By Carina Chela
She is known for designing footwear with a playful femininity, an overload of cuteness, a touch of pop art and eccentricity – sometimes fetish inspired – and always using the finest materials from the best suppliers in Europe. Minna Parikka is the Finnish shoe designer who put two ears and a rabbit’s tail on sneakers that are currently selling in over 25 countries. Her shoes have been worn by celebrities like Lady Gaga, Rihanna and Taylor Swift. There is even a postage stamp featuring her cherry red heels. Minna Parikka’s eponymous label has broken into the Asian market with incredible success, so it seems that the bunny shoes will continue hopping for a long time.
Do you always wear your shoes?
Yes, always! Isn’t that the reason why women become shoe designers?
It means that you shouldn’t take things too seriously, let the shoes lead you. Make a decision that isn’t so safe. It refers more to an attitude in life, to take risks and to have more fun. I don’t want my designs to be too safe. I want to have a reaction. Like buying a pair of shoes featuring a unicorn or a bunny. They will surely take you to new places because they are great conversations starters.
When you were in Italy, you worked for an Italian footwear company but got fired. What happened?
I was young and very opinionated and all my bosses were men. So you can imagine that working in such a machista culture was difficult for me. At the end they gave me the boot. And that really was the biggest inspiration to start my own business. I really wanted to set my own rules and make my own life. I wanted my products to look like my own products. I didn’t want someone telling me what I should be doing.
How did you start the business?
I came back to Finland after studying and working in England and in Italy. I thought that I would be based in Helsinki but travel a lot and sell my shoes in other countries. But in any case I had to start my own business so I took a massive loan and started to work. It became an instant success here and after three years I opened my first boutique, it was a tiny little shoebox. A few years later we opened a bigger store on Aleksanterinkatu, one of Helsinki’s main shopping streets. Finnish women have taken the brand in their wardrobe. Otherwise we could not have the shop in such a good location.
How much of your personality is in your designs?
I put a lot of my personality into the product. It’s like an emotional product. There is a cohesiveness in the design and brand because it all comes from one person. But I also like that my shoes can be intrepreted in different ways. It’s important to have one foot in the fashion world to know what the trends are. But it’s also important to have the other foot on your own planet so you have your own DNA in the product.
Was putting bunny ears on sneakers a big risk?
Yes it was and it has become our bread and butter! I really never knew it was going to be such a big success. That’s the product that has got us into so many great retailers all over the world. Sometimes it pays off to take risks. When it comes to clothing I am a risk-taker. It’s great to create a brand that has a voice of its own, that stands out and is recognisable from the masses of other shoe brands.
What’s important for you as a designer?
That my product looks like me, that it’s not fake, that it is real. As a designer my task is to come up with a product that inspires emotions. Fashion is part of the entertainment industry so I feel like an entertainer. In other words I am dependent on what people want.
What about humour and design?
I like humour and colour and fun in all kinds of products. I think there are so many people that yearn for humour and want to be part of it. There are so many joyful and happy people out there but it sometimes feels that people don’t dare to show it.
How do you get inspired?
Quite often before I start to design I go for a trip. I need to be constantly on the move. When I’m abroad I look at other brands and shops and what people are wearing. It’s so inspirational to do real research on people’s preferences in different cultures. It’s important to know what is happening for instance in Korea or what the fashion houses in Europe are doing. Not just look at the brand next to you. The overall picture is crucial. I travel a couple of times a month. But Helsinki also inspires me. It’s nice to come back here after travelling, relax, and get my ideas on paper and start designing my new collection. I need the super hectic travel time, but then I also need the peace and quiet I get in Finland.
How do you switch off from work?
The product that I make and the visual world that I am in are very feminine so I like to do daring, physical and speedy things. For instance I have a motorbike. Riding a motorbike is like meditation, you can’t think about anything else. It’s important to clear your mind. I’ve also tried Enduro, riding the bike off-road. I like to challenge myself and leave my comfort zone. I can also use these different experiences in my business. When you are doing Enduro, you have to look straight-ahead and then you can pass the obstacles. That has helped me in some situations, to focus on the results or the goals. If you are riding your motorbike and there’s a swamp, you don’t stare at the eye of the swamp, you look straight-ahead. You stay calm and concentrate on the goal.