Interview by Mia Dillemuth | Copy Editor Matthew Jones | Art Work pictures by Jussi Tiainen and Erno Enkenberg | Catalogue pictures by Marimekko | Portraits by Eeva Suutari

Sofia Järnefelt and Sami Havia are a creative couple with separate careers in fashion design and fine arts. They stand at the forefront of Finnish visual culture. The determined duo sees the future as exploring possibilities within technology to transform something familiar into something new and intriguing.

What is your professional background?

SAMI: I graduated in 2011 with a Masters in Arts from the Finnish Academy of Fine Arts. In addition to four solo exhibitions in Helsinki I’ve also taken part in several group shows both in Finland and abroad. My works are in several collections, such as Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma and The Finnish State Art collection to name a few.


At the moment I am collaborating with Finnish Art Agency. They help me with developing my career, organizing exhibitions and building contacts. We work together on a long-term basis.

SOFIA: I graduated from Aalto University’s School of Fashion in 2011 with three awards in my pocket and have since designed collections for the iconic Finnish lifestyle brand Marimekko. I work as a freelancer and my recent clients include Peclers Paris – one of the world’s leading consulting agencies in trends, style innovation and future insights. I also repeatedly work as a guest lecturer at Shanghai International College of Fashion and Innovation at Donghua University in China.


In 2012, together with four other young women, I cofounded and designed the concept of Pre Helsinki. This platform promotes Finnish fashion and helps emerging fashion designers to gain international contacts and business opportunities.

How would you describe yourself as an artist?

SOFIA: I strongly identify myself as a designer, more than an artist.  Maybe this is because I live with a person who is an artist in the true sense of the word but also because of my professional field, my studies as well as my way of working.

I work in a business where decisions are made with a potential consumer in mind. I ponder phenomena and directions of fashion to consider how they will affect people’s everyday lives, their decisions, their values and thus their consumerism.

As a designer I’m quite versatile; I find it easy and natural to adapt myself to different styles, segments and ways of working. Maybe this is why I feel so comfortable working as a freelancer for multiple clients instead of on a label of my own or as an in-house designer for one particular house.


Sofia Järnefelt’s design for Marimekko AW 2016 collection.


Sami Havia, Silly Symphonies, acrylic, oil, charcoal, & ink on canvas, 145 cm x 165 cm, 2012. Picture by Jussi Tiainen.

SAMI:  If I were to describe myself as an artist using a few key words, they would be playful, chaotic and organized.

Playful:  When I start to work, I please myself by playing with shapes, material and inside jokes that come up in the process.

Chaotic:  Even if I try really hard to keep the result minimal, it always ends up a little bit overwhelming. I am truly fascinated by minimalism, partly because I find it so difficult to achieve.

Organized:  After the playful and intuitive painting part, I start to organize the chaos with detailed drawing, allowing me to disclose occured forms.

SOFIA: I think what we have in common is that we’re both very analytical when it comes to the visual. And we’re both very self-critical when it comes to our works.

Where did you meet?

SOFIA: Myspace. 9 years ago.

SAMI: lol.

How do you work? Have you ever worked on a project together?

SAMI: To create something good, I have to feel good, at least at the starting point of the process. Once I move on to the more detailed drawing I can work even if I feel awful because that part of the process is more mechanical and simply less expressive. The drawing process is slow and actually quite therapeutic –concentrating so intensively kind of empties the mind.

I also listen a lot to music at my studio and music in general is a very important part of my practice. It helps me concentrate, gives me energy and adds confidence.

SOFIA: Well-being is crucial to the work process for me as well and an absolute necessity for my concentration.

My way of working changes based on the client but one constant is that I’m quite efficient in the practical. However there’s usually a period of just thinking before I move on to the practical part when it might look like I’m not working at all, but actually that’s when I work the most.  This thinking stage is when I process and analyze all that I have seen, read and experienced about the subject.

SAMI: I’m more irregularly efficient. Starting work each day always feels like a small struggle. I usually find myself just surfing on the web for a couple of hours when I get to the studio until I suddenly notice it’s lunch time. I eat and only after that do I actually start working. The best time for me to work is in the afternoon and evening.

I have wondered why I find it so hard to work in the morning. One reason could be that I’m too energetic in the morning and find it difficult to concentrate. As I tire, I calm down and it’s easier to concentrate. It’s also a little funny, that I find it easier to concentrate when I know other people are going home from their regular jobs where they work 9-5.

