"Reindeer skin is silky, lightweight, incredibly soft, strong and durable with a delicate sparkling elegant touch. I call it silk leather", says designer Mariela Pokka.
Mariela Pokka, a Venezuelan-German-Finnish designer, has taken the centre stage of global high fashion by fusing cutting edge design with traditional norms of reindeer hide handicraft.
Working in conjunction with her husband, Harri Pokka, who runs the family company Pokka Reindeer Hides, Mariela has gradually built up a high fashion brand that has taken the world for its eco-luxury garments made with self-processed and minutely tested best reindeer leather.
The Sami people have since prehistoric times been using reindeer leather to make disparate handcraft goods, especially clothes, shoes, various accessories and artifacts like ceremonial Shamanic drums.
What makes Sami reindeer leather so unique and distinguished from other types of leather used in manufacturing of clothes and accessories, said Mariela in an interview with the Daily Finland, is that it “is very exclusive, as it is produced only in Finland, Norway, and Sweden and is different from other kinds of leather due some of its unique characteristics. It is silky, lightweight, incredibly soft, strong and durable with a delicate sparkling elegant touch. I call it silk leather”.
Mariela, the designer of the eponymous Scandinavian luxury brand, takes this strong material to another world and makes it comfortable and elegantly different. Through using reindeer leather as the main material for her creations, and transforming it to make it feminine, simple and elegant, she shares her brand vision with the consumers and the world.
"Love brought me to Finland"
While studying design in London, Mariela met a Finnish man named Harri Pokka, who eventually became her husband.
“Love brought me to Finland. I also fell in love with the beauty of Lappish nature that lent me new impetus to go for designing a unique yet industry-best fashion brand”, she says.
In 2001, she and her husband rented the factory from her father in law, who had been involved in reindeer leather business since 1969. Then they set up a new company, Pokka Reindeer Hides, to sustain their family’s rich heritage of producing fine quality reindeer hides and leather.
She found, in the beginning of this century, reindeer hides would be sold on the domestic market alone as tourist souvenirs. She decided to change all that.
“I thought a reindeer hide was the most beautiful one I have ever seen in my life, and I also realised the untapped potential of exporting those herds. I did some research and then drew up an international business plan to export the reindeer hides”, she says.
The Pokka couple’s thorough research on the ways of improving the quality of reindeer hides and leather, and their cooperation with the local reindeer herders yielded a golden harvest.
“My husband developed a training course for reindeer herders on how best to preserve the reindeer skins and how best to skin the animals. This paid back in an awesome way. Now we get the best raw reindeer skins as raw materials”, Mariela Pokka says.
The production of reindeer leather has become sustainable, too, said Mariela.
“The raw skins that are not useful for producing reindeer hides are used to produce reindeer leather, resulting in a sustainable raw material supply, while the ethical farming and the ecological production lend support to the local culture.”
Passion for reindeer leather as a driving force
Finally, Mrs. Pokka’s passion for reindeer leather and the knowledge of manufacturing acquired during the time working at the family factory allowed her to achieve the lifetime dream of becoming a fashion designer.
“My designs come from my passion for reindeer leather, the deep-rooted Lappish heritage of reindeer herding, and my Finnish family’s heritage of producing the hide. My idea is to give ethically sourced reindeer leather a contemporary use by creating eco-luxury fashion goods.”
The Rovaniemi-based company has a showroom in Rovaniemi.
Mariela showcased her women wear collection last season at Monte Carlo Fashion Week and New York Fashion. Mariela Pokka brand has been also selected by the prestigious Guard Polo Club to publish in their elite magazines Ten Goal, the fashion magazine, Guard Polo Club Yearbook and Cartier Queen Cup.
City of Rovaniemi-Daily Finland Report