Professor Maarit Salolainen: ‘Multidisciplinary cooperation is the key to solving sustainability issues in the textile field’

Professor of Textile Design Maarit Salolainen wants to see closer cooperation not only between research in different fields but also between the university, the industry and resellers to bring about change. In her teaching, she emphasises a holistic understanding of textiles and mastery of design practices and the creative design process.
Woman in red dress leans against a light wall with windows
Photo: Jaakko Kahilaniemi

What is your professorship about?

‘This is an entirely new tenure-track professorship in textile design at Aalto University, and in the recruitment process, the focus was on experience in textile design practice and understanding of the design process, textile technologies and value chains within the industrial textile design. This, I think, is key in this area of design, where technology meets creative practices.

My role is building a bridge between academia and the textile industry, bringing my experience and a critical perspective on design practices to teaching and thus creating a basis for renewing the practices in the industry. The ongoing transformation of the textile industry is tremendous, and we need to be there to create more sustainable ways of working and support the circular economy in every way we can. This must also be reflected in our education.

The textile competence here at Aalto is interdisciplinary and interlinked throughout the university. It is easy to connect with in-house experts from different fields, collaborate on the needed systemic change and solve challenges such as bringing new recycled man-made cellulose fibres from research to the market. At Aalto, you will find textile-related knowledge at all the university's schools, from textile and fashion design to expertise in textile chemistry, wearables, e-textiles, industrial engineering and value chains, marketing expertise and more. 

Broad collaboration is essential for more sustainable textile futures, as the transition requires creative interdisciplinary thinking and cross-functional partnership, competence in research and practice, and cooperation between academia and the industry. Together with my colleagues from other disciplines, we are planning on how to build this collaboration and the transition to a more sustainable world of textiles in practice.’

What brought you to Aalto?

‘I graduated from the University of Art and Design Helsinki in 1992 and moved to Germany soon after. I started my career there, initially focusing on textile art, and then, after moving to Austria, increasingly on industrial textile design. After returning to Finland in 2002, I became a guest lecturer at my alma mater, leading a commercial industry collaboration project in surface design, later named PatternLab. The project emphasises the importance of business and marketing understanding for designers. I continued to work from where Helena Hyvönen, then Professor of Textile Art and later Dean, had built the pilot. 

The ongoing transformation of the textile industry is tremendous, and we need to be there to create more sustainable ways of working and support the circular economy in every way we can. This must also be reflected in our education.

Maarit Salolainen

At that time, and until this year and the beginning of my tenured professorship, I worked alongside academia as a creative director and textile designer in the manufacturing industry and in interior textile editors and brands in Austria, Finland, India and Turkey. It has been rewarding to lead large, multidisciplinary and cross-functional teams with a wide range of expertise. For the last ten years, in addition to my work as a creative director, I was a part-time adjunct professor of textile design at Aalto University. Since 2020, I have led the MA Major in Fashion, Clothing and Textile Design.

In addition to integrating commercial content like the PatternLab project into the curriculum, I saw the need to reform the studio pedagogy in the textile workshops. I started by developing the woven fabric design studies to match the requirements for textile designers’ skills today. These new methods have been in use in our teaching since 2007. Learning-by-doing pedagogy and storytelling are essential here. Students learn to understand structural draft diagrams by weaving and experimenting with various types of weft yarns on multiple warps. Through this explorative process, they learn the basic weaves and their derivates. Most importantly, the students also understand the influence of different fibres and yarn types on the fabric structure while developing their expression through textiles. The traditional approach has been to teach the theory of weave structures and their drafting separately from the practice.

In teaching textile and fashion design, we aim for a holistic understanding of textiles, i.e. that students learn to understand and think through textiles – this is our textile thinking pedagogy. Understanding the textile production process from fibres and yarns to wovens or knits and further to prints and finishes, you can also identify the sustainability challenges in the process, requiring a whole new way of thinking and creative problem-solving. Textile manufacturing is a process industry, and the changes in practices associated with innovations involve an understanding of the production system. This applies to textile design and production both on an industrial and artisanal scale.

In my research through design, I want to be involved in projects that change practices in the textile industry through new ways of working and thinking. With my new professorship, I intend to take a holistic view of this industry and be involved in international interdisciplinary collaborative projects involving many companies, the whole value chain.’

What are the highlights of your career?

‘My most recent assignment in the textile industry, as creative director of Vanelli Textiles, a textile mill in Turkey, was the highlight of my career as an industrial textile designer. It was incredible to experience what you can do with the arsenal of that versatile factory. There is a fantastic design team, textile engineers and chemists, and a whole orchestra of specialists from yarn production to weaving, printing, dyeing and other finishings, sales and marketing. It was an excellent opportunity to work with such a textile designer's dream palette, targeting ideas, fabrics and collections to a wide variety of interior textile editors and brands across the globe.

And I can say the same about my work at Aalto University! We have it all here in the textile workshops, just on a smaller scale. We even got an industrial jacquard machine in our new premises in 2018 when we moved to the school’s new Väre building in Otaniemi. The work of us textile designers is very much linked to our tools, the machines: we need them to “cook”. They are our scoops, our pots and pans. It was great to get this tenure-track textile design professorship in Aalto. With this mandate, there is so much you can do in this particular environment with the infrastructure here. 

