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Futuristic Latvian designer not at Riga Fashion Week yet, but heading towards it

Have the confidence to back your talents and follow your dreams. That’s the advice to young students of fashion and design by someone who’s done just that. I’m talking to Elza Futuris, a young entrepreneur who works as a fashion designer, jewellery designer and maker and artist. She says that if young people studying design or fashion have natural talents, then all they need to be a success is to have confidence in their ability, adding, “Always be 500 percent sure of yourself, and never, ever doubt yourself. Remember that fashion, design and jewellery manufacture is always very hard work. You’ll have to make sacrifices, like I did.”

How did it all start?

At school, here in Riga. I loved drawing, painting and everything connected with art. After school I went to a technical college that specialised in art and design. We made fashion collections there, and there was a competition and I won first place. That allowed me entry to the prestigious Intertextil Balticum 2004 international competition. All the design schools in Riga entered. It was my first fashion collection, and to a much bigger audience, together with other young designers from other art schools, academy’s colleges, and so on. It was the largest fashion and textile fair in the Baltic States. From this came my first order, a wedding dress. It was for a young woman who was getting married to a famous singer. I remember the thrill of seeing my creation on television, in magazines and newspapers. It was an emotion I hadn’t experienced.

All this inspired me, and I knew then that I wanted to be a fashion designer, an artist. 

It’s a difficult industry to break into, isn’t it?

Yes, it’s a very complicated business, and very expensive. You can get grants and European money, but I didn’t want to go down that path. I decided to go on my own and not to borrow money or work for a large company. 

Which area did you start in, clothes or jewellery?

I tried both, but my passion was more for jewellery and accessories, because I know I’m good at this, and the fashion I made especially for my jewellery photo shoots. I studied how other designers did this and bought what I needed so I could start. I began with Art Nouveau and Rococo styles and these proved very popular. But time changes how styles come and go, and technology improves, and so my work did also. I was inspired by Sci-Fi movies, by electronic music, technology and space travel. I imagined jewellery that sparkled in the night, was brought to life by electricity, by the cosmos, and was totally different to anything that was being produced. I knew this was the direction I wanted to take. Last year I created my Era Futuris fashion jewellery line. My logo is a geometric style. Very futuristic. There are so many designers out there, and I knew I had to be different to succeed. I’ve registered my brand name and logo and have a website. The planning for this took a year. 

You had the talent to design and make clothes, jewellery and fashion accessories. But you also needed to sell them and make money. How did you begin doing this?

I knew the owners of a few shops in Riga and I presented them with some samples and ideas, and now they sell my Era Futuris brand. However, one day I was in Tallinn, because I wanted to expand abroad. In the old town I found a lot of interesting shops, but only one gave me a special feeling. They were selling some exclusive brands. It was a large shop, and I could see my jewellery in that shop. I contacted the owner when I returned to Riga, and I was confident she’d take my jewellery even though the shop was only selling Estonian products. There was also a similar shop in Riga, and they both agreed to take my jewellery. Now I’m in six shops altogether, with my jewellery and accessories, plus, of course, I sell items on my website.

What does art and creating art mean to you?

Why do I make this? Because I need to express myself and I can do this best through my jewellery. It’s like I’m speaking to others through fashion. It’s like I’m expressing myself and my emotions through my art. 

Has fashion design taken a back seat now?

Just for the moment. I remember my first designs when I was at school. They were sporty style, touristic, and when I look back 12 years I think I was already ahead of my time, even then! Silver, gold, black, dragons... just an expression of how I was at that time.

I’d have thought fashion design is easier than designing jewellery because you have a larger canvas to express yourself on?

No, for me it’s easy. The only difficult times are when you feel depressed about something, when you maybe have the equivalent of ‘writers block’. However, I don’t worry about this because it rarely happens. I have an artistic desire to express myself, and this overrides every other emotion.

But it’s not just jewellery and fashion. You also design postcards, stationary and books?

