Bunny-eared trainers and lollipop heels made shoe designer Minna Parikka a household name among global celebrities and influencers. At the peak of her success, she then quit her brand.
Depending on who you ask, 2020 was either a year to remember or one most definitely to forget. What can’t be argued is that the existential urgency of the pandemic spurred many to contemplate life decisions and future directions. In hindsight, perhaps it was no surprise then that Minna Parikka announced she was ending her eponymous brand in November of that year. She was out, she declared. She was hanging up her boots.
The previous 15 years had seen the Helsinki-based shoe designer scale lofty heights; a heady altitude where celebrities such as Lady Gaga, Taylor Swift and Cara Delevingne joined women around the world in sporting her fun, colourful, unconventional footwear replete with bunny ears, lollipop heels and even leather sushi.
With a young daughter to raise and her shoe dreams seemingly fulfilled, Parikka stepped off, determined to “redefine my path and seek new adventures”. She continued to keep people on their toes, however, and her first steps after this included appearing in Finnish reality TV programmes such as Dancing with the Stars. Then, in February last year, the shock of her quitting was matched by the surprise announcement that she was stepping back into her shoes – albeit as a sole entrepreneur – with a limited collection to help Finnish department store Stockmann celebrate its 160th anniversary in 2022.
With that successful partnership now drawn to a close, Parikka continues to sell her shoes via her website and is shipping internationally to 57 countries. But this setup isn’t long term: plans are afoot to close the site this spring.
When chatting with Parikka, she gives off the air of someone unconcerned about her next move. Sat at a table in a buzzing café in the centre of the Finnish capital, she flashes a frequent smile and regularly bursts into laughter. Trams rattle by on the street behind her, and curious customers sneak a glance in her direction. Topics whizz past as she talks about everything from getting creative in her pyjamas, to capturing the Finnish personality and building a full-size gingerbread house.
What is your creative process like?
If I had to decide the ideal time of the day to be creative, it would be the morning. Before I had my daughter, what I would do is sometimes stay in my pyjamas until the afternoon. Just go directly from my bed to the drawing board. No nonsense or thinking about hair or makeup or anything. Just focusing on the work.
You have touched so many with your designs. What reactions did you get when you returned last year with your Stockmann collection?
I got really mixed emotions from customers. Because, of course, I told everybody two years ago that I’m quitting and then I was, like, “Oh, here’s another collection for just the once”. Some people were ecstatic. Others were more like, “Oh yeah, we’re going to miss you. Oh. What are you doing here? Huh?”
So, why did you return?
They were celebrating their 160th anniversary. I live here, so it fitted perfectly to do a collection for them. It sounded great because there were so many elements that I actually started to miss after I made the decision to stop. I missed the shoes and talking about quality and fashion. I started to buy other shoes as well, and I was like, oh I could be doing more. Because they didn’t fit, or they were uncomfortable. Also, I needed something to do as well. [laughs]
I stopped after 15 years of intensively doing my brand. It just left such a huge void after such a long time. It needs to be filled somehow. I saw the momentum that I could still have at some moments last year. That’s also why I did it: because I saw that there was still demand for it.
But I have to say that I have never regretted quitting the brand or stopping it. It was starting to get stale, you know, repeating itself: the way of working, season after season doing a collection, all the same struggles with production and retailers. This and that.
How do youfeel about it now?
I’m very happy with the collaboration, but at the same time one year is enough for now as a comeback. I got all my design fantasies out of my system and will have another break. It’s just that I get bored very easily with things. The business side of things is what I have been doing for the past 17 years. I could kind of like do it in my sleep. So, yeah, it’s time for something different.
I read that you also have a kids’ collection with Reima that’s launching in March.
Yeah, it has been really interesting. I did two collections for them: spring-summer 2023 and then a back-to-school collection. A kids’ line is always fun because it can be super playful. And it was nice to do it with a big company because it’s completely different. They have their huge company process and lead times, and it’s like a huge stream. It’s a different type of work, even though the design process is the same for me and the thought process.
Do you simply follow your gut instinct to bring certain ideas to fruition?
The creative process is a lot about dealing with intuition and sensitivity and what feels right in that moment for me, and also reflecting that idea to the market and the end consumer. It is really interesting when you first start to have your own view of things and then you start to reflect it to other people and other things like what’s happening in the world, problems and trends, things like that.
Do you have a sounding board for your ideas?
It used to be the teams in house; they were people that I really trusted who had been working with the product and our customers for many years. But currently I don’t really have that. I’m quite independent when it comes to the designing and running of the business. When you have your own business, it is so important that it reflects yourself and looks like the owner. That’s why people have their own businesses, so that they can create their own environments. It doesn’t need to be so strictly by the book. [laughs] There can be flexibilities and different ways of doing things.
Not everybody would have the courage to do that. Have you always had the strength to go your own way?
Well, it’s sometimes difficult when there’s a team. Because people expect certain things in the workplace, or a certain pace or protocols or way of doing things. Sometimes when the business owner is the creative person, it just doesn’t go like that. [laughs] I can be like, “It’s my product and I don’t want to do it that way”. It hasn’t always been a smooth ride because I listened to people – well, I had to. Now I don’t, as it’s just me.
But yeah, there’s no point looking at what other people are doing – especially in a small market like Finland – or the way that people are busy building their brands or companies. It’s more important to travel and be interested in other cultures and other brands on a global scale. Take inspiration from all over and not get stuck with one culture and one way of thinking and their way of doing things.
Is there a particular culture that you draw inspiration from?
