Laura Saarinen - Lilja The Label
Hi Laura! Your brand Lilja the Label has lovely, colourful and unique swim and activewear pieces. Would you like to share the story about how it all started? Who are part of your team?
I started the brand back in 2016 when I was a student. I was living in Turku (in Finland) at the time and always knew that I wanted to do something for myself but wasn’t always sure what that would be. I had always traveled a lot and started noticing more and more swimwear designs that I loved, but that wasn’t even close to being available in Finland. I studied Economics at the time, so my background was most definitely not in fashion design. I had always had a creative eye, though, and loved trying out different things, so I thought why not! In the beginning, I was working alongside my studies and never thought it would pick up so quickly, but I’m so happy it did!
I’m the only one working at Lilja full-time and I love the design process, social media, marketing and customer service. During the summer, when it’s busier and when we have our pop-ups or summer shops, I have Fanni helping me out with the store and all kinds of running tasks - she’s amazing at what she does, and I already can’t wait for next summer! On top of this, I’m so lucky to know so many amazing freelance photographers, videographers and content creators who I couldn’t do this without! I’ve outsourced logistics, meaning there’s an amazing separate Finnish company taking care of warehousing, packing and shipping. This allows me to focus on the things I love and the things I’m the best at and also makes the process more sustainable, effective and agile.
Courtesy of @joonasvirolainen
What are the key aspects you consider when designing a new piece?
As a surfer, functionality is a requirement for me. Swimwear is not only supposed to look good but also stay on! On top of functionality, I trust in timeless and minimalistic colors and prints. I love muted and earthy tones as I feel that they compliment most skin tones and are easy to combine as well. I don’t follow fashion trends that much, or honestly almost at all, and I’m always striving to create pieces that my customers can wear from season to season and that can easily be combined, with my different collections or with different brands. I also love keeping a consistent theme between different collections, and I’ve found minimalistic floral prints to be my thing! I also love vintage-looking designs, such as graphic wallpaper prints, high cuts and textured fabrics.
We admire your values and your effort to produce sustainable and ethical swimwear. How does this show in the production chain?
Thank you! We manufacture with two small family-run factories, one in Bali, Indonesia and one in Guangzhou, China. Our products are handmade at two different small, family-run factories. One of the factories is located in Bali, Indonesia and the other in Guangzhou, China. We love both of these small businesses we have the pleasure to work with and have personally visited both factories. We have decided on these two factories after extensive research on their working conditions, fair wages, holidays and work safety. 2020 visits most obviously had to be postponed, but I can't wait to visit as soon as it's safe to do so! I'd love to show for example some behind-the-scenes videos and introduce the people behind the process to you.
We only want to manufacture small amounts and using a smaller factory usually enables smaller orders from brands instead of setting large minimum requirements. As we are not a fast-fashion business, we don't want to manufacture excessive amounts of stock that could end up unsold and this way generate more fashion waste, which already is a huge problem in our industry.
As I mentioned before, we outsource our logistics by using a Finnish business to take care of packing and shipping. This way I don’t have to rent out a warehouse, buy all possible materials in all shapes and sizes and drive a varying amount of packages to the post office daily - the logistic partner has much larger volumes, has made the process effective and has access to much more materials and can source them for several brands at once. This way we are saving on a lot of environmental costs and also simplifying the process a lot.
Photo from Lilja's collection, a swimsuit perfect for surfing
What does the swimwear market look like in general, what are the challenges regarding sustainability and ethicality?
I feel that there are more and more options nowadays comparing to when I started. There are more suppliers for recycled swimwear fabric for example, and those suppliers have more and more colors each year. I think the discussion around sustainability is super important as it creates more demand, which creates more supply, and this of course profits both consumers and the brand. That’s why we strive to completely transparent about our choices and are happy to tell more about any part of the process - the more sustainability and ethics are talked about, the more customers learn about them and start requiring these things, and the more choices brands have. I see it as a win-win-win for the customer, the brand and the environment.
How do you envision the future of Lilja the Label, what are your sustainability goals? Is there anything you can do to become even more sustainable and ethical)?
I think there is always more that everyone can do! For the collections in the upcoming years, I’m going to use only recycled materials whenever possible. I’ve already designed the collection and I just can’t wait to get the samples and start working on them. I’d also like to look into packaging - at the moment we use cardboard with paper tape, which of course is recyclable and doesn’t use non-renewable resources. I’ve thought that cardboard boxes, even flat and small, sometimes feel a bit excessive for such a small product, but then again just an envelope doesn’t seem to give enough protection. And plastic mailers just aren’t an option. I want to look into custom making our own flat little cardboard box from thinner cardboard, which I think could work. And of course - one important goal is to keep looking into the process and spotting little things that we could make differently, even though these things might not be visible in the same way that material choices and packaging are. I’ve thought about a recycling scheme of some kind - at the moment a lot of swimwear is being made from recycled materials, but could we give swimwear a new life somehow? These are things to think about, and luckily with the winter coming, we’ll have a lot of time to look into these things before it gets busy again in the spring!
Courtesy of @joonasvirolainen
Lastly, would you like to share some tips for taking care of swimwear in the best way to make it last?
As tempting as it is, do not throw it in the washing machine, let alone a dryer! I recommend hand washing or just jumping in the ocean. Also, don’t leave your swimsuit to dry in direct sunlight - this will cause the colors to eventually fade. Of course, sunscreen is always a must, and light, neutral and non-coloured sunscreen will not stain the swimwear, but for example tanning oils or anything with glitter, self-tanner or stronger chemicals will not be great for your swimmers. And don’t leave a swimsuit wet in your bag or inside a towel, it will not smell so fresh once you remember you left it there for a while!
Thank you, Laura, for interviewing with us, and for sharing your passion for sustainable and ethically made swimwear! Meanwhile, we will continue to dream about turquoise water and white beaches… :)
Words by Alice Ahlström