Friendship Envoy

Akira Minagawa

1 top photo Akira Minagawa

PROFILE

Akira Minagawa is founder of popular fashion brand “minä perhonen.” He actually wanted to become a runner and intended on going to a sports university, but he was injured while in high school so had to give up that dream.

Minagawa happened to help at the back stage of a fashion show while travelling in France after graduation, and thought that making clothes might be fun, so decided to study at Bunka Fashion College.

After working for three years at a small clothing company, he founded “minä” in 1995 (changed to minä perhonen in 2003), while earning living income at a fish market during daytime. “Minä” means “I” and “perhonen” means “butterfly” in Finnish.

We hope to make clothes that bring joy to everyday life. I think that relates to the Finns’ mentality to make daily lives rich and happy.

  • Photos taken during Minagawa’s first visit to Finland (1-3).
    Taking the train to Rovaniemi from Helsinki Central Station.
  • Girl sitting in front of Minagawa during the long train ride to Rovaniemi.
    Photo: Akira Minagawa
  • Man fishing in Kaisaniemi Park.
    Photo: Akira Minagawa
  • Alvar Aalto’s Stool60 covered with minä perhonen’s double cloth “dop” is one example of collaborations with Finnish furniture brand Artek, which Minagawa’s company has been cooperating with since 2008.

INTERVIEW

Finns would be surprised to hear the name minä perhonen in Japan if they don’t know your brand. Why did you choose to use Finnish words?

I already had visited Finland several times when I started my brand at the age of 27. I thought to use words from the country I was attached to. So I went to Finnish Tourist Board office located on the 2nd floor of the Tokyo’s Imperial Hotel back then, borrowed a dictionary and kept looking through the pages. Then the word “minä (meaning ‘I’)” jumped into my eyes. I somehow liked the sound of it… I liked the meaning, the word had a feminine sound, and it also resembled my last name. We added “perhonen” later, because we had butterflies as the motif of our textile.

When did you first visit Finland?

I was 19 when I first visited Finland. It was in February, so it was really cold… I hopped on a train and went to Rovaniemi, where it was minus 35 degrees then. I remember being profoundly impressed to see people being well off there, even if it seemed as a very tough living environment to me. I was also touched by the kindness of the Finnish people - being a backpacker who couldn’t afford to even eat proper meals, Finnish families gave me their lunches on board of trains.

There was a ship called “Helga” anchored at the harbor of Helsinki, serving as a café during wintertime. As I couldn’t afford anything else I just ordered coffee every day, but then after a while, the people on the ship invited me to the kitchen and offered me their staff meal. Although my stay was short I encountered many moments of “warmth” that made me like the country very much, and which still keep me travelling there.

Now, I feel relieved when I set foot in Finland. It’s like visiting my old hometown. When I go and relax at my usual café, I feel at ease even more so than in Japan.

Could you share with us some particularly memorable moments in Finland?

Yes, there is one from my last visit in July. When I first visited Rovaniemi at age 19, I went to the library and found books by [ceramic artist] Rut Bryk. I thought her artworks were really pretty and spent time sketching them into my notebook. Then, when I visited Finland in July this year, Maaria Wirkkala invited me to her home for dinner. As you know, Maaria is the daughter of Rut, and the house I was invited to was once used as a studio by Rut and [her designer husband] Tapio Wirkkala. I like Finland and have travelled there many times… Seeing my first journey and the latest one connect together left a profound impression on me.

You indeed have a long relationship with Finland. Has the country influenced your work or private life somehow?

I was not influenced by design as a substance but by the whole way of life in Finland. Like how Finns spend their holidays, or how they set up their daily lives. They don’t care to flaunt, but rather value and pursue their own comfort. I sympathize with that.

This might depend on person to person, but for example in Japan, people think “what should we do?” on days off. I feel that in Finland, even if people don’t do anything on holidays they “choose” to do so. I think it’s good to have that kind of mindset.

Do you mean that your design philosophy somehow reflects the Finnish mentality?

We hope to make clothes that bring joy to everyday life. I think that relates to the Finns’ mentality to make daily lives rich and happy. For example, when there are mini-live performances on Esplanadi street in the middle of Helsinki, people instantly gather there. It’s nothing extravagant, but everyone enjoys the small “happenings,” and I like that.

In 2019, Japan and Finland will celebrate the 100th Anniversary of Diplomatic Relations. From the design perspective, how do you think the two countries’ relationship should develop?

I feel Japan and Finland have similar mindsets and understand each other. There is already existing ground, such as the Japanese liking marimekko, iittala and Artek creations as nice designs. I would like to see the process of making things together be consciously promoted between the two countries, and the relationships between designers to deepen further.

