As a young girl growing up in Finland, Terhi Polkki dreamed of one day working in fashion. But it was only after getting a weekend job at a shoe store that she realized she wasn’t only interested in hemlines, but rather what lay south of them. “I began to appreciate that shoes are more fascinating objects than garments,” she recalls. This newfound interest led to her calling a local shoe factory looking for work experience, and the opportunity to see firsthand how shoes are made was all it took to seal her career fate. She completed her B.A. in Finland and shortly after packed off to England to do a Masters in footwear design at the prestigious Cordwainers at London College of Fashion.
Upon graduating in 2008, her final collection, made of ecological Finnish reindeer leather, was chosen as a finalist in the renowned International Talent Support competition, and a few months later she was awarded Young Shoe Designer of the Year in her native Finland. Clearly, Polkki had a knack for shoe design, but rather than strike out on her own, she chose to first spend three years working for high street brands in the U.K. The chance to closely watch mass production in China, India and Brazil was nothing like what she had seen at that small Finnish shoe factory and, in October 2011, she launched her eponymous label. “I felt that if I was doing my own line I could make a difference in production and materials,” says the Helsinki-based designer. That’s why she makes her minimalism-meets-edgy shoes in Portugal using only vegetable-tanned leather, cork and wood. “I know the factory owners and workers, and I enjoy my development trips to Portugal,” she says.
Today, Terhi Polkki is carried at the likes of Juno & Jove in Sarasota, FL, Need Supply Co. in Richmond, VA, and Rube in Amagansett, NY. For Spring ’15, she has teamed up with Sydney-based illustrator Grant Cowan on a hand-painted, print that adds an eccentric flourish to her simple silhouettes. Elsewhere in the collection, sand-toned gladiator sandals and unlined lace-ups in thick vegetal leather conjure the ’70s, and pointed toe pumps appear for the first time. “I am not trying to appeal to any one age group,” Polkki offers. “My target customer is any woman who wants shoes that look cool and stylish and who likes that they’re made from sustainable materials.”
FP: What is your first shoe memory? TP: I got beautiful red and white patent lace-ups when I was 3 and I didn’t want to take them off–not even when I was going to bed!
FP: Who is your style icon? TP: Phoebe Philo and Florence Welch of Florence and the Machine.
FP: Which celebrities would you like to see in one of your designs? TP: Julianne Moore, Sarah Jessica Parker and Duma Miroslav.
FP: Where do you like to shop? TP: I like matchesfashion.com. New York is also a great place to shop; Bird [in Brooklyn] is one of my favorite stores.
FP: What shoe must every woman have in her closet? TP: One great pair of heels, flats like lace-ups, sneakers for daily wear and wooden clogs for work.
FP: What is the best part of your job? TP: I love visiting the factory. This is where all the shoe magic happens. The smell of leather and craftsmanship of the employees is inspiring.