Designer Focus

Designer Focus: Triinu Pungits

FROM DIGGING DEEPER INTO THE CREATIVE PROCESS TO DISCUSSING THE FUTURE OF FASHION, DESIGNER FOCUS BRINGS TO LIGHT THE CREATIVE MINDS WITHIN OUR COMMUNITY. We interviewed Not Just A Label designer Triinu Pungits who took us through her design beginnings, what pushes her to create, and what she hopes for the future of fashion.


Was there a particular moment that made you decide you wanted to work in fashion? 

I can’t remember a definite moment when I decided to work in fashion. It kind of happened naturally. I think that my desire to create is inherited, it’s part of me and my DNA. Flowing at my own pace and trusting fate has always been my motto, it has kept me on the right course. Although, back when I was younger, there was also a very strong desire for something real, for differentiation and for the need to express oneself through clothes, but also the need to perceive new sensations in the endless boredom of the 90s in Estonia.  

Previous generations were tormented by the dullness of unified norms and shortage. I can still remember the lines of basic wrap dresses, with small variations in patterns, otherwise all looking the same in shape and cut. The smell of cotton and the boredom that lingered in empty store spaces....there was nothing playful nor inspirational. Or maybe that was exactly what gave me the desire to create, the push that I needed in order to start creating something new, something exciting, something that differed from the norm back then.

The culture of consumption hadn’t arrived yet and thus I had to create in order to experience new scents and perceptions. Later, when I was studying textile art, I learned to understand the importance of textile and its many possibilities. I would say that first I worked on the foundation, after which the conscious perception of fashion and its existential state arrived. And then fashion seemed like the next logical step—giving form and life to the textiles that I had created. My wishes and dreams came true immediately. My first skills and understandings of sewing came quickly because of the hunger to create and because of the need to express myself and to protest against the society through fashion and my personal style.


Do you think you have a responsibility as a designer to respond to the social and political issues of our time? 

I think that all designers have a responsibility to respond to the social and political issues that surround us. The welfare of the society depends on the individual, on her contentment and degree of happiness. But one has to be careful when using the word contentment. Contentment or satisfaction can these days be connected to excessive consumption and easy accessibility. As a Designer, I appreciate the thought of mindful consumption, which would mean thought through management and smart consumption, but also smart design language and mindset. Being a designer is like being a tutor or a direction indicator, which allows me to spread a message. A designer has an empty canvas, which lets us to paint new ideas that are believable and understandable. 

Through design and creative work, I can make the people around me to better understand the reality and the madness that has taken us over, but also misconceptions, problems that need to be fixed and therefore need our immediate attention. My wish is to ensure design that is timeless, continuous and carries a message. In particular, thinking of the fabric choices and clothing that fits perfectly. Practical, yet contemporary, which reflects our time and makes history. The changes may take time, in fact, they usually take time. But by staying true to myself and my values, it will start happening. 

I am very happy to see that some big influential brands and designers have taken the reins and are making the first steps to change our society. They have also starting to take responsibility and look for solutions to the problems that we are facing these days. So, I guess I can say that a designer has the power to point out the problems of our society through their designs, they have an ability to bring out the critical mind and ridicule the situation to where we have gotten.


Has your relationship with clothing changed as you delve into the fashion world? 

The ritual of growing and self-formation has always been a part of me, and therefore my relationship with clothing has definitely changed over time. When I first started experimenting with fashion and textile, I was still finding my own identity and I had this urge to differentiate myself from the society; I was protesting in the light of spirit. I was experimenting and testing, looking for ways to convey the right message through my personal style and clothing. I guess I was trying to find myself and my voice through fashion. It’s also possible that there were some deeper motivations such as fear and insecurity.

Clothing still generates many different emotions and questions, and I still use it to express myself, but the way I do it now is different. These days I wear clothing that is modest and less distinctive. All my energy goes into creating and into the garment or project that I am currently working on. Yet, I still want to design clothes that are wearable yet distinctive and made of high quality. 

Besides my clothing line and  costume designs for the theater, I also keep my eye on unique high quality vintage clothing. It started as a hobby but has organically been growing into a side business. Thanks to the second hand market  and dealing with vintage items I have also learned to select quality from all the discarded items out there. Only one look at the garment and I can say if the item has been made of a high quality fabric or not. Not to show off but I can say the fabric blend percentages just by touching and looking at the fabric. Working with the second hand items has also helped me to realize what my clients want, what kind of purchases are needed and what kind of purchases have been made just to satisfy our vanity. It gives me lots of hints and tips on what to take into account when designing new garments. I know how much effort goes into producing a garment and so over  time I have learned to value  the items that I own and design. Maybe it’s also because I am constantly surrounded by clothes, so there is no real need to consume endlessly.


How do go about choosing your materials and manufacturers?  

