A CONVERSATION WITH ARELA

I'm a sucker for soft fabric, especially cashmere, and as the days get shorter and it's slowly getting colder, I thought it was a good idea to introduce you to a fashion brand that may not be on everyone's radar, but really ought to be: Arela.

Arela, that's a Finnish fashion brand that specialises in high quality cashmere knitwear, is run by the Arela family: Maija, Anni and Viivi. Back in the summer, I met up with Viivi and we chatted about the brand, fashion trade shows and the best hang-out in Helsinki.

I meet Viivi at the brand's pop-up shop in Berlin, which was initiated by the Finnish fashion collective #INLAND, that Arela is a part of. As it's a warm day and the shop is already busy, we head to the Volkspark am Weinbergsweg to soak up some sun and have a chat about the brand.

Arela, which was actually called Arelalizza until last year, was set up by Maija Arela and Kristiina Lizza as a joint venture into cashmere fashion in 2006. It quickly grew and Maija's daughters, Viivi and Anni, joined them in 2009 to help out. Anni had just finished her fashion design degree and soon became assistant designer, whilst Viivi helped in the shop and with the communication. Kristiina left Arelalizza last year and the brand's name changed into Arela.

Today, Arela is run by the three women; Maija in command and having an overseeing function (especially of the production side of things), Anni as the head designer and Viivi in charge of marketing and communication. Because the brand is still very small - they currently only have three girls working in their two shops in Helsinki and Tampere - they can often be found in their shops; this means they get instant feedback from their customers about whether or not pieces work.

“It’s great that we work in the shops ourselves. If we didn't it would be much harder to develop the brand and improve it.”

With the new name, other changes came about; a beautiful new branding was designed. Viivi points out an interesting detail in their logo: All of their initials have been combined to shape Arela's logo, a really nice detail which instantly excites me and which shows that their business really is all about these three women.

But apart from making changes to their design, they also updated their concept to incorporate more pieces than just merely knitwear. Especially their comfortable-looking trousers and t-shirts have taken my fancy.

“It’s very hard to sell knitwear in summer - even though it isn't too hot, but it’s a mental thing.”

We start to talk about their collection. What surprised me was their use of bold colours, something I hadn't expected from a Scandinavian brand. Viivi smiles; The colour choices are all down to Maija, who loves strong colours and is even part of the colour council, making a colour trend forecast each season. 

Viivi points out their passion for simple, no fuss design, something that I very much value in fashion collections. We start to talk about Arela's ideal woman - or more like, their lack of one. Instead of designing their clothes for a certain person, they like to create their pieces with themselves in mind. All three of them varying in both sizes and styles (Viivi is quite classic and a little girly, while Anni is on trend and likes bold cuts and Maija is all about graphic lines and colours), they tie all their styles together to create a coherent collection. 

I love the idea of this family business creating clothes for themselves; to me, it sounds like such an honest and organic approach to fashion design.

We get into a little bit more detail about Arela's customers, who range from 16 year-old girls to 70 year-old women, and how they go about their marketing and their sales. I'm especially interested in their involvement with the #INLAND collective, which they were invited to join in with. Wishing to branch out and glimpsing an opportunity to network with like-minded brands at the same stage as them, they said yes.

And what a good decision it was! I'm wowed by the showroom, furnished with beautiful pieces by Artek, iittala and full of beautiful Finnish fashion pieces. But what are the benefits of showrooms as opposed to trade shows?

“We’re a bit sceptical of trade shows. Is it the way to do it nowadays, do buyers really buy from trade shows? It can be very hard to get noticed and it’s very very expensive.”

I point out the incredible set-up of the showroom and we discuss their sponsors and the great organisation behind everything. With all the sponsors being Finnish, I suggest that Finnish brands must be quite supportive of each other, helping out young brands and therefore kickstarting creativity and productivity. Viivi laughs, she hadn't really thought of it like that before. 

“Finland is so small, so we have to stick together.”

I ask Viivi about Helsinki, where she currently lives. Being used to a British winter, I was quite shocked to experience my first Berlin winter last year. Although I grew up at the base of the Alps, I had never experienced a bitter cold like that before. Viivi shivers, the thought of the winter seems almost ridiculous on this warm day. Helsinki's seasons change quite drastically; both autumn and spring don't last very long. In the summer people are very different, a lot more open.

“It’s so dark in Finland, the darkness is the worst. The sun rises at noon and goes down at 4pm. You go to work, it’s dark, you leave work, it’s dark.”

Not a pleasant thought, but I wonder what she gets up to in the winter months? Does she spend her days going to the sauna and snuggling up by a fireplace? (Can you tell I have a lot of cliché ideas of Scandinavian winters?!) And how does it differ during the summer?

"During winter time I only want to be at home, read a book and drink tea. And in summer I just go out all the time. But the darkness and the cold are the reason why Arela do cashmere. It’s so comfortable and warm."

I ask Viivi about her favourite spot in the summer. She hesitates for a minute, then smiles. Eiranranta, which is full of cafés and has places to swim, go rowing, relax on the grass and even offers a skate park. Another favourite of hers is Flow Festival, a music festival right in the heart of Helsinki, taking place at the end of summer; according to Viivi it's a great way to finish off summer in style and listen to some great music. 

On that note we leave the park and head to the showroom, where Viivi makes me a delicious coffee served in an iittala mug (gotta love that great Finnish design) and we browse through the Arela pieces. I'm left with many items on my wishlist and a new-found love for cashmere knitwear. Thank you, Viivi, for our great conversation, you have certainly made me want to visit Helsinki soon, even if it is just to meet you Arela women in your shop.

Lilly Wolf