Well, I studied in the UK, and lived there quite a long time, so I would say that has influenced me a lot. And there are other places for things like visual inspiration. Asia is extreme and different; it’s so appealing and interesting and constantly evolving. Especially in the way that public spaces are made and how the products are displayed and the whole experience of buying a product is really well thought through. Retail is also interesting in London, especially how the customer is treated and what the friendliness level is like. They really make you feel like you’re their friend, and that is so great for somebody who works in fashion.
Why do you think people have responded so passionately to what you do?
That’s a good question, because when I started I thought that Finnish people wouldn’t go for those styles, because they are so… funny. Back then, there were a lot of neutral tones, grey tones, and then I came out with this super girly, fun, colourful collection.
There was a certain group of Finnish women that took to it straight away. They felt a connection to the brand and the products. I thought that I would only sell these products on a global level.
Most Finnish people are thought to be quite introverted and quite serious in a way, but I think there’s a lot more bubbling under the surface. People are looking for ways to express themselves, like a channel where they can feel things and somehow express their true character to other people. I have heard so many stories that people have met through the shoes; they started a conversation. It isn’t so typical in Finland that people reach out to strangers. So, maybe the shoes are a way through to some kind of emotion in Finnish women, capturing their personality.
This support here has been so vital for the brand because it financed all of my adventures abroad, to the trade shows and whatnot. But, of course, that international road has been a lot longer. When the sneaker trend revived itself, I happened to be right on time with the bunny sneakers. That was what took the brand to totally different heights aboard. Firstly, they went viral on social media. There were so many celebrities and influencers wearing them at the same time. So, it really became an ‘it’ product. Then, in just a couple of months, the products were in Harrods and in Selfridges, Liberty and Harvey Nichols in the UK. It took off from there. There were so many high-end luxury retailers that really wanted that product to be part of their selection. It was amazing. It also must have been kind of nuts.
I had worked so long for that moment. A lot of brands never get that momentum. It’s usually just constant, small-brand struggles, but to have that kind of hype about the product is really rare. That was my dream and it happened. That’s also part of why I wanted to quit the brand [in 2020], because I felt like I had reached the things that I wanted with it.
Was there any particular celebrity endorsement that stood out at the time?
Well, I’ve never been very celebrity orientated. For me it’s a bit of a strange culture: “That celebrity is wearing these shoes, so I want to have them myself.” I never kind of understood it. [laughs] But, from a business perspective, I would have to say that it was when Cara Delevingne wore the shoes. She was shot by the paparazzi on different occasions with them on, so it was obvious that she actually did like them; it was not just at one event. That’s really what broke the back. I don’t really know why, but somehow it was credible enough. Because with celebrities like Lady Gaga, okay, it’s nice to have them, but it’s more of an art project for them – well, it used to be, not any more – and people wouldn’t take it so seriously. It would have been a nice reference to name drop, but people wouldn’t go to the shop with a photo of Lady Gaga and say they want this, but with Cara Delevingne they would.
Were you able to enjoy all this at the time?
I was trying to surf the wave. I had no experience of what to do in that moment. Those moments are really short, so I was just trying to manage. There was not much time to really enjoy it. Later, after I had gone through all the photos of people wearing the shoes, it was like, oh yeah, that actually happened.
Is there something in hindsight that you would do differently?
I would use that momentum completely differently because we would react in the moment and had no idea how to keep it going. On a global level, with social media being so strong, products pop up constantly. It’s very rare that you get a brand that becomes a hit from social media visibility. It’s more of a product than a brand, so it’s very difficult to actually move on from there. Once that trend has passed, it’s kind of like: What do you do now? What do you create more or less of? It’s nearly impossible.
Once a brand reaches that moment, they need to source help from outside, some legit consultants, someone who has gone through all that. It’s difficult for a small brand. When it gets into that momentum, it’s overwhelming.
Your success is so inspirational for up-and-coming designers, but I wonder who has inspired you?
That’s always such a difficult question. Of course, there are those who I’ve always looked up to: those kinds of designers who started on their own from nothing. That’s just how I started. Like, you know, they don’t have the backup or some heritage that they can ride on. There are brands with designers like this who have had a huge career, somebody like Vivienne Westwood. I’m not sure if I like her more recent designs, but her story is amazing: starting really just with passion, from nothing. How to create the whole universe and how to keep it up – that is amazing.
So, what is an average day like for you these days?
I don’t have average days. Yeah, I hate routines. Of course, I have a child, so I have to have some kind of routine. [laughs] But yeah, every day looks quite different. So, I’m quite free. I don’t need to be in one place, I can move around and just decide for myself what to do.
Did becoming a mother change your life philosophy at all?
Working passionately in fashion is quite demanding, and you are constantly giving more and more and more. And it’s a job that is 24/7. Running a brand was so many roles for me. Becoming a mother has made me reflect on what I want for my daughter in all aspects. Then maybe I should want those things for myself as well: to be a bit more gentle with myself and with life and enjoy it as well. Don’t push it to the limit.
Perhaps this may explain the gingerbread house you are building on an island off the Finnish coast.
Well, when I stopped the brand, I was like, I need a challenge. I’m going to buy this island. Let’s build a house. Three weeks after that idea, I had already bought the land, just, let’s go and do it, it’s going to be amazing. I’m really happy. The interior will be all lightboard, like birch, and all different shades of pink. [laughs] It’s actually gonna be called Villa Luella; my daughter’s name is Luella. It’s for her as well. I like the idea of something from mother to daughter: a house on stilts, a gingerbread house – not just any kind of house.
Finally, do you have a motto?
Like, something I would say to myself in the morning every morning in the mirror? [pauses] Yeah: just never get stuck. I’m 42 now and it’s really difficult for me socially because so many people are stuck at all levels of life. They are just doing the same thing every single day and having no plans or dreams. It’s so difficult for me to see that. Like, there’s still a long way to go.
Originally published in February 2023