Far from being associated with ties, duties or impositions, working is an exercise of freedom and self-knowledge for Juha Vehmaanperä. “Being tall and heavily built some people put me very easily into this male box,” says the Finnish designer about some outdated mentalities that are still present in society. But they seem to blur them all completely while designing for their alter ego Craftiest Bitch in Town. Inspired by movie characters, such as the female villains from Batman or The Matrix, creativity has always been a constant in their inner circle. Now they materialise it in garments built on craftsmanship and intuition, giving us some exclusive tip offs about their upcoming projects.
Juha, could you briefly introduce yourself to our readers? Where are you writing to us from?
Hello, I am Juha Vehmaanperä, a Finnish knitwear designer. I am a bit of a crafty bee and I work for my alter ego Craftiest Bitch in Town. I am currently based in Helsinki, Finland.
I couldn't help but immerse myself in your colourful and stimulating Instagram profile, where you share your impressive creations. And I'd like to bring back the first post you shared, in August 2016. "Barbie tote bag for nastiest cunts only," you said. What memory comes to mind when you think back to that time?
This was a time in my life when I started to question the way I had been brought up to understand the world around me and my given position in it as a male assigned at birth. I guess I became a rebel heart and wanted to do things my way, not the way I was made to think was the proper way. I don’t know if the actual outcome or the way it was brought up was all that fabulous, but it was important that I began to distinguish my own thinking from the noise of societal ideals of what one is expected to be.
If I'm not wrong, you were already studying Fashion at Aalto University then. Later you would enrol in an MA in Fashion Knitwear. How have these experiences been?
I started my BA in fashion at Aalto in 2015 and did that for three years. I enjoyed the creative atmosphere of the school. It nourished my creativity as it felt like a safe space for me to work on my thought process and creativity. After that, I went to do an internship and returned to do my MA in Aalto. I have never done a knitwear specific programme, but in Aalto, the students can do anything from fabric printing, knitting, weaving, etc. The studios are super great, so you could find me doing all kinds of things back in the day!
The Finnish fashion scene is small and dedicated. The people are very supportive of each other and there is this sense of community and shared goal to reach larger audiences. It is a great privilege to have such a great group of people as colleagues.
Our first years of life largely influence how we perceive life. But also affects our vision of fashion. What was your childhood like and when did your first approach to this creative discipline take place?
When I was a child, I used to draw and play a lot. My mum would bring me and my two brothers these long rolls of paper where all of us would draw together. My grandmother made us these amazing costumes for birthday parties. I had this batman costume for a birthday that I later wanted to be altered to a Catwoman costume. At night, I would wear it and play Catwoman in our dark house. I think I stumbled across fashion the first time when these modelling reality shows came to TV. I watched those by myself and was drawn to the different worlds they created.
Who were your main references when you were a kid? Did you have any favourite designer or brand?
I think back then I didn’t know brands or designers. That info came to me very late actually. I was more into movie and game characters and their costumes, like female villains from Batman and The Matrix was super interesting to me. I was also obsessed with Paris Hilton and Simple Life.
And how did your inner circle react when you told them that you wanted to pursue your dream of becoming a fashion designer?
Everyone in my inner circle has always been supportive of my choices in terms of career. My grandmother has done crafts all her life knitting, sewing, crocheting you name it and my grandfather’s dream was to be an artist but it wasn’t a possible career choice then, so he always encouraged me to take that path.
Besides the impressive combination of colours that we notice in your creations, there is something that stands out and makes your work identifiable: textures. How would you define your work? On what pillars is your personal signature built?
I would consider my work to revolve around my handcraft obsession. Hand-knit and crochet are the techniques I like to work with time after time because it makes me feel connected to generations of craftspeople with my queer touch. Then there is the aesthetic side of things like the bright colours and multitude of textures. At least for now, I’ve loved working on this visualisation of post-Internet information overload where there is just so much to look at constantly.
Let's talk about the technique and the development process of your pieces. Do you follow a defined process, or are you largely carried away by your intuition?
It varies a lot piece by piece, but I would say that my intuition usually takes over. Some techniques like freehand crochet that allows me the freedom to create and change the plan constantly as I go. With my newest collection Not Your Mitten, I wanted to sketch certain knitting structures and shapes that I would follow throughout the process of making the garments and I did. I think it really depends on the research and themes that I am working on.
“I just want to be free of the burden of masculinity!” you commented in a previous interview. How do you achieve this through your work?
If I achieve it in my life, I think the rest is easy. Being tall and heavily built some people put me very easily into this male box and impose their masculine stereotypes on me and what I am supposed to be in their dull minds. When I am working I don’t feel this constant evaluation from outside, so it is the time when I feel the most free to focus on my feelings and intuition. I have always been feminine, it comes to me naturally and our personality is reflected in everything that we do.
Do you think of someone specific or any type of customer while creating?
I don’t have a customer in mind because I would end up overthinking would the customer like this or that, when in reality the only way to find out is to try out. When I am creating I often imagine myself as this character that I am working on: a punk-rock babe in gold miniskirt or a football-playing intergalactic space fantasy jock.
And is there any piece you are especially proud of? Why?
All of my pieces are my babies, but I am especially proud of a piece I did for my BA work. It is a hand crochet mesh look with pants and a shirt made using reflective yarn and strass letters. The whole outfit took me three months to make and my dedication to finish that piece still amazes me.
There are many young designers who, once they have launched their brand, realise that they have bet everything on creativity, largely forgetting the business world. And it is that in the end, a fashion brand is a business. How do you approach the commercial vision of your project? Are your clothes for sale?
So far I haven’t made my pieces with a commercial mindset. I value the artisanal and time-consuming aspects of my work and sadly that doesn’t always turn into piles of cash. In the near future, I would love to find a better balance between the commercial and artistic vision. I already have a lot of ideas on how to approach that!
And what other challenges do you face as a young designer?
The longevity of the brand is a struggle. How to keep people coming back when there is so much to explore out there. Also, things like setting up a business and looking for funding requires expertise that you don’t necessarily have fresh out of the school.
You did an internship in Acne Studios, right? What conclusions did you draw from this experience?
Yes, I interned in the knitwear team at Acne. I found it interesting to see how a big fashion company works. Usually, for my own collections I make everything all by myself, so working as a part of a bigger team in one specific area taught me a lot about knitwear and the production process.
And what can you tell us about your next projects? Will we see you presenting on any catwalk soon?
You heard it here first, my next project has to do with DIY cultures and at-home 3D printing. We’ll see about the catwalk part, but I can ensure it is going to be fierce.