SOFIA: For me, when I get to the practical part of my process, it is important that I start immediately in the morning and keep on working without disturbance very systematically.

In general, I am very organized and make lists to help myself through the process, even when I’m only pondering on ideas. Work itself is for me about organizing things into a smarter shape. It’s hard to find anything bohemian in my way of working.

I always strive to finish my work in advance, days before the deadline. It brings me peace to view the end result and consider every detail.  Also I have the time and the calmness to make changes when changes are needed. This has a lot to do with me being a perfectionist.

SAMI: I recognize the need for organization in myself as well. The whole painting and drawing process is a form of organizing for me – like putting a puzzle together – adding, erasing and adding again.

I also feel that the studio needs to be neat and cozy in a way that nothing external interferes with my concentration. But the studio also has to feel like a studio, which means that the standard of clean, neat and organized is different than at home. It just has to feel like there’s no obstacle for starting the work.

I look a lot, and I mean a lot, at the painting in process. Quite often I get stuck and don’t know how to proceed and that’s why I work on multiple paintings at the same time. If I get stuck with one painting I can put it aside for a while and work on another one. Usually working on another painting opens up some ideas for the one that’s put aside and so things move forward.

Sometimes I’m a terrible coward about a painting. I proceed like a snail when I don’t have the courage to make big changes. I become afraid of fucking it all up, even though it’s exactly what a painting would need sometimes.

Do you share a working space? How important is the place where you work?

SAMI: My parents worked together as entrepreneurs and I saw how dangerous it can be for a relationship, so it’s good that we have separate studios.

SOFIA: I agree. I have a table slot in a multidisciplinary studio that inhabits seven professionals. There are a couple of architects, two illustrators, a graphic designer and a documentarian. I find it to be a very fruitful environment. During lunch or coffee breaks we discuss many topics, which might touch lightly on my own field, but give me a wider view on things. I learn from my studio colleagues about phenomena and trends in other fields and it enriches my own work.

We also share practical knowledge with each other, which makes it very handy when I have problems with InDesign or Illustrator (ha-ha).

SAMI: My studio is like a man-cave to me that runs on my terms. It works as a safe place from the world where I can dream and fantasize – a bit like my own room as a kid.

Because an artist’s work can get lonely at times, it is very important for me that my studio is in a creative community.  I have my own studio but share the launch space with other artists who I can chat with, discuss our works and ask for each other’s opinions.


Sofia Järnefelt’s design for Marimekko SS 2017 collection.


Sami Havia, Loose Ends, acrylic, oil, ink and pencil on canvas, 150 cm x 160 cm, 2016. Picture by Erno Enkenberg.

How much do you influence in each others work?

SOFIA: Those moments that Sami talked about above, when you’re stuck with your process or for any other reason feel like getting an “outside” opinion, that’s when we view our works together. This goes both ways.

SAMI: Yeah. We are both very interested in each other’s professions and professional fields but we are also interested in different directions of these fields. This means we can give each other not only opinions but also share knowledge.

Is your work more local or global?

SOFIA: My work is in every way very global.

SAMI: Mine is also global, even though I mainly show locally for now.

SOFIA: I work in three different countries on two different continents at the same time. My client companies both do business globally on multiple continents and Donghua University’s SCF where I teach is collaborating on a long term with both a university in Edinburgh as well as Aalto University.

But the work itself happens mostly here in Helsinki. This is where I prepare all the courses for SCF before I travel there to actually teach. My collaboration with Marimekko is naturally Helsinki-based. I work on projects for Peclers in my studio in Helsinki but always travel to Paris to present the work for them.

I like having my own peace when working. But it is important and pleasant to meet my clients personally on a regular basis.

Do you believe in a concept of good taste and what does it mean nowadays?

SOFIA: Yes, most definitely yes! …Hmmm… how should we say this without sounding too snobbish?

SAMI: Well, ultimately we are both aesthetes. Aesthetics is the base for everything we do.

SOFIA: Which does not mean that ugly couldn’t be fascinating. It just depends on how you work the ugly and into which context you put the ugly so that it becomes…well, good looking.

What is important for you in your work?

SAMI: To enjoy the work itself and to develop myself along with the results.

SOFIA: For me it’s important to feel that my client really wants my view and vision and will let me have an influence.

And of course, I want to be proud of the result. Perhaps that is why it is so important for me to be satisfied with my work myself. If I don’t like the work myself, then it doesn’t really matter what the others say or think.

