Suomi, The Hieno X Suomi 100 Official Series
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[The Hieno! Suomi 100] Interview with Michaela Istokova, a super talented visual creative.

Today, as part of The Hieno! “What is Finnish-ness” series celebrating Suomi 100, we have the huge privilege of featuring Michaela Istokova.

Michaela is our amazingly talented designer-cum-illustrator for the The Hieno! Suomi 100 official e-book. You can view her portfolio here and here.

Enjoy this interview! 🙂


TH: Hello Michaela! Can you tell us more about yourself and what you are doing in Finland?

Michaela: Hello Wan Wei, or should I rather say “Moikka”? 🙂

I am a graphic designer and illustrator from Bratislava in Slovakia, and I am now working in an international development X design agency M4ID as a Visual Creative.

I moved to Finland about five years ago when I found a part-time job and a Finnish boyfriend Esa.

Since then I’ve been here sort of on and off, employed, unemployed, freelancing, everything.

TH: What are the three things you appreciate most about Finland?

Michaela: I am comparing Finland to what I had experienced in the three countries where I lived (Slovakia, Czechia and Malaysia). These three things stand out for me:

  • The way this country is governed and Finland’s admirable lack of scandalous corruption.
  • Quality of living in terms of the high quality of apartments and the services they offer. For example, there are communal washing and drying rooms, communal saunas, tables outside houses, etc…
  • Gender equality that I feel the most when wearing shapeless, potato bag dresses and nobody is judging me!

In my home country I would be definitely judged, most women there strive to look very feminine…Here in Finland it’s alright to look whatever way you want to look, and not just in the cosmopolitan Helsinki, but even in the countryside.

This may be different for, for example, Muslim women that are veiled, but in my case of a ¼ Asian white person, nobody judges my questionable fashion choices and the ways I choose to present myself as a woman. 😀

TH: Who inspires you the most? 

Michaela: I am inspired by people who do their own thing and create something amazing and beneficial.

For example, in Slovakia I have two friends – Miska from Puojd and Janka from Froggywear – who both create clothes but each has their own target audience. They are both successful at basically, being themselves and executing their vision and that is very inspirational to me!

So, generally I like fearless people who are going after their goal. 🙂

TH: What do you think are the unique aspects of Finnish design?

Michaela: Finland has a lot of textile design brands that create patterns that are mostly very bold, big and very bright.

Mostly it’s very graphic, maybe just Pentik does a bit softer, gentler design from the well-known brands.

Then I have also noticed that Finns like contrasting black lines, like you can see in the designs of Finlayson and the Arabia Moomin mugs for example – but obviously, Tove Jansson drew Moomins like that, and so it’s a wonderful established style.

I also like the Finnish designers’ use of motifs from the nature and Finnish cities (again, Finlayson) and their nice sense of humour evident in many designs. For example in Lapuan Kankurit’s design with many naked men in sauna!

Excellent stuff, I bought it for my mom.

TH: Ohhhhh many, many naked Finnish men!! *pervs* That being said, if Finland were a person, how would he or she look like?

Michaela: The illustration you see here is actually something I did as a personal project for the 99th birthday of independent Finland, just recently.

finnishmaiden.jpg

I decided to illustrate a lady, let’s call her Marja Lumi [which means Berry Snow :)]. This is because it’s good to be a woman in Finland. She is also blonde, because once I read somewhere that Finland has the highest percentage of blonde people in the world.

Marja Lumi is enjoying a bit of löyly in sauna, having her saunakalja nearby and wearing a wreath made of flora commonly found in Finland, including the national flower, lily of the valley.

She has hairy legs, because really, people don’t care much and that’s great!

Be hairy here, my friend, it’s alright – we are all equal in sauna. 😀

TH: Haha, and who would her enemies be?

Michaela: I think my Marja Lumi would be very annoyed at sexist, patriarchal idiots who are intolerant to her freedom, her beer drinking, her meh attitude towards shaving, her general independence and high level of attained education.

TH: What do you think are some of the popular misconceptions of Finland that foreigners might have?

Michaela: A lot of people seems to think that Finns are introverted metal lovers with alcohol abuse problems that sit in sauna all day and then swim in icy lakes.

I find that kind of funny, especially the alcohol and metal part – at least in my circles not so many people drink too much or listen to metal!

Finland is also associated with suicidal behaviour, and sadly here I actually know several Finnish people who either had someone close to them commit a suicide. Or, in one case, one friend of mine did it a couple of years ago too.

I guess mental health is not in so much in focus here, and people are just encouraged to “have sisu” but that’s not always cutting it. :/

TH: Can you share some of the most memorable experiences you have in Finland? They could be funny, weird, offensive or out-of-the-world.

Michaela: My boyfriend Esa and I went on an extended business trip (for him) and a totally cool roadtrip (for me) to Lapland last summer and that was just wonderful.

My home country is small, hilly and rather crowded, so when I experienced the vast taigas of Lapland, I was in love. In particular, approaching Kemijärvi (the town) on the bridge above Kemijärvi (the lake) was a total highlight and now I platonically love this town!

I also had a nice experience last summer in Joensuu when I was buying two woven baskets from a lady on the market. I speak (badly) in Finnish. However, she didn’t mind and she was really curious about me and very delighted that we can talk together in Finnish. Somehow that made me feel quite integrated and accepted in this often puzzling society haha 😀

Oh and one last experience – when we lived in Tampere, there was a totally enchanted forest behind our apartment where excellent mushrooms grew in unbelievable quantities. We were picking them and drying them and at one point we had so much that we had to dry them in our apartment sauna…oh, what a dream!

TH: What is the one birthday wish you have for Finland this year, since it is its 100th birthday? 

Michaela: I wish Finland to loosen up a bit in certain aspects.

Namely, the hostile attitude towards street art and the severely restricted sale of alcohol in grocery stores.

I also wish Finland can keep up its excellent work in many other aspects.

And I wish that more people would visit here and beyond just Helsinki and Rovaniemi, because Finland has a lot of lovely places to offer!

TH: On a parting note, do you have anything else to add?

Michaela: If you can, visit Northern Karelia, it’s wonderful.

Swimming in Lake Pielinen, picking blueberries and cranberries in the big Karelian forests and admiring the view from Koli National Park should be a must for every visitor to Finland.  =)


The Hieno! is the official partner of the Finland 100 independence programme: What is “Finnish-ness”? endorsed by the Prime Minister’s Office. Feature photo by Jenni Aho. We hope you have enjoyed reading this interview as much as we did!🙂 Feel free to connect with Michaela on LinkedIn or view her portfolio here and here.

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