From packaging design to conscious couture: Finnish fashion creative Justus K. merges sustainable luxury with elegant sculpts of paper in his one-of-a-kind ‘KASKI Paper Couture’ collection. Savant explores the young visionaire’s ethical state of mind.
Do you reckon the fashion industry has changed in recent years in terms of rethinking its ethics?
Today’s social media has brought more possibilities for introducing ethical problems in the fashion industry. For example, the angora wool scandal that widely flourished in the media a few years ago triggered fashion brands and retailers to react immediately. Unfortunately, it could be considered just a mere surface of some bigger ethical problems within the industry. In my opinion, transparency in fashion should be a norm instead of occasionally cropping up as a trend - perhaps some day the big fashion conglomerates that are earning millions for their stockowners could partially invest their income in the well-being of the employees in the developing countries. Is it too much to ask for?
On the plus side, sustainability is now considered a part of the game in the design education, and in many other industries too. There is also a commercial need and, similarly, as people are encouraged to buy a fridge that uses less energy, encouraging ‘slow fashion’ is economically wise. These are the biggest factors that should be taken into account to call for a change towards ecological thinking.
What is characteristic to you as a designer?
I am quite diverse in a sense that I combine commercial design with more personal artistic expression, and these two opposites complement each other. For example, my latest collection ‘KASKI Paper Couture’ is a free-flowing, artistic couture collection, but there is also a more meaningful reasoning behind it. The research was all about how to use wood-based materials in fashion and how paper as a material works in fashion design. The Finnish Forest Foundation took my idea seriously and supported my project financially. I see myself progressing towards artistic high fashion and would position my work to be targeted at the luxury market.
What inspires you the most in your designing process? Who are the designers you look up to?
Like many other artists, I get my inspiration randomly anywhere in this planet or outside of it. For example, for my next project I am doing research about the universe. Personally, I have always looked up to Christian Lacroix and his dramatic and decorative style in haute couture. I also admire Riccardo Tisci and his work at Givenchy; how brave design and precise embroidery work by the Givenchy team. I have followed Tisci’s work ever since he took the lead.
What has informed the development of KASKI collection? Where did you get the idea to use paper for creating the collection?
The biggest influence was that, instead of fashion design, I was studying packaging design in the Lahti Institute of Design and Fine Arts in Finland. ‘KASKI Paper Couture’ was my graduate collection, but I had already done several experimental paper fashion projects while studying in France. There I participated in the local design competition and designed a sculptural garment made of recycled paper. My work was chosen to be exhibited at the Cité de la Mode et du Design in the 1.618 Sustainable Luxury fair. After the exhibition, it really hit me that I could develop the idea of introducing paper as a wearable material. When I started off with the collection, I remember myself panicking when I had to convince the management of the fashion department to allow my insane idea to use packaging materials in fashion. There was actually no reason to worry because they suggested a subject straightaway after I had informed them about the prize in Paris and the possible graduate collection. It might sound like a cliché, but do remember to always trust the passion you have - then the work is more efficient and others will believe in your vision, too.
“It might sound like a cliché, but do remember to always trust your passion - then the work is more efficient and others will believe in your vision, too.”
What are the main benefits and challenges you have encountered when working with paper?
Paper is an ecological material - it is easily recyclable and wood is renewable. It is also possible to manufacture paper in the countries where child labour is prohibited. Moreover, trees and forests do not need extra irrigation which might spoil the delicate soil. Perhaps the main challenge is that paper cannot replace the common textile materials, even if many of my garments are washable. For example, viscose is a familiar wood-based material, but there is a textile material developed in Finland that is more ecological. This wooden material can also compete with cotton, which is produced in the areas where it might steal growing space from food production. The paper fabrics used in ‘KASKI Paper Couture’ have been weaved together applying a traditional technique. The FILONA paper yarn is made in Finland. I had a chance to visit the factory a couple of times and see how they coloured the yarns, and also how they turned the original paper material into a yarn form.
What are your ultimate future goals as a designer? Would you consider continuing working with paper?
I envision myself doing art and design for the rest of my life. I am also pursuing to work for a big luxury fashion brand soon. These are my biggest future goals at the moment. Paper itself would be a very natural way to continue with - I am interested in collaborating with a paper company and see my designs manufactured.
Your collection is functional, but at the same time aesthetically beautiful. How do these two elements - functionality vs aesthetics - come into play in your work?
Functionality and aesthetics do not exclude each other - a very functional garment can also be visually captivating. I would love to wear super artistic garments every day but, unfortunately, the weather in Helsinki makes wearing haute couture impossible, hence why more functional and simple daywear is more welcomed. On the other hand, I believe that artistic fashion has other values besides the aesthetics - what designers want to say with their collections is crucial. It is the spirit or story behind a collection that matters, whatever other art it might include. I love drama and sometimes my ideas in fashion art resemble a theatre play.
“It is the spirit or story behind a collection that matters, whatever other art it might include. I love drama and sometimes my ideas in fashion art resemble a theatre play.”
You've also gained experience in Paris. How would you compare the essence of fashion industry in Paris vs. Helsinki?
France has a big luxury industry, so it is very common to educate designers in luxury business and design at an early stage. On the other hand, the education is perhaps more technology-based and industrial in Finland. It might sound very stereotypical but this is how I perceive it.
Your collection is formed of one-of-a-kind pieces. Would it also be possible to mass-produce your collection in the future as the technology evolves?
The manufacturing was initially a part of the goal, but I did not know how to achieve it. With a few changes, it could be mass-produced because the basic technique is simple and the materials are so wonderful. As I said, I would love to continue to design with these materials and make the garments available for manufacturing.
You are also a performance artist. How did you develop an interest in theatre? What are the main themes you are engaged with?
I started theatre as a hobby at the Riihimäki Youth Theatre when I was six years old. Performing blew my mind straightaway - I have had a chance to try all kinds of skills there, which is now the biggest youth theatre in Finland. When I was progressing, I found the physical and nonverbal performing interesting. Thus, I started dancing and taking up more contemporary performance art projects. Nowadays it is the characteristic style that I use as a tool to express myself within performance art. Sometimes I still do acting, and recently I have worked with the talented Finnish indie director Heidi Lindén, who also happens to be my dear friend. In performance art, I mainly get inspiration from the everyday life and the culture that surrounds us. At the moment I am doing a performance about the topic of fear of difference. It is a very personal and important subject. Fear is a great power - we all have faced it in one way or another. Even in the educated and wealthy Northern Europe, fear makes people to commit cruel actions instead of encouraging everyone’s right to be their true, individual selves.