It's not often you find such high quality products in street fashion. Well, with the Scandinavian brand CTRL (readed “control”) you have found it. From Helsinki with love, there now taking the fashion world by storm. Freeman is the founder and designer of the Finnish brand. His team consists of Timothy Kuhn (All-a-rounder) and Esa Hytönen (Brand Manager).
There is non stop touring with different exhibitions/parties, social gatherings and much much more. Mr. Freeman speaking:
CTRL was born about 10 years ago, right?
CTRL was born more like 15 years ago, 1995. In the beginning CTRL was all about skateboarding, so the product range was a typical lineup of a skatecompany, boards, wheels, hardgoods, teeshirts and hoodies. Then around 2004 we started focusing on streetwear and fashion, producing big collections for both boys and girls. Nowadays CTRL is a full blown fashion label, call it a street fashion label or what not, but it with deep roots in skateboarding and street culture in general. We're still making skateboards, and foreverever will, just for the love of it.
Also, since the beginning we're much younger and now we're only a little bit older, the brand has changed with us. CTRL looks what we look like, and it's always evolving. Meaning that now we're a bit more into stuff like ACNE or some other more high-endish designer brands. Then we got stuff like that coming along the CTRL line as well.
At the beginning we we're only focusing on selling in Finland, but nowadays our focus is worldwide and we're selling in 33 countries at the moment (with a bit emphasis on JAPAN WE ME LOVELOVE JAPAN XOXO TOKYOJAPAN XOXOSAKA!!!)
And one of the most important thing is that we are 100% independent company, so we make our own decisions in good or bad.
Also, we get much more attention from girls by running a fashion label than by just running a skateboard label for kids. Things change, some don't. But this will always be them "girls". They loooove fashion.
Helsinki seems to be more connected to Europe nowadays. How have this development been in the city since the 90s?
It's been slow, painfully slow. It really has been depressing for a long long time in Helsinki and in Finland as a whole. But things and more importantly the attitudes are changing. The biggest kick in the ass for Helsinki has been the infamous internet that puts everything into everyones face. People could finally connect and see the level of other cities and scenes around the world. It's because the general attitude for a long time here was something like "selling out" or some other insanity like that if you made some noise about yourself in taking over the world or something.
The Helsinki talent was always there, but hidden. Everything good about art, music, design or anything creative was the best kept secret of Finland for a long time. Now people can show their talent thru the internet. They can do the ever important networking in the internet, and they can actually travel around the world and show all their charms to the rest of the world. And little by little the fame comes in and people around the world realize that there's something going on in Helsinki as well. People are also looking a lot at how things are being done in our lovely neighbouring country Sweden, which has a lot more history on networking and marketing their own talent on a global scale.
CTRL is a good example because what we are doing in Helsinki is like a pioneering work, since no other brands like CTRL never went ouf of Finland, whereas there are loads of ongoing succesfull stories with Swedish fashion brands around the world. It has to do with the Finnish government too. They are only focusing on supporting technology oriented companies like Nokia, and no attention for exporting fashion. They don't see that fashion is a huge business. In Sweden the government is strongly focusing on exporting companies on the creative field and thus the Sweden-brand is way more fresh in the world than the Finland-brand.
Therefore, the Finland-brand needs CTRL !! Come on Finland. Where's the love??
As a graphic designer what´s your advice for those who now face the idea about take this road?
I studied graphic design and web design, but never graduated because I started to be too busy with building CTRL. I guess the purpose of the school was fulfilled since it led me into working. I think it's important to study, it's an interesting phase in life, and it's like working with no money. Yet, when you graduate and get to work, it's another phase in your life. You can easily appreciate even just for the money you're earning after all those years struggling as student. But then again, it's not mandatry to go to school. If you already know what you're doing and you got the skills, then why do you need to go to school, besides most things you need in your work is never learnt from school? I think in school you're learning something else. It's like mind-training in general, meditation of some sort with no practical elements in it. A good thing would be going to school abroad. That's good networking for the future. And the grass is always greener.
When came the point to jump into fashion business?