Already now, famous designers such as Harri Koskinen and Issey Miyake make collaborative items based on their strong connections. If these kinds of bonds can be strengthened, I think our relationship will become even better.

Our company being a textile brand, it might be good if there would be opportunities for us and Finnish textile brands to bring together our strengths and realize our ideas, and I would also like to continue working with Artek. Personally, I like glassware, so it would be nice to collaborate with iittala as well.

And it’s not just us - Japanese creators can provide designs for Finnish brands, and Finnish creators can utilize Japanese handicrafts. I think these kind of collaborations could be realized even more.

INTERVIEW

Finns would be surprised to hear the name minä perhonen in Japan if they don’t know your brand. Why did you choose to use Finnish words?

I already had visited Finland several times when I started my brand at the age of 27. I thought to use words from the country I was attached to. So I went to Finnish Tourist Board office located on the 2nd floor of the Tokyo’s Imperial Hotel back then, borrowed a dictionary and kept looking through the pages. Then the word “minä (meaning ‘I’)” jumped into my eyes. I somehow liked the sound of it… I liked the meaning, the word had a feminine sound, and it also resembled my last name. We added “perhonen” later, because we had butterflies as the motif of our textile.

When did you first visit Finland?

I was 19 when I first visited Finland. It was in February, so it was really cold… I hopped on a train and went to Rovaniemi, where it was minus 35 degrees then. I remember being profoundly impressed to see people being well off there, even if it seemed as a very tough living environment to me. I was also touched by the kindness of the Finnish people - being a backpacker who couldn’t afford to even eat proper meals, Finnish families gave me their lunches on board of trains.

There was a ship called “Helga” anchored at the harbor of Helsinki, serving as a café during wintertime. As I couldn’t afford anything else I just ordered coffee every day, but then after a while, the people on the ship invited me to the kitchen and offered me their staff meal. Although my stay was short I encountered many moments of “warmth” that made me like the country very much, and which still keep me travelling there.

Now, I feel relieved when I set foot in Finland. It’s like visiting my old hometown. When I go and relax at my usual café, I feel at ease even more so than in Japan.

Could you share with us some particularly memorable moments in Finland?

Yes, there is one from my last visit in July. When I first visited Rovaniemi at age 19, I went to the library and found books by [ceramic artist] Rut Bryk. I thought her artworks were really pretty and spent time sketching them into my notebook. Then, when I visited Finland in July this year, Maaria Wirkkala invited me to her home for dinner. As you know, Maaria is the daughter of Rut, and the house I was invited to was once used as a studio by Rut and [her designer husband] Tapio Wirkkala. I like Finland and have travelled there many times… Seeing my first journey and the latest one connect together left a profound impression on me.

You indeed have a long relationship with Finland. Has the country influenced your work or private life somehow?

I was not influenced by design as a substance but by the whole way of life in Finland. Like how Finns spend their holidays, or how they set up their daily lives. They don’t care to flaunt, but rather value and pursue their own comfort. I sympathize with that.

This might depend on person to person, but for example in Japan, people think “what should we do?” on days off. I feel that in Finland, even if people don’t do anything on holidays they “choose” to do so. I think it’s good to have that kind of mindset.

Do you mean that your design philosophy somehow reflects the Finnish mentality?

We hope to make clothes that bring joy to everyday life. I think that relates to the Finns’ mentality to make daily lives rich and happy. For example, when there are mini-live performances on Esplanadi street in the middle of Helsinki, people instantly gather there. It’s nothing extravagant, but everyone enjoys the small “happenings,” and I like that.

In 2019, Japan and Finland will celebrate the 100th Anniversary of Diplomatic Relations. From the design perspective, how do you think the two countries’ relationship should develop?

I feel Japan and Finland have similar mindsets and understand each other. There is already existing ground, such as the Japanese liking marimekko, iittala and Artek creations as nice designs. I would like to see the process of making things together be consciously promoted between the two countries, and the relationships between designers to deepen further.

Already now, famous designers such as Harri Koskinen and Issey Miyake make collaborative items based on their strong connections. If these kinds of bonds can be strengthened, I think our relationship will become even better.

Our company being a textile brand, it might be good if there would be opportunities for us and Finnish textile brands to bring together our strengths and realize our ideas, and I would also like to continue working with Artek. Personally, I like glassware, so it would be nice to collaborate with iittala as well.

And it’s not just us - Japanese creators can provide designs for Finnish brands, and Finnish creators can utilize Japanese handicrafts. I think these kind of collaborations could be realized even more.