Interview Mia Dillemuth | Copy Editor Matthew Jones | Pictures NO/AN

Designer Anna Lehmusniemi has recently launched NO/AN, a Helsinki based slow fashion bag brand. How did you come up with the idea? Can you tell us a little bit of your professional background?

I have been working in the fashion industry for a while. I have experienced the fast fashion cycles and big productions. As you follow seasons, there is a high pressure to create and produce fast. We do not always give the design process the time it needs because of pressure to have a new collection every season. This also impact the retailers, who have only a few months to sell the seasonal products. So much ends up in discounted sales to clear space for new collections.

Little by little I started to react against overconsumption and the reckless pace of the fashion industry. First I changed my own shopping habits and then began to pursue my desire to develop a more sustainable project. I naturally turned to bags since it is my passion and the field I know best.

How did you come up with the aesthetic of your products?

My design style is very much inspired by my Finnish roots. I take inspiration from Nordic landscapes and architecture, which manifest as sleek lines and geometrical forms in my designs. During my master studies I also lived for one year in Rovaniemi, the capital of Lapland, which I feel had a big impact on my design. In Lapland everything is beautiful in its own simple, raw and natural stage. It is the same spirit that I want for my designs.

The materials also play an important role in defining the aesthetics. I do not compromise when it comes to quality and choice of materials and I believe it can be seen in the NO/AN bags. The bags are made with high quality natural grain leather from Portugal and the solid RIRI zippers are made in Italy.

The double leather handles are one of the brand’s trademarks but they are also there for a practical reason; they allow the user to carry the bag in two different ways.

The bags are made in a small, family-owned atelier in Portugal and each bag also carries the name of the person who made it. What is your design philosophy? Which three words describe your brand best?

When you design for another brand you normally follow a given budget when choosing the materials and manufacturing. For NO/AN I decided to make it the other way around and asked myself “What would you do if you had no budget”? So I chose the best atelier, the best leather and the best zippers I knew. My goal was simply to make the best I could from a design and manufacturing point of view. The importance of craft is key within NO/AN; it defines the whole brand. I want to be transparent about my work and bring the customers closer to the manufacturing process. But it is not the only reason that I wanted the artisans to sign the bags they hand produced. It is also a way for me to show appreciation for the talented people making the bags. Without their incredible skills this journey would not be possible.

The three words describing the brand best are minimal, honest and quality.

What values do you find most important nowadays for a designer? What is the responsibility of a manufacturer of a fashion product?

For me the most important values a designer can have is the ability to focus on sustainability, quality and act in an honest way.

It is also very important that designers choose to work only with suppliers and factories that provide their artisans with good working conditions and fair pay. The NO/AN bags are produced in an atelier where I know that the owner family cares truly about their employees.

The leather is a bi-product of the meat industry and comes from a local tannery that prioritizes environmental preservation.

If you want to produce ethically you need to be able to pay more for the manufacturing and also the final clients need to learn to expect this cost. It is also important not to produce more than the demand. This is still possible in Europe where the suppliers have smaller minimum quantities than in China for example.

Since the brand is my own it was natural and easy for me to decide about where, how and with what materials to produce. But it could be very difficult for a designer who is working for someone else with a budget to follow and complex supply chains to impact the manufacturing.  Designers and manufacturers should also aim to use up all leftover materials from productions to limit waste as much as possible.

For whom do you design your bags?

I design my bags for women and men who appreciate quality, minimalist style and are also interested in the story behind the products they buy.

 

We live in an image driven, digital world. The power of striking or surpising campaign pictures especially in social media is crucial. Who are the people behind NO/AN images? Can you tell us about the process?

For NO/AN, I wanted to create an image that is minimal but strong and edgy at the same time. For the photo shooting I have been working closely with stylist and fashion journalist Philippe Pourhashemi who is also my coach. We planned the shoot together and managed to get very talented people to work with us on the shooting day.

The images were shot by talented fashion photographer Michaël Smits from Antwerpen. Michaël has a great eye for details and he knows exactly what he is doing all the time. Michaël’s photos were so amazing that it was really difficult to make the final selection.

We have also been very lucky to work with a beautiful model, Luka Van der Veken. She is very natural and professional on set. She has previously worked for big brands like Balenciaga, Viktor and Rolf and Alexander McQueen etc.

And last but not least: where can we buy NO/AN bags?

The NO/AN bags are available on our webshop on www.noanstudio.com and our resellers are:

Asuna

www.asuna.fi

Fredrikinkatu 24, 00120 Helsinki

STIJL

www.stijl.be

Rue Antoine Dansaertstraat 74, 1000 Brussels

L’heŕoïne

 www.lheroine.be

Noordzandstraat 32, 8000 Brugge

Jack Henry

25 Rue Charlot, 75003 Paris

Cheer-up store

www.cheer-upstore.com

Rue Beaumont 20, L-1219 Luxembourg

Ivalo application

www.ivalo.com

Pictures by NO/AN

Model Luka Van der Veken

Muah Esther Wauters