Stories on Creativity: Sophie Sälekari
At only 24 years of age, fashion designer Sophie Sälekari has already landed a job with an international fashion giant and received a fair share of attention as a finalist in a reputable fashion competition. Hard work, talent, curiosity and self-confidence are paving her way forward.
"Success feels good, but hasn’t come easy."
“DURING THE SECOND DAY of entrance examinations for the Fashion Design program at Aalto University, I remember thinking that if they don’t pick me, there’s no way I’ll take part in another entrance exam again –that’s how tough it was. Fortunately it didn’t come to that. I am now 24, hold a B.A., live in Stockholm’s Södermalm with my boyfriend, and work for H&M.
I was worried that after finishing my studies, I would end up somewhere designing socks, so I was was very glad that in fall 2014, I was selected as a print designer for H&M’s New Development Department. I heard that Ann-Sofie Johansson, Head of Design for the New Development Department, had recommended me. We had met when I was a finalist in the H&M Design Award competition with Ann-Sofie as one of the members of the jury.
My team is responsible for the Studio and Conscious Exclusive Collection lines. Two new collections come out each year, and it all has a little more pizzazz compared to other H&M collections. We also create red carpet dresses, which is so much fun; orders come out of the blue, and we then work full on for a couple of weeks. In Paris, we would be working overtime long into the night, but the same doesn’t go for Sweden. I could quite happily put in more work than at present, but it’s a team effort with everyone doing their share.”
Sophie Sälekari’s interest in art history, art movements and painting techniques can be seen in her designs.
“I’M NOT QUITE SURE what I’d be doing if I wasn’t a fashion designer. I would probably be an artist of some kind, as I’m not too great with the mundane. I’ve worked as a stylist in the past, but I didn’t enjoy it as much as I enjoy designing or my other love, painting.
Working at H&M has been a learning curve and step forward on the career ladder. I’ve noticed that being part of a team has changed the way I work. I try to be more systematic than when working by myself. It’s wonderful to see the way a team ticks and all the members who make it work. If I ever start up my own company, I now know what it takes.
I consider myself lucky to have found my passion at such an early stage. I’m happy to take constructive criticism and good tips onboard, but choose to ignore malicious talk. I have to be able to rely on my own style and way of working. Despite my young age, I’ve come to see the importance of not getting stuck in old ways of thinking, but to create something new and interesting. Staying curious about the world around and trusting one’s skills is a good combo.
Work on a new collection always begins from an aesthetic starting point. I may not be a master tailor, but I’ve learned the art of sewing because I’ve had to. When I’m designing, I don’t consciously think of the collection in verbal terms. However, once the work is finished, I’ve merged different aspects in my mind and I’m able to describe the overall essence and idea. In the end, it all makes sense, which astounds me every time.”
"I was worried that after finishing my studies, I would
end up somewhere designing socks.”
“I UNDERSTAND THAT MANY people would be content in my shoes as things are, but my goals are constantly taking shape. How could I be sure I want a certain thing when I don’t know what else could be possible?
Working as a print designer in a more established high fashion house could be the next step. Later on, I would like to oversee the textile department of a major fashion house or perhaps establish my own fashion line. I’m always open to new things. One day I would like to reach a position where others would be reliant on my skill. What that will be exactly, only time will tell.
I’m extremely proud of all the incredible opportunities I’ve had. I haven’t had too much time to mull it over, as things happen at such a fast pace and I’m always on my way somewhere. It’s like riding a wave and living for the moment. That’s why I’m grateful for friends who sometimes remind me: ”Sophie, do you realize what’s going on?” It all feels really good, but it hasn’t come easy. I press forward and work extremely hard. It would feel strange to call myself talented, but I guess it has a seed of truth. Hard work in itself wouldn’t be enough.
Taking part in the Hyères International Festival of Fashion and Photography in 2015 was a wonderful, once-in-a-lifetime experience. The two competition weeks were marked with intense work with the catwalk team, which taught me a great deal. It was important to think about how the collection should be presented, so that it best accentuates the feel of the clothes. I had to consider the models, the way they walk, the music, makeup and lighting – all those aspects that hardly cross the mind during the design phase.
The three actual festival days were all about presenting my collection and myself as a designer, which meant being in top form from morning to night. I met a great deal of scouts, who were busy headhunting young designers for different labels. I’m satisfied with the way I managed to present myself, and believe the festival was of personal value. The more people you know, the more opportunities arise. Now I just need to stay in contact with the people I met.
I love Finland, but don’t believe I could ever work there. My work would mean constantly flying to different fashion capitals, so it’s easier to choose to live in one. I don’t know what the future holds, but I relish the notion of possibilities and open doors.”•
1 “Selection as finalist in the Hyères fashion competition in 2015.”
2 “Position as Print Design Assistant for H&M’s New Development team.”
3 “Being shortlisted as a finalist for the H&M Design Award in 2014. I realized that my use of print and color set me apart from
4 “Silver Prize in Remix2015, international fur design competition supported by Vogue Talents.”
5 “Aalto Award for my 2013 collection.
Sälekari has particularly been praised for her bold use of color and pattern. Photos by Leena Aro.
Profile photos by Maija Astikainen