Interview—Niina Sarma-Hintikka, founder of Kielo clothing

Niina's long-standing passion for creativity, coupled with her need to make positive environmental choices after becoming a mother, inspired her to create Kielo, her synonymous ethical label. Through local production & working with beautiful-quality Ahimsa silk, her designs affirm her ethics whilst being effortlessly wearable. We discuss her thoughts on the future of sustainability & the changes in her life that led her to become a designer below.

Elegant & easy—one of Niina's designs for  Kielo .

Elegant & easy—one of Niina's designs for Kielo.

How did you get into designing?

As a young girl, I appreciated aesthetics and design. I was very visual and drawing was a way to express myself. Still at high school, I had a plan to study fashion design in Milan. But when it came to making the decision of what to study I chose something sensible and rational that would make a living. Therefore, I ended up studying business and languages at the University of London. I worked in communications industry for many years, but that creative side wouldn’t leave me alone. I had an urge to do something in that field. And then some years later when I was on maternity leave, I had time to think. I stepped aside from the career cycle and thought it’s now or never. I strongly felt that I rather try than regret I never tried. [...] as soon as I let myself think “I can”, things started to move forward.

You mentioned that drawing was a passion of yours — did your urge to design stem from that?

Yes, absolutely. I have always been interested in colours and shapes, and have an eye for detail. I used sit for hours with my best friend and just draw anything from fashion sketches to floor plans. It was an instructive hobby.

Kielo’s vision & your designs seem very streamlined, did you always have an idea of the label you wanted to create?

No, not at all. If I had started ten years ago, the label would have probably looked different. Over the years, this kind of minimalist “less is more” philosophy has become more important in many ways. I felt like taking off all the unnecessary so that only the simplicity remained.

From day one, it was clear that Kielo was going to represent ecological and ethical values. All Kielo clothes are made locally in Finland, which is an important part of these values. Therefore, these values were, and are, the base — the soul—of Kielo, so to say. My vision was to design timeless and effortless clothes that would also be sustainable.

Timeless clothes can be worn again & again. How did you become interested in ecological and ethical values?

Having always appreciated aesthetics, nature has also always been important to me. Though only later in life I started to think what ethical values really mean to me. Becoming a mother also had an influence on this. I started to get really anxious about all the clutter we are surrounded by, all the chemicals they put on everything, factory farming, animal welfare issues, fast fashion... It really was a snowball effect. I wanted to learn more, but I also wanted to be the change.

So being sustainable has become a lifestyle choice for you, in a way?

Yes, you could say so. But at the same time I must say it is not always easy considering the world we live in, but I am giving this issue a lot of thought and try to make sustainable choices.

Over the years, I’ve had to rethink many of my buying and consuming habits, what kind of life I want to lead and what kind values I want to teach my son. As a parent, I feel this is my most important mission - to teach him to respect nature and animals, and that our choices matter.

It’s tough! Although I’ve definitely noticed that in the UK people are becoming more & more aware of these values. Is that something you’re seeing in Finland too?

Yes definitely, which is great!

How did you come to work with the local women in Jharkhand who make Ahimsa silk?

When I was searching for the right material for Kielo, I found Ahimsa silk. My contact from India is a designer and also interested in ecological and ethical values. By buying from him, we help the local women and make a difference in the remote areas where people live with very little. The fact that these fabrics are GOTS certified made the decision easier as well.

It’s a fantastic certification.

That’s right. It gives a certain credibility. I also find the ideology of Ahimsa truly inspiring.

In its treatment of the silkworm? (For Ahimsa—or peace—silk the cocoon is left until the butterfly or moth has formed and then pierced so the creature can fly away, unharmed, before the cocoon is spun into silk thread)

Yes, the peaceful attitude towards all living creatures. Often we humans consider ourselves as superior and animals are considered only as products. One could think who cares about the silkworms, they don’t matter. But the message is that all life matters. We should appreciate each and every creature on this planet and not take anything for granted. This was also part of my vision - to create something beautiful not only outside but also inside.

Kielo's timeless sage green  Blake Dress  made from Ahimsa (or Peace) silk.

Kielo's timeless sage green Blake Dress made from Ahimsa (or Peace) silk.

You mentioned before it can be frustrating that we can’t be 100% sustainable, I wondered what your aims / hopes are for the future? Both with sustainable fashion and in general?

It is a paradox, on the one hand the message is to buy less, but at the same time you want to sell your products in order to run a business.


I guess the aim is to make people consider their choices when it comes to buying clothes, to increase awareness about eco-friendly and ethical lifestyle. You might think your choices do not matter, but the decisions we make have a huge impact, and everyday we make countless decisions. It is us, consumers, who have the power. Obviously companies are in a key role, as they are the decision makers, or should be anyway.

But I still believe we consumers have the power to do better choices and be the change if we really want to.

As Vivienne Westwood has wisely said: “Buy less, choose well, make it last."

Do you try to address that paradox with your permanent collection and by making pieces to order?

Yes, definitely — Kielo is all about slow fashion. The aim is to produce only the pieces which are going to be used. Effortless and elegant, timeless and long-lasting. Pieces that you can wear over and over again if taken good care of.

Do you have any advice for people wanting to make more sustainable choices when buying clothes?

Find out about things, do your research, be curious and also sceptical. Think about your buying habits and question yourself why am I buying this. Buy local and favour small designers. Also, a small step is better than no step at all.

That’s very true! It’s investing in things, rather than just buying something for today. I’ve just one more question, is there anyone that’s inspiring you at the moment? Someone who’s promoting responsible fashion / lifestyle?

All the independent designers in Finland and around the globe, like yourself Veryan. The work you do is amazing. Most of us do this for passion, not for money.

Thank you.

What comes to bigger names, I find Stella McCartney truly inspiring. She is not afraid to do her own thing and speak about animal abuse issues like the cruel fur and leather industries. It is fascinating to see somebody so passionate about design, but who is also speaking for the most innocent. It is not the easiest path and definitely not at all common in a traditional fashion world. For me, she is the kind rebel.

Things are beginning to move forward.

I think so, slowly but surely things are moving forward.

A selection of images from  Kielo's instagram , including peeks at their SS16 collection.

A selection of images from Kielo's instagram, including peeks at their SS16 collection.