I had an interview with Liisa Saarni, a fisherman’s daughter from Rymättylä, whose design products, handmade of fish skin, are in demand around the world.
Intriguing and different Galateia, Iso Roobertinkatu 35–37
An authentic atmosphere prevails at the workroom of Liisa Saarni. Tools, materials, and finished products all exist harmoniously in the same space. Here, one can see the entire process of turning a fish skin into a fashion product. Liisa spent her early years by the sea in the archipelago, drawing inspiration and ideas from the surrounding nature. “Childhood affects your choice of profession one way or another. Personally, I learned that we should respect nature and the sea,” says Liisa. This appreciation is reflected in her work, as is naturalness and respect towards the delicate materials.
“When I left for my studies, I knew I wanted to work with my hands in the future,” says Liisa, who studied Special Techniques at Kuopio for five years. There, she was able to work with a wide range of materials, familiarising herself with everything from lace-making to metal technique. Her first exhibition in 1991, presenting her products made of fish skin, raised a great deal of interest. “I could see there was demand for something like this,” says Liisa, who immediately went to work after finding her niche.
According to Liisa, the best thing about being an entrepreneur is being independent and being able to have a real influence over her work. As a challenge, she mentions that entrepreneurship requires a good amount of self-discipline. However, Liisa is very proud of her work and wants to keep up the excellent quality of her products. “Especially in the current global economy, when everyone is strict about their spending, it is important to be able to offer timeless, high-quality, lasting design,” says Liisa.
Her reputation precedes her, and quality and reliability are among the reasons why people from all over the world arrive at Liisa’s workroom.
Second life for Finnish fish
Fish skin was a natural choice of material for Liisa. She primarily uses Finnish fish in her production. Liisa was the first person in Finland to make design products out of fish skins, and as a pioneer, she is held in high esteem. Usually, fish skins are treated as waste materials and thrown out without even considering their potential. “My father saw how the sea got polluted, which brought about a completely new respect for natural materials in me as well,” says Liisa. Environmentalism and recycling are topical issues, and fish skins are an increasingly popular subject. Today, products made of fish skin are not limited to Finland, as lizard skins have been abandoned to some extent due to protection work and the endangered status of animals. “These days, people pay closer attention to these issues,” says Liisa.
Member of Design District Helsinki
Liisa set up her workroom on Iso Roobertinkatu in 2006. She finds her membership of the Design District Helsinki Association extremely useful. “We bring customers to each other here,” rejoices Liisa. “It’s not competition, it’s something we should see as an asset! What a wonderful opportunity to meet other private entrepreneurs,” she says. In fact, Galateia has had a great deal of cooperation with other members of the Design District, such as jewellery designer Harri Syrjänen. “The members of the Design District are like one big family, which makes us want to help each other. When I need something, I pull out my map of the Design District,” says Liisa, laughing.
Liisa’s gift idea for dusky evenings is the candle and tealight set designed in cooperation with glass artist Jukka Isotalo. The tealight holders, made of recycled glass bottles with fish skins wrapped around them, let the light shine through with sheer beauty. “These are treasures that last forever,” promises Liisa.
Text and picture: Anni Honkaharju