think it’s organic and intuitional. I’ve always been interested in all artistic fields and expressions, their origins. It’s also natural for me to choose people to work in-store who are interested in a lot of different things. I think we are not so interested in fashion but clothes, how to make them beautiful, to make them last in both an aesthetic way and a quality way.
AC: There is a humbleness to your approach that’s evident on Samuji’s website, where you mention ‘happiness’, a word not often associated with brand descriptions.
Samu: There are so many people who feel bad about themselves and somehow I think a lot of these people come to fashion. Even though I’m joking about that, but I think there is a little truth in it too. It was something I was thinking about before starting the brand. And so with Samuji, we talk about ‘a kind mind’.
“The women who wear our clothes are similar, they are independent-thinking, which goes well with our brand mentality.”
AC: How do you communicate this idea of ‘a kind mind’ externally through press and to your loyal costumers?
Samu: We are a small company so we naturally need to do things differently, we can’t do big fashion shows for example. I’ve also never understood why people follow film stars, pop stars, I just feel like they are the same as us. But, we have had amazing support, for example from Meryl Streep wearing our coat during a women’s rights panel discussion and Lena Dunham too. At the same time, I feel happy whenever I see anyone wearing our things, it’s the same thing. The women who wear our clothes are similar, they are independent-thinking, which goes well with our brand mentality. How can it be that these people pick Samuji’s clothes?
AC: I think the decisions you make act as a natural filter, your choices carry messages to collaborators and clients. In a way ‘you reap what you saw’.
Samu: Yes, it’s weird and wonderful at the same time!
AC: It must be reassuring that your vision reaches the right people, those who appreciate the spirit and depth of your work.
Samu: Yes absolutely. If we’re talking about marketing, I think that all brands should be open about what they stand for. Companies just want to please customers and buyers, but they don’t want to state their values clearly, in case these end up putting clients off. But I feel like we are living in a world where we need to stand for something.
“All brands should be open about their values and what they stand for.”
AC: In terms of the overall retail landscape, are there any changes that you would like to see that could provide a more stable future for independent brands?
Samu: When we started we thought that department stores were the answer to everything because they would make big orders. Now we see that they are suffering too, and it’s funny because they all look the same and represent the same brands everywhere. I don’t understand who is interested in going to all these cities to see the same brands, everywhere from Stockholm to Tokyo to Bangkok. A department store was somewhere people went to see what was happening in the world. I think there are interesting ways in which department stores could adapt now. For example, look at Japanese websites, their buyers are searching for the best things all over the world, and I don’t just mean luxury items, but also pottery from Italy or Japan, linen towels from Lithuania, organic cotton from Peru, we could bring these ideas to department stores. To surprise people with something they’ve never seen before. This approach is more risky of course, but then there is no win without risk.
AC: That’s a wonderful phrase to end on Samu. Thank you so much for your time and for sharing your experience of running an independent fashion brand in Finland.
Samu: Thank you so much for coming!