What makes top textile professionals move to Finland? We spoke to R&D Specialist Simone Haslinger and Category Manager Rucky Zambrano, both working at Reima, and Shahriare Mahmood, Chief Sustainability Officer at Spinnova, about their experiences of working in Finland.
WHO: Simone Haslinger, 31, Senior R&D Specialist in Sustainable Garment Development, born in Austria, living in Finland since 2015
& Rucky Zambrano, 64, Category Manager / Footwear, born in Ecuador, living in Finland since 2020
Both working at children’s clothing brand Reima.
How did you end up working in Finland?
Simone: I came to Finland to study at Aalto University. I’m a chemist and after I got my master’s degree, I wanted to go abroad. My professor in Austria had a connection to Finland and he recommended it to me. I didn’t know a lot about Finland and decided to come here for a while to see it for myself. I really liked it, so I did my PhD here. I still like it and I actually bought an apartment here a year ago.
I thought to myself,
“Finland, I like it”
Rucky: I came here through a head-hunter in Stockholm, and I was already familiar with Finland. I studied Finnish design in the 80s in Milan and during my studies I even came here in 1983. But I went back to Milan because everybody said it would be the best place for my career. I left Italy for Switzerland in 2003 and went through different jobs after that in the Netherlands and Germany as well. When I was offered the opportunity to move here, I thought to myself, “Finland, I like it.”
What do you like about living in Finland?
Rucky: I’m not looking for good weather, I’m looking for humanity. I have a teenage daughter and I want her to grow up in a country that respects women. The Finnish government is run by women, and so are many Finnish companies.
Simone: This is something that I too have heard from my friends who are Austrian or German and living in Finland. Most of us decided to stay because it feels like women are respected more. Maybe you would think that in Europe in general, gender equality is quite advanced, but I can still feel the difference.
How does this equality show?
Simone: After my PhD, I also applied for some jobs in Austria but most of the companies didn’t even reply. My dad said, “Of course they don’t want to hire you because you’re at an age where you can get pregnant.” I was really shocked because in Finland I had gotten used to it not being an issue. In my country, men don’t take paternity leave, so of course the responsibility falls entirely on women.
“There is a strong feeling of understatement here.”
Rucky: I’m already 64 but age was not an issue here. I was hired because of my extensive experience. In other countries, I was told many times that I was too senior for a position.
Rucky: There is also a strong feeling of understatement here. I’ve lived in Milan and Munich where people show off a lot – the cars, the brands, everything. In Finland, everything is very down to earth. I just discovered that my neighbours include the Colombian ambassador and music students.
Why do you want to work in the textile and fashion business?
Simone: As a chemist, I could easily work in other industries. For example, I could work for a plastics factory and produce plastic that pollutes the environment. But I chose a career path where I can have an impact. Of course, the textile industry is also very polluting. The system is difficult to change but I’m happy whenever I can help the company to move towards more sustainable solutions.
“It is quite cool that Finland has produced so many innovations just for the textile industry.”
Rucky: That is why I enjoy working with Simone. She’s part of a generation that really wants to change the world. When I studied design, we too wanted to change the world but then we got caught in the fashion business machine, just creating products after products. I have had a long and successful career already and I’m at a point where I just want to give back.
Simone: Finland is very sustainability-oriented. It is quite cool that Finland has produced so many technologies and innovations just for the textile industry. And it’s such a small country with only 5.5 million people.
What has surprised you the most about working in Finland?
Simone: Low hierarchy, I think, and a good work-life balance.
Rucky: I would say the same thing, and communication as well. Sometimes no answer means “yes”. Sometimes you just say something and there’s no reply, but it means it’s going to get done.
Simone: I would like to add a thing that really surprised me. When you’re in a meeting, no matter if a person has a low-level job or a high-level job, everyone speaks up the same way and the manager respects everyone the same way. I really enjoy this.
“Finland has a very modern way of working because everything is digitalized.”
Rucky: In the past I worked for companies that had male leaders and there was so much testosterone in the meetings, we were arguing and shouting in Italian. It’s so different now! And it was a surprise for me that even before COVID-19, in Finland people were sometimes working from home and easily attending meetings remotely.
Simone: I’m in Austria right now because my company allows me to work from abroad for two months. I just asked and it was OK. Finland has a very modern way of working because everything is digitalized.
Have you had any difficulties with the Finnish language?
Rucky: I speak four languages: Spanish, Italian, English and French, and I gave up learning more languages a long time ago. It’s harder for my wife and kids.
Simone: I don’t think that Finnish is a problem because everyone speaks English. I spent quite a lot of time studying Finnish for some years, but my Finnish has declined because I don’t really have to use it.
Rucky: I think I’ve blended in if I learn to share the silence with Finns.
WHO: Shahriare Mahmood, 45, Spinnova’s Chief Sustainability Officer, born in Bangladesh, living in Finland since 2009.
How did you end up working in the textile and fashion industry in Finland?
I started working in the textile industry in my home country Bangladesh while studying chemical engineering. In 2004, I came to work for a Finnish textile company, but my job was located in Estonia at the time. I moved to Finland in 2009.
While working in textile wet processing, I discovered that there is a lot of room for optimisation in the process. As a chemical engineer, I have a natural connection with the environmental aspects and I started to think about the environmental impact of the textile industry. Since then, I have been working on sustainability issues related to the textile and fashion industry. In 2020, I got my PhD in sustainability management from the University of Oulu.
What is it about the textile and fashion industry that fascinates you the most?
Almost all people have some connection to clothes. For some, clothing is an expression of identity. Everyone has the right to wear the clothes they need and like. At the same time, responsible consumption is gaining importance. Because the textile and fashion industry touches so many people, I am particularly interested in the impact we can have on the environment. The whole textile production process must be sustainable. I have experience in almost the whole value creation process from working in different areas of the textile industry and material development.
“Finnish innovations are on the path to changing the world.”
How do you see the Finnish textile and fashion industry today?
The entire textile industry has been waiting for solutions to environmental issues, including new alternatives to the heavy chemical production processes. Now they are finally coming! Finland is really taking the lead on this issue. Besides the unique innovation from Spinnova which has a huge potential to make impact in global textile industry, but other Finnish innovations as well that are on the path to changing the world.
Do you think this change will happen soon?
Yes. For example, Spinnova will open a factory to produce fiber commercially in 2022. Spinnova’s innovation is to develop fibre from wood in a completely mechanical way, eliminating the need for a chemical process that compromises the environment.
How would you describe work and life in general in Finland?
Here you can freely use your knowledge and creativity. Finland is a place where you can act sustainably. The promotion of sustainable development does not require particular environmental awareness because the sustainability infrastructure here is supportive. If you want to do good for the environment or for humanity, Finland has the conditions for that.
What kind of surprises have you had while living in Finland?
I didn’t know much about Finland beforehand. What I did know was that the weather conditions were extreme. That, or anything else, hasn’t really surprised me. I enjoyed my first winter here. I found the short winter days as fascinating as the long summer days. At first, I was fascinated by nature in the sense that in one part of the world this kind of nature could exist. I remember sitting outside in Levi, Lapland, at midnight and it felt like afternoon.
What about the challenges?
I haven’t really faced any challenges, but language can be a barrier. It’s important to think about how to deal with it.
What has helped you with the Finnish language? Have you studied it?
I attended a Finnish course for one or two days. It wasn’t the right method for me. Maybe it was too grammar-oriented. The best method for me has been to just talk to people. People are friendly and appreciate when you try to speak Finnish.