It is also worth mentioning the completion of Interwoven, a book on Aalto's textile design pedagogy, published by Aalto ARTS Books in 2022. It is particularly exciting that the prestigious Thames & Hudson publishing house will publish the book for international distribution this year. The book is a comprehensive textbook and handbook on the subject, but it is aimed at anyone interested in textiles who wants to deep-dive into the world of woven fabrics. The book manifests textile thinking and storytelling through textile-making. It highlights the link between the creative and technical aspects of textile design, the practice-led design process, hands-on design practices and industrial manufacturing.’

The idea of perpetual growth must be questioned. To solve the problems, we must reuse fibres, textiles and clothing and think creatively: what can we do differently?"

Maarit Salolainen

What issues are topical in your field right now?

‘Sustainability issues are naturally prominent. This means, among other things, a renewal in the role of designers and a thorough shift in thinking. For example, defining exact colour shades and colour palettes in textile products and collections will inevitably have to change. With the rise of recycled fibres, there will be more variation in the colours from batch to batch. The key is how designers learn to accept that we cannot control everything. We need to embrace uncertainty and the need for change, and we need to design products that will stand time.

It is also about the design processes we can and should implement to work with new textile-to-textile recycled fibres, as they do not allow for the precise reproducibility of trend colours, for example. This cannot be studied in theory alone but must be piloted in the industry, involving fibre and yarn producers, textile mills, design expertise and resellers. 

It is essential to understand that not only the development of new technological innovations, such as novel bio-based recycled fibres, is key to sustainable futures, but also choices within the design process and the textile manufacturing process as well as the cooperation between different actors within the value chain.’

What are your expectations for the future of your field?

‘It is paramount that we can work together to solve and change practices in the industry – before it is too late. We need to bring about ever closer cooperation between designers, researchers and industry, between different fields and actors. We need to work constructively with industry to bring about the change. We need to educate the various players within the value chain – and consumers. Storytelling can be a tool, but the message needs to be fact-based. Greenwash does a lot of harm.

The idea of perpetual growth must be questioned. To solve the problems, we must reuse fibres, textiles and clothing and think creatively: what can we do differently?

Through education, I aim to prepare our students to understand textile materials and technologies and, equipped with this knowledge, find creative solutions. Textile sustainability is a complex area. However, textiles are constantly close to all of us. They are around us throughout our lives and will not disappear. 

Throughout history, humans have made textiles – by collecting fibre materials from their environment and developing tools to process them into cloth. This chain of inventions and innovations through the ages has contributed to technological progress in other areas. This knowledge, understanding and appreciation of textiles has largely been lost today. I hope to bring the concept of heirloom back to our lives. That the fabrics and clothes which are dear to us and we want to cherish are maintained and kept as part of our lives and passed on to future generations.’

Woman in a black blouse leans her elbow on a weaving machine
Photo: Eeva Suorlahti

Why study the field?

‘This field is definitely worth studying! Young people are the makers in the future, and I believe the foundation they get in their studies will set them up to demand and drive a lasting change. It is essential to understand the field as holistically as possible, to gain an understanding of both creative practices and technology, and to be able to combine them creatively through design. Knowledge and skills have the power to spur change.

And cloth has enormous expressive power! Textiles narrate rich stories through their colours, patterns and textures – they evoke emotions and memories, and you can literally wrap yourself in them.

At Aalto, we aim to provide students with hands-on skills and understanding of the textile-making process in the studio scale of our workshops. This gives them the keys to mastering the creative design process. The skillset guides you to notice the bottlenecks on the path to sustainability. The way to change the field is from within.

Whether you're a fashion designer, interior architect or product designer, it is essential to understand the basics of textiles. Fashion studies at Aalto are truly material-focused, with designers gaining a deep understanding of textiles through practice. At Aalto, fashion and textile designers make their own materials, sometimes starting from the fibres. An understanding of the process of constructing material can be used in other fields. Textiles and textile know-how have great potential in a multidisciplinary set-up."

What else are you interested in?

‘I am curious. I'm interested in science and knowledge in general. I have always been interested in biology and especially geography. Cultural geography is fascinating – our planet’s overlapping cycles and the impact of different regions and conditions on human and social activity. This interest also relates in many ways to the making of textiles throughout history, in other cultures and continents, using materials found in the environment.

And leading on from this, archaeology and anthropology are fascinating fields – it is inspiring to follow studies of artefacts and fabrics from millennia ago and realise how sophisticated the textile manufacturing processes were even then. Those textiles tell stories, showing innovations, skill and their maker’s understanding of the possibilities of the material and the technique. It also gives faith in the future.’ 


Position: Associate Professor of Textile Design (tenured)
Experience:  Creative director and textile designer
Background: born in Helsinki, grew up in London and Helsinki, studied in Helsinki, and worked and lived in Helsinki, Bonn, Düsseldorf, Vienna, Delhi, Gurgaon, Mumbai and Bursa.
Age: 57
Family: married, two grown-up children, two rescue dogs that moved to our home in India.
Hobbies: hiking in the summer and skiing in the winter, textiles always.
Contact: [email protected]

Lue lisää:

Interwoven-kirjan aukeama kreppisidoksesta.

Aalto University’s pedagogy in textiles studies relies on ‘textile thinking’

"Interwoven - Exploring Materials and Structures" by Professor Maarit Salolainen is a thorough overview of the textile design pedagogy at Aalto University

Interwoven-kirjan harmaansävyinen kansi, jossa on kuparilankainen kudos.

Interwoven dives into textile design and weaving

Interwoven is a joyoys exploration into woven textile design with almost 500 pages and over 1500 photographs.

Image from remote site:

DIALOGUES Creating New Textile Futures | Aalto Virtual Exhibitions (external link)

DIALOGUES – Creating New Textile Futures by AaltoTEXTILES

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