Tell us a little bit about yourself and your career path.
I am Anna-Leena Hämäläinen, a 34-year-old designer, furniture entrepreneur and a mother of two from Espoo. I graduated from the Aalto University School of Arts, Design and Architecture in 2011 with a Bachelor of Arts (Art and Design). My major was textile design. My bachelor’s-level minor was interior architecture and furniture design, while during my master’s studies, I had a minor in International Design Business Management (IDBM).
Before starting my studies at the then University of Art and Design Helsinki, I worked as a visualist in various stores of Bestseller, a Danish clothing company. During my studies, I worked as an interior designer at Artek and founded a company with two of my friends. We designed a carpet collection, whose products were hand-woven by Estonian grandmothers at their homes in Saarenmaa and sold through an online shop.
Five years ago, I took over my father’s furniture company, Hakola, which he founded in 1963. As Hakola’s creative director, I am responsible for developing the company’s collection, brand and marketing.
How did you end up studying your field of choice?
I’ve always been a very visual person. Ever since I was little, I knew I was going to study and work in a creative field. To that end, I moved from Osthrobotnia in Western Finland to Tampere to study at Tammerkosken kuvataidelukio, an upper secondary school concentrated on visual arts. The art instructor at my school encouraged me to apply to University of Art and Design Helsinki, which had always been my dream.
Initially, I thought I wanted to become an interior architect, but when I applied for it for the second time, I realised I was not detail-oriented enough for it. I found out that University of Art and Design Helsinki had just the degree programme for me: textile design. I was in my element when I got to work with colours, collections and larger entities. I realised that product design was not for me: when others were designing products, I focused on larger entities and their conceptualisation and packaging.
What is your best memory from your student years?
The year-ending parties for furniture design students were always fun. One of my best memories is climbing on the school roof in secret and drinking wine with my friends to celebrate the end of a course. The sun was shining and summer vacation was just around the corner. Many of my best memories have to do with teachers. We had wonderful and inspiring teachers such as Helena Hyvönen, Jouko Järvisalo, Kaarina Kaikkonen and Raija Malka.
What is the most valuable thing you learned at university which has helped you in your professional life?
For me, the most important thing was the combination of skills I was able gain through university studies. I found the topics that interested me very early on and consciously looked for courses that I thought would be useful for me. When I’m working on a collection in my current work, I have found colour theory, product portfolio management, collection-oriented thinking in pattern design, as well as knowledge of materials to be the most useful skills for me. I’m personally engaged in all our product development projects with the designer, so it is very important that I too, understand the basics of furniture design and manufacturing.
For marketing and branding I got the best knowledge and skills during my studies in the IDBM master’s programme, where I learned to question the set ways of doing things and to think in new ways. That inspired me to take over the family business, which my father was planning to close, and to start running it using completely new methods. We practically reinvented the company and today, we sell the majority of our furniture online.
Tell us something surprising about yourself.
I left home when I was 15, and moved to Tampere to live on my own. My parents were not too happy about it and did not promise me any financial support. So to make ends meet, I worked as a store cashier, a cleaner, and a telemarketer during my upper secondary school years.
Apart from work, what is important to you?
Having children changed my life completely. It has made me rethink my values and taught me to live in the moment.