It came naturally. Since I was always into clothing and graphics thru skateboarding and teeshirts and so on, the clothing design always seemed really easy for me. I got no formal education for it except from my mom who always used to make my clothing when I was a kid. I'd go thru skate/snowboard mags and point out these items and make my sketches for my mom and then she'd make them for me. It's just like the factories do now with CTRL. But yeah, I think the most important skill you can have in fashion is a good taste. If you have it, you will succeed. You don't really need to know how to do things, as long as you got the vision and the taste there will always be people who will take care of the rest.
Clothing design for me is a lot like graphic design. I use the same methods of combining things, finding things and building things. I'm almost never drawing something from scratch. It's more like I'm creating my own interpretation of the wheel that's already a wheel. I think all design is based on what's already been done. It's like subconscience collective work together with all the designers in the world, ever.
CTRL creates awesome garments. Crazy, fresh unique in combination with the quality. Is it all made in Finland?
I'm doing all the design and my colleague Esa is taking care of the overall view of the collection. This part is all made in Finland, but the production is done in India and in China.
The brand reaches different markets. Drop me few achievement that you are quite proud about it.
We just came back from Shanghai a week ago. We had a CTRL exhibition there in the SOURCE gallery, that was pretty nice since the whole scene is just starting to take of in Shanghai and in China in general. Taking CTRL around the world is always nice, and travelling is the best hobby. We also just had a popup store for two months right next to MACBA, the modern art museum and skate mecca in Barcelona. I'm really happy that things are going so well in Japan, we're working with a group of really awesome people over there, ISAO and his posse !
We're also done a lot of collaboration with other brands. We did a board with Vice magazine, just did our second board with ADIDAS skateboarding, and the coolest board we did was an oldschool board with the Rockers NYC. Now we just did a teeshirt with White Fuctory a vice Japan's sublabel, and then we did a "feeling like a thousand yens" baseball jacket with a cool Tokyo store called STADIUM. The next thing we're going to do is some brand synergy with Moomin brand, which is a great finnish brand and really popular in Japan.
Which market(s) are you currently more satisfied with?
Like said, Japan is the most interesting since I really love the culture and the people and wish to visit in Japan more often. But in general I like working with all the countries we work with, it's universal love from CTRL to the world.
The most interesting fares that we go to are propably the ones in New York or Los Angeles, or Vegas but is only for that weird empty surreal feeling Vegas gives you.
Is not that common to find brands from Finland? I just could tell you the sport brand Karhu.
There's not many brands coming out from Finland, at least not brands we could relate with, or meet at the fairs. Propably the most known is IVANAHelsinki, which is a really nice brand done by my friend Paola Suhonen, a talented designer. And then of course the awesome & old school Marimekko, which is mainly a clothing brand but know more of an interiour decoration brand in the global scale. Karhu is cool too, but nowawadays the original collection is a bit out of touch.
I do understand the skateboarding has been an strong influence in your philosophy. Is the aim of CTRL was do clothes for the “pros”?
No, it's never been like that with CTRL. Our idea for skateboarding has always been more of an attitude of a state of mind than an esthaetic. There has only been one t-shirt in the history of CTRL that was skateboarding related. It was actually a victorian woman balancing on a skateboard holding a yo-yo. But I'm sure a skateboarder can tell that CTRL has roots in skateboarding by all the references I use in the desings, since I've been going thru the same school of life thru skateboarding. There are a lot of "skateboard" things, hidden codes here and there. Like for the latest collection I did a t-shirt print that has a picture of an old jazz band and it says "MARK'S SONG: 'some damn good jazz' " - because that's what it said about Mark Gonzales's parts music in the end of a legendary skate video by Blind Skateboards called Video Days which was done by Spike Jones. I still don't know the name of the jazz band.
I bet music is also important part-influence in CTRL.
Actually Dan and Alexei from Handsome Furs are one of the most popular CTRL fans.
It's working really great with them. We're now working on a CTRL x Handsome Furs tour t-shirts...
Dan and Alex are awesome, they're always showing love for us, and it's vice versa, we lovelove the furs !
Drop me some plans, secrets and hopes for the early future.
The biggest next step for CTRL is that we're opening a flagship store / showroom in Berlin next spring. This is something we've been planning for a long time and now it's finally happening.
Those are excellent news. Cheers to that !
Address: Rauhankatu 2A C, 00170 Helsinki, Finland
Tel: +358 45 137 5105
Text: Victor Moreno