The fashion world is no stranger to designers with unconventional beginnings, and Rolf Ekroth's story is a testament to that. From a professional poker player with a passion for clothes to winner of the 2016 Galeries Lafayette prize at the Hyères International Fashion and Photography Festival and showcasing his designs at Copenhagen Fashion Week and the FHCM SPHERE Paris Fashion Week® Showroom, Ekroth's journey is a fascinating one.
LNB: Rolf, your journey into fashion is quite unique, coming from a background in psychology, sales and professional poker. What initially inspired you to pursue a career in fashion design?
Rolf: Well, in my 20s, I was trying to find myself. I explored different things and during my poker days I began buying more expensive clothes and gradually developed an interest in brands, quality, and craftsmanship.
After quitting poker around age 28 or 29, a friend suggested I pursue my love for clothing. I enrolled in a sewing course. The experience was like therapy for me. I learned everything from pattern making to cutting and actually using a sewing machine, because I hadn't used a sewing machine at all before.
I later joined Alto University in Helsinki. The school had won an international competition the same year and so I set myself the goal to get into the competition as well. With my bachelor collection, I was lucky enough to get accepted and won the prize to do a capsule collection with Galeries Lafayette. Everything else snowballed after that, and I began being presented with many new opportunities. I then found investors in 2019 and that's when I decided to start my own label.
LBN: Your experience with Galeries Lafayette must have been exciting. Can you share more about what it was like to have your capsule collection there?
Rolf: It was an amazing experience, but it happened so quickly that I couldn't fully grasp the significance at the time. I had a full window display, but I was still a student, so it felt surreal. Looking back, I realise how exceptional it was. Now, after gaining a deeper understanding of the fashion industry, I truly appreciate what a big deal it was.
LNB: Could you tell us about the concept and story behind your brand?
Rolf: The first three seasons were based on creating the clothes I liked. However, during the pandemic, I lost my investors, and I had time to reflect on the brand's direction. That's when the concept started to take shape. I placed a strong emphasis on values, focusing on sustainable practices. Approximately 70-75% of our collection now consists of recycled or deadstock materials.
I would describe the brand as a high-end streetwear label, influenced by Finland's traditional crafting techniques. I personally enjoy crafting by hand, and even my parents, who are now retired, contribute to crafting some of the pieces, like the macramé dress my mother made, which took about 200 hours to complete.
LNB: Can you share some insights into your production process and where your brand's clothing is manufactured?
Rolf: We prioritise local production as much as possible. Being based in Helsinki, Finland, our closest manufacturing hub is in Tallinn, Estonia, with some work done in other Baltic countries. Estonia is our primary production location due to its proximity and efficiency. While there are a few companies in Finland with the necessary machinery, they often prioritise larger orders, making it challenging for us with our smaller volumes.
Working with Tallinn has been a smooth experience, not just because of the geographical proximity but also due to our shared language and a sense of mutual support. It's a convenient two-hour ferry ride away and we're invested in helping each other succeed, making the process enjoyable and efficient.
LNB: Streetwear has become a defining movement in modern fashion. Can you tell me why it appeals to you personally?
Rolf: For me, streetwear is about easy-to-wear clothing and feeling comfortable in what you wear. While I'm not one to delve into deep philosophical discussions about fashion and I see myself as someone who simply enjoys clothing, I believe clothing should make people feel better about themselves. It's that feeling when you put on a piece of clothing and you see a better version of yourself in the mirror; I would love for the people who wear my brand to experience that.