Taavi Mäkelä is not only about ski masks

Designer Taavi Mäkelä discusses one of a kind accessories, straggly designs, the meaning of one’s roots and the importance of tradition.

FaceTime crackles somewhere in Paris as textile designer Taavi Mäkelä, 27, jumps on the screen. Taavi is wearing fast glasses and a colourful hat. 

Could we talk about the quirky hat designs you make under “by Taavi Mäkelä”?

I am a textile designer by trade and am graduating from Metropolia University of Applied Sciences in Helsinki sometime next month. I just turned in my Bachelor’s thesis. Not that I’ll be celebrating that too much. Or studying any further at the moment. I think I’ll continue spinning my own ideas and making more hats. 

They seem to be super popular on social media at the moment.

These designs have started way back though. Originally I started making hats under my grandmother’s guidance. She was the one to teach me crochet and eventually I ventured into making little hat designs. You know I left it for ten years? The hat making.

“Crochet is super fun. It really fits my personality as well since I am very impulsive,” says Mäkelä.

Why is that?

Spending time in school made me realise that I wasn’t really that into school and the way design is taught as a production-based process while I personally was, straight from the beginning, more into visual arts. I never wanted to study painting or sculpture however. I felt like working with textiles was a way of coming into terms with materials in order to create something wearable or a standalone art piece. But then I bumped into crochet again and I realised that this, for me, is the method that I want to apply in my work. Crochet is super fun. It really fits my personality as well since I am very impulsive. I’d rather not work in a sessile, stagnant way. Working with crochet is quite straggly which I love. I found that in school this was not highly appreciated though so I might as well work on my own for now.

Straggly croheting, tell us more. 

When I was young, I stayed at my grandmother’s house a lot. She was this warm and gentle person, a real classic countryside grandma who used to cook us pike. She lived in this house made of logs – and she really loved arts and crafts. I had only done a bit of handicrafts in school, you know the OG-course we all do in Finland? A bit of this and a bit of that, the course is. So I was showing my works to my grandmother and she was not pleased. Not pleased at all so she started teaching me the right way to crochet. The art of loop stitches, how tassels are made and how to change yarn and colour. I was also skateboarding and snowboarding at the time which are both quite creative and individual environments. I think that must have supported my hatmaking.

The base of and the inspiration to the patterns is in Karelia.

Your designs now are quite intrinsic.

The base of and the inspiration to my patterns, is in Karelia. The local, Karelian traditional craftsmanship shows very clearly also in my embroidery. There are certain lines I use and I truly enjoy the käspaikka, a traditionally white and red embroidered piece of cloth from Karelia. For me, I combine the knowledge of classical patterns and combine them with Kitsch Art which I also love. I find it intriguing to try and use that as a base to build on to create these hats that borderline the ugly, low-brow style. 

Two years ago I was really into protective gear that is highly functional. Desert wear and glacier apparel – anything that covers all but your eyes and often go in spectrums of beiges and blacks. First I thought this was never going to take off but soon enough I sold my first ski mask to a friend and it kind of took off from there. I guess I am mostly known for those now but I actually make lots of hats, not only ski masks. One of a kind apparel that could be considered standalone art pieces. 

There are now maybe 70 pieces around and the price for new ones starts at 130 euros. Access to new ones is slightly easier now that I am building a webshop and creating some in collaboration. It is not fast though, each hat is handmade and sometimes takes days to create. This on top of the fact that I try to create in a sustainable manner. I source all yarn second hand from flea markets and recycling centres. There are simply no two of the same when it comes to my designs.

Find Taavi Mäkelä in Instagram: @tmbytaavi.

Does this trace back to your love of visual arts?

I truly feel that my hats are wearable art. I also strongly believe that no one else is capable or willing to offer the same. You may copy the form but looking close, each loop tells a story of my roots and my time with my grandmother. Looking at each ready-made piece, you see me as the designer standing behind it. I have made it with my own hands. I find that super interesting – and important. 

To me, it feels relevant that there are things in this world that are not completely destructible. I try to design in a way that allows one’s roots and the traditions of the past to come through. Even if the materials and the form might change, all of my pieces have a strong, living spirit in them. That of Karelia, my grandmother and nature. The older I become, the more important all that grows – and that shows in my work as well.