Interview by Mia Dillemuth | Pictures by Eeva Suutari for FRENN | English editor Julie Uusinarkaus

Helsinki-based menswear line FRENN mixes traditional suiting and casual style serving the demands of modern living. Around Journal interviewed founders Jarkko Kallio and Antti Laitinen on their label’s latest collaboration with visual artist Stig Baumgartner. Individualism, sustainability and athleisure are today’s key words in fashion and FRENN manages to contribute to all these ideas.

Can you tell us a little bit about your professional background?

Jarkko: I have worked for over twenty years in the design and lifestyle business in Finland. First came 11 years at Finlayson as a textile designer and then as a marketing coordinator working with photographers, graphic designers, advertising agencies and PR agencies. After Finlayson I shared the design agency Helorinne & Kallio with Harri Helorinne. I have worked as a part-time entrepreneur since 2002 and full time since 2006. Now I am in the fashion business building FRENN.

Antti: I have been working in the Finnish clothing industry since 1997. Mostly at bigger companies such as PTA, Luhta and SOK. I got my design education in Kuopio, with a lot of design, garment construction, pattern-making and also art lessons.

What made you start FRENN in the first place?

Jarkko: I had had a dream since my study years of working some day in fashion, and when I met Antti I felt it was possible. With Antti’s experience in menswear and mine in marketing and communications, it became possible. In 2012 I said now or never. We weren’t getting any younger, so let’s start! FRENN comes from friend, we want to make long-lasting friendships, FRENNs forever. Fashion can be friendly too, not too cold

Antti: We noticed that there was missing something from the market, at least in Finland. Something between traditional suiting and casual. There have also been some changes in our working lives. It felt like the right time to start something new. We would like to create products that are your new best friends. Also our touch is friendly. Some French influences can be noticed in our collections. The name comes from these feelings.

How did you come up with the idea to collaborate with visual artist Stig Baumgartner for the autumn-winter 2018 collection?

Jarkko: Stig is a friend of mine from the Aalto University School of Arts, Design and Architecture. We like what he does, and he wears FRENN. So it was very natural to cooperate. Last autumn when doing AW18 I said to Antti, now it’s time to make it happen. We need something special and interesting for international buyers. We like art and architecture, so it is very natural to bring these themes to FRENN too. The feedback has been very good, so we will continue with Stig in the future.

Are the prints existing artworks, or were they specifically designed for FRENN?

Jarkko: The print for AW18 is based on Stig’s painting because we wanted to bring the strong feeling of an actual art piece to the collection. The big scarf is the actual painting in its real shape. We may continue doing special prints in the future.

Antti: This time we chose from existing art works. We made the choices together with Stig.

Can fashion be art?

Jarkko: Yes it can. In menswear it can be very different than in womenswear. In menswear it can be a bit peaceful but strong. A statement with a manly feeling.

Antti: Yes, but from our point of view fashion is those pieces that people use in their lives. Not just runaway pieces that end up in museums.

Do you think that the trend of athleisure will keep on growing and become a new norm?

Jarkko: It will be very important because working life and lifestyles are changing. We work in different places, travel a lot, and the dress codes are changing. Style meets comfort and functionality.

Antti: I think that athleisure is already a new norm. Comfort, practicality and protection are the key words. This sounds very Scandinavian and fits this northern climate.

What does the slogan ‘against sameness’ mean in your design work?

Jarkko: We want men to dress for themselves, with their personal style. In menswear there are many unspoken codes and norms. We want to break them with affordable and wearable clothing. Be yourself and show your personality in everyday life.

Antti: We want people to rethink how they dress, how they consume. This is a little bit out of the traditional menswear box, but in the context of wearable menswear.

FRENN is a very material conscious company. What new materials have you used in the AW 2018 collection?

Antti: Yes, we are. Fabrication is really the key. We are focusing on texture, colour and print. We have used new technical wools: some of them are wind- and rain-proof and some are traveller friendly.  For the first time we have used corduroy for the AW18 collection. I never imagined ever making this.

What are the key pieces of the collection? What will be the trend item next fall?

Antti: The new Pentti-parka coat with a new boxy oversize silhouette. All the pieces from the Stig Baumgartner collaboration collection.  The trend piece is the brown corduroy suit: the Jere jacket and Sampo trousers, which are the athleisure style in our collection.

What is your approach to sustainability?

Jarkko: We use durable material for long-lasting styles. We use only fabrics from European factories, and most of them are Oeko-Tex 100 certified, safe for the environment and the users. We produce locally in Estonia and visit all our factories often. They are also ISO certified.

Antti: We also try to reduce plastic packing material use in production and transport.

In your opinion, how has the fashion business evolved since the launch of FRENN in 2013?

Jarkko: It has become more unstable, and old patterns no longer work. Retail is changing, and many traditional retailers are struggling as they lack knowledge about new digital marketing tools. The fashion cycles are too fast, and due to cheap shit, people don’t realise anymore what the real cost is of real clothes and materials.

Antti: New Finnish brands have been coming up. It is a very interesting and good thing.  The balance between e-commerce and brick and mortar stores is shaking up all the time, and there is not just one way to do retail. It is harder now to make a breakthrough in the international market than 5–10 years ago.

What inspires you in everyday life?

 Jarkko: Meeting new people and watching how people express themselves in clothing.

Antti: Art, materials, architecture. As cliché as it sounds, Finnish nature, but combined with something modern like architecture.

Where do you see FRENN in five years? 

Jarkko: FRENN will have more of its own stores in Finland and also abroad. FRENN will be more international.

Antti: As a part of the interesting menswear scene, both locally and internationally.

What’s next?

FRENN is opening its first official brand store in Helsinki in April. That’s great! And designing the SS19 collection.


FRENN store opening in Helsinki at the end of April.

Fredrikinkatu 24.