SAMI: Our professions are both so challenging that we will never really be good enough. That’s probably why we can’t get bored.

SOFIA: Exactly! My dad told me when I was a kid that once you think you’re good enough, that’s the moment when you get bad at something.

What is the hardest part about being a fashion designer or visual artist nowadays?

SAMI: Sometimes it feels that everything is so damn difficult about this job but I guess that the most difficult thing would be managing uncertainty.

SOFIA: I suppose that many people talk about the fast pace of fashion being a problem. But fashion has always been about renewal and this has a certain natural pace. I guess the hardest part is that we’re stuck with certain ideas and restrictions.  In order to get past these and into completely new and exciting concepts, designers would need more time for thought.


Sofia Järnefelt’s design for Marimekko AW 2016 collection.


Sami Havia, Peeler, acrylic, oil, and ink on canvas, 150 cm x 200 cm, 2016. Picture by Erno Enkenberg.

How much do you think about what is right or wrong when you’re working. Ethically or in some other way.

SAMI: Not really to be honest.

SOFIA: My field can never really be completely ecologically ethical. We produce new clothes into a world that doesn’t really need any. We create need where there is none.

I cannot ignore these issues because I work in a commercial business with long production and supply chains. Of course everything should be done more ethically and ecologically.

Within the fashion industry one needs to be responsible. I can just try my very best to make choices that are less bad than others.

Who or what inspires you?

SAMI: I guess the answer for both of us is quite the same…popular culture, art, music etc…and of course all phenomena in general.

SOFIA: Digging deeper into bigger phenomena is inspiring – both the process of dismantling and the discoveries you make when dismantled.

Do you find that work defines your identity in some way?

SOFIA: I was 11 years old when I decided I wanted to become a fashion designer and at the age of 12 I had already planned to study fashion at Aalto University (then called University of Industrial Arts). I don’t see myself as a fashion fanatic though. My work is a big and important part of me, but I do have other things in life that are important and big to me and these define me just as much as my work does.

SAMI: Mostly yes. It’s well encrypted beneath many layers though.

SOFIA: Yes, maybe for an artist like you it’s more like that, because it’s quite self-expressive.

What is the relationship between art and fashion?

SOFIA&SAMI: In general it seems that fashion takes influences from other art forms such as fine art, music and film etc. But it’s not that black and white. Occasionally these two blend into each other and you can’t pinpoint which one took influence from the other.  We feel that all creative fields feed each other all the time.

In your opinion what will be the next big thing?

SOFIA: I see us being in a state somewhere either between or in fusion of the real, the haptic and the digital. We’re attracted by the different, the uncanny and the unknown dimensions – the mystical even. But at the same time we’re looking for something familiar from the past to grasp. It’s about exploring possibilities within technology to transform something familiar into something new and intriguing. I believe that as the digital world evolves and makes our lives easier, it is also unfamiliar in its possibilities, an unstudied path and therefore a bit strange to a point where we want to combine it with something that gives us comfort. Aesthetically it’s about the ordinary that shows as a new sort of individualism that is less self-centered and more collective, which all has to do with a strong sense of pragmatism.

SAMI: I see these things happening in contemporary art as well. Which again supports our view on how these fields relate to each other.

What are your on-going or future projects?

SAMI: I’m participating in a group show called Främmande/Muukalainen at Fullersta Gård in Huddinge, Stockholm that opens on 10th of December and goes on until 12th of March 2017. I’m exhibiting together with Tiina Pyykkinen, Tuukka Tammisaari, Eeva Peura, Jarno Vesala, Erno Enkenberg and Sampo Malin.

In March I will show together with Ilari Hautamäki and Kim Somervuori the final edition of a group exhibition “tour” at Jyväskylä Art Museum and then the next thing will be my solo show in November 2017 at TM-gallery in Helsinki.

SOFIA: I’m preparing new courses for Donghua University in Shanghai, where I will teach again next spring. Right now I’m also working on Marimekko’s pre spring 2018 collection.

Sami and I also have a residency in Paris next March and April. My priority during the residency is to meet with agents.  I haven’t had one so far and have had to find projects and negotiate contracts on my own.  I wish for that to change.

Sami is going to use the time in the residency to work on his next solo exhibition and to get new contacts.

What are your dreams career wise?

SOFIA&SAMI: We both wish for upward-oriented careers. We wish to become better at handling stress.  And a happy, steady and healthy workflow wouldn’t be bad either.