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Designers with a cause

Mira Vanttaja and Hanna Virkamäki design clothes that inspire joy and solidarity. Their brave and inclusive attitude resonates with all kinds of women, including the Finnish prime minister, and has generated a community that welcomes everyone.


Friendship and joy. Those are the principles on which to start a design clothes company and build a friendly community.


Mira Vanttaja and Hanna Virkamäki are two friends from Tampere who wanted to create their own clothes and jewellery. They started Uhana Design in 2012 and made the conscious decision to turn to social media in their efforts to present their work.


Our Facebook page and blog were up and running even though our products or shop weren’t ready for business, Mira laughs.


From the very beginning, their approach was easy-going and sincere and they didn’t hesitate to reveal their own thoughts and opinions on social media. They wanted to do things their way.


I think our tone was naturally friendly and welcoming – from person to person. We had noticed that sometimes famous designers were put on a pedestal and just admired unconditionally. We never wanted to become unreachable stars like that. Instead, we wanted to identify with our customers, be genuinely available to them, Mira says.


Instant connection via social media


Their friendly way of communicating truly resonated with their customers, and step by step, Uhana community was born.


Over the years, social media has become even more fundamental in maintaining and strengthening the Uhana community.


Mira and Hanna regularly reply to their customers’ messages and questions, and they like to share photos their customers have taken from their Uhana outfits.


We get so many lovely messages on Instagram and Facebook. It gives our team a sense that we are strongly connected with our customers.



The hot spot for the community


Uhana’s way of communicating in the social media is not the only reason why they have such a dedicated following. Their customers are drawn to Uhana because they don’t hesitate to openly express their values, which, according to Mira, they have always felt strongly about.


Our most important goal has been to spread joy. We want it to show in everything we do: our clothes, in our shops, social media and service, Mira explains.


She says that their shop at the centre of Tampere is a great example of achieving this goal. There Uhana cultivates a relaxed and inclusive atmosphere.


Anyone is welcome to step inside. There’s no pressure to buy anything. You can simply hang out or have a chat. Customers are also interested to hear the stories behind our products, which we are happy to share.


The shop also creates a pleasant space for the community. That has definitely helped the community to grow, Mira thinks. Uhana organises little get-togethers and workshops where Uhana aficionados get to meet each other.


When people get the opportunity to see each other in a relaxed, fun way, the communal spirit gets stronger. It has become clear to us that in a time when we are so dependent on our smartphones, many people appreciate the chance to meet new people face-to-face.


Clothes with shared and private meanings


One customer told Mira that Uhana is a great brand for strong, powerful women. For example, the Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin, whose hometown is also Tampere, often chooses to wear Uhana clothing during her public appearances.


We see strength as something that can be multiple things. In addition to its more traditional meaning, strength can entail sensitivity and vulnerability, as well. For us, being strong and brave is to show all aspects of your personality and emotions.


Overall, their willingness to take a stand on social issues is an important part of the Uhana brand. They have, for example, advocated for body positivity, equality, and sustainability.


For us that comes naturally so it was obvious it would be part of Uhana’s dna. That is perhaps something that people gravitate towards. Maybe wearing our products is a way of demonstrating that they support these issues.


It is important that every product in each collection has a specific meaning to their designers, their own place in the mix, Mira explains. Similarly, the messages their prints convey are there for those who appreciate them. It is also perfectly fine if those messages are not the reason customers choose Uhana, Mira adds.  For some, clothes are just clothes, without a message or a statement.


We champion the idea that everyone can freely weave their own stories and meaning around our clothes and accessories. A coat, a dress or jewellery can be important for someone, for very intimate reasons. And when our community shares those intimate stories with us, it is something we truly cherish.


Designers get support from the Uhana community in a very practical way, too. Mira and Hanna often directly ask what their customers would wish for the future collections, be it their favourite colours, favourite shapes etc. These wishes are then taken into consideration by Mira and Hanna.


Lately they have needed the help of Uhana community to test a new service. By the next autumn, Mira and Hanna are planning to open a new online boutique for renting Uhana clothes.


We hope that this service will answer the various needs of Uhana community and perhaps welcome more people to join our community, Mira says.


Photos: Marjaana Malkamäki


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