All of my designs have been produced locally in Estonia. Most of the items come from Tartu, my home town. A personal approach has always been very important for me. I always take time to visit the local manufacturers and all my other partners. I also use tailors who work at home and therefore a personal connection is very important. Physical eye contact helps me to better understand the people I work with, their moods and characteristics.  It also helps to create a better and smoother work environment and gives me a great opportunity to see the work in progress and to give further instructions where needed. This way it may also be possible to receive the produced goods faster, or to put new products into production if there have been any last minute orders. At the moment I have my knitted garments produced at a local manufacturer but all the rest of my ready to wear items have been made by tailors that I know can produce items of a very high quality.  

Feeling and touching different textiles is usually how I start with my creative process. I studied textile art a while ago but it is something that inspires me even today, giving the clothes I design a meaning. Different shapes and cuts keep on circling around. Textile, on the other hand, has gone through much bigger changes due to the technological development, which is very exciting. I very often also use fabrics that I have collected over the years. Some of my most creative designs come from leftover fabrics that I have re–discovered in my studio. For my newest collection (AW19) I have ordered yarns of new blends of wool from Japan, and I am looking forward to using them in my designs. 

As prints and patterns always play a major role in my designs I always incorporate fabrics that I can use sublimation prints on. Prints generally start from the photos that I take during travels or simple moments in my life, then I develop and manufacture these photos into patterns. I cut, glue and spend countless hours developing patterns. I like processes where I don’t have a specific goal but I can develop and create patterns by letting them find their own shape organically. In addition to sublimation and digital print on a textile I have also used some other techniques to create patterns and texture, e.g. cutouts (laser cutting) and engraving.


Tell us a bit about how you run your business.  

In general, I have organized my business management and creative side so that I divide my time between the computer and moving around. Being in constant motion is an essential part of my integrity and of my creative wholeness because when I move, then I can think and create. It gives me a great dose of will to deliver and get things done. Too much time on a computer closes energy and my anxiety rises quickly. I also like to visit all of my partners personally, which perfectly suits to my way of conducting work.  Some might think that it sounds like not a very effective way to run a business but as time is the scarcest resource we have these days, I feel that I need to dedicate enough time for my own well-being. So that I wouldn’t collapse mentally and so that the speed of this industry wouldn’t swallow me. I feel that this way I actually get things done faster, I lead a healthier life and business. The things I most enjoy about my work are the processes and the creative side. I get a huge amount of positivity from it, and the results can be seen far… also inspiration gets to me the fastest when I am in the middle of different creative processes.

During the last couple of months I have also been working on my new spacious studio that I started to rent a few months ago in Tartu. It is part of a former vodka factory that these days functions as a shoe factory. Renovating the place has taken lots of effort, yet it has also given me great pleasure. It has also given me a chance to take a look at all of the things (fabrics, clothing items etc.) that I have collected over the years. I think that most creative people are surrounded by things which they think that they can find a use for some time later…but that later may never come. I had to really carefully think of what to keep and what to give away. The whole process was somewhat emotional but also liberating. Letting go frees and makes space for new creative outbreaks. So, moving has been a huge part of my business activity during the last couple of months.

In addition, I have quite many side projects that also help to finance the company and my brand. I have mentioned vintage and second hand clothing but one of the most important side projects that I continuously have going is designing costumes for local theaters. Being part of theater performances has given me a chance to be part of a large team where I have responsibilities, budgets and deadlines, which have all helped me to better run my own business. I have had to deal with all kind of different people and I have made lots of useful contacts. It has also given me a chance to be really creative and fulfill some crazy fantastical dreams, clothing that would never be suitable for streets but is perfect for a stage. Sometimes my work in theater also positively carries over to my own collections. For example, the AW18 collection FUYU somewhat got its inspiration from Pinocchio, a play that I was making costumes for at the same time when I was working on my ready to wear collection. But I have to admit that I am still learning how to balance it all so that my clothing brand, the theater, dealing with vintage and second hand clothing and myself would all be nurtured and satisfied. So, on one hand having side projects has been very interesting, educating and eye opening, on the other hand they take up quite a significant part of my time and energy.


The bubble of constant consumption makes it so that fast-fashion and trends seem to rule. What’s your opinion on this?  

Yes, everything seems to be done at an accelerated pace these days and society’s consumption culture is deeply impoverished. There is no real need, which has lead us to unreasonable consumption and an identity crisis for consumers. It seems to me that the design in the fast fashion is mostly an over production of repetitive patterns, people’s continuous hunger for the next “new” thing without paying any attention to the fabric that it was made of, nor the poor quality. 

On a positive note, I have noticed the beginning of a breakthrough—people have started to look for ways to differentiate themselves from the general masses and trends. It is refreshing to see. There are also some bigger brands that have announced that producing 6 collections per year is a big waste; the garments have barely hit the stores when they are already on sale, which is why they have decided to produce fewer collections and have a longer (shelf) life for their garments. There are many emerging designers who are creating slow fashion, concentrating on timeless and unique designs that are made of high quality. It’s exciting to see where will that take us.

triinu image

Triinu Pungits on NJAL