Yes, greeting cards, postcards, envelopes, notebooks and others as well. I had a problem with one shop not taking my postcards and envelopes because, as they put it, I wasn’t famous! They showed me some postcards that were nothing special, but were produced by a famous singer. His name sells, they said! However, I asked if they’d take them anyway, and see if they sold. A few days later the owner of the shop called and said they’d sold and asked whether they could have more. However, I did take my postcards to a flower shop and they gave me an opportunity to create special envelopes in floral and Art Deco styles for them. Envelopes for gift tokens, money, cards, theatre tickets, etc. I created nine different designs for them. They liked them so much that I decided to also create a stationary business.

I guess it’s all about finding the right shop, I mean with the right customers for your work? 

It’s better to have one good shop than six poor ones. My work is exclusive and I need classic shops, those that sell exclusive goods. For example, the tourists that you find in Riga’s old town are different from those in the Art Nouveau district. So, if I was selling gold earrings for example, I wouldn’t look for a souvenir shop in the old town. 

Is there a difference between your customers and tourists in Riga and Tallinn?

The Estonians are very polite, joyful and open people. They’re always smiling. I like them a lot. And they like my jewellery! Of course, as a Latvian I’m proud of my country and the people here. I think tourists are much the same the world over. However, I’m not sure about Tallinn, but certainly Riga attracts tourists to the old town who like to drink beer in pubs, but in the Art Nouveau area the tourists are a little more intelligent!

What about the future? Would you like to expand?

Yes I would. I’ve often wondered about Brussels and Paris. I don’t like the system in some countries of sale or return. This way, you only receive money if the shop sells your items and you have to rely on the honesty of the shop owners. I remember reading an interview with a famous designer who said that during his early years 80 percent of his stock disappeared from shops that promised him sales on a sale or return basis. I’ll go to Vilnius one day and see how they like my ideas and designs. 

How much time do you spend on design and manufacture?

When I’m designing a new collection it’s all day and all night, every day until it is finished. And now it’s spring and the shops are busy and the shelves will be empty soon. I must ensure that I have enough stock on my own shelves to send to these shops when they ask. In the past, I’ve taken time away from my studio to go to a party when I’m in the middle of designing and I haven’t been able to enjoy myself. I find myself back at work very quickly! I try and do my design work in the winter when there’s little incentive to go outside. Then I can enjoy the summer much more. It takes one month to create a collection for a shop. Remember that each collection is different. Each piece is unique. It’s time consuming. Earrings are the quickest to make. Rings and necklaces and bracelets take more time. Polishing the metal takes an hour, then after the enamel is applied, that takes two days to dry. After that the stones are applied and again, they take two days to dry. Then the packing of each piece in a special box. Then posting to the client. At the moment I’m looking for someone to help me with that work. I can then also teach them to make the items, and other goods like my Art Deco bags. 

How much notice do you get from shops that want to re-order items?

I get a sales report each month from all my clients. They know it takes a month for me to make another collection, therefore we look each month at their stock and decide. I like to have enough in stock without having to panic! That’s when my hard work in winter pays off. My work has to be different each time, but quality is the most important thing to me. I like working with metals, especially brass and copper. One day soon I’d like to make a whole line that’s pure gold-plated jewellery.

Are you worried that another designer or manufacturer will copy your designs?

No. Actually, we designers can’t escape the fact that someone one day will steal or borrow our ideas. My clients have said they’ve never seen jewellery like mine anywhere, and I’d never spy on another. I don’t need ideas from anyone else, and I don’t like it when someone copies another person’s art. I have enough ideas of my own, but to inspire others is something quite different because you don’t take the idea, you continue it in a better way as your unique version of it. But if my designs are inspiring someone, I’m happy because someone was inspiring me through fantastic films, music and modern art, because they were the best at that time. My jewellery is futuristic, and yet it’s made in the present day from materials that sometimes come from the past. Futuristic style is future style, and is a trend of the moment. I don’t think it will ever go out of fashion like other trends, never while this world exists.

And in the future you’ll expand your range?

Yes, I have to eventually. I’d like to production new futuristic metallic belts, but also hair accessories like head jewellery, diadems, crowns, hair bands and tiaras. Enough to keep me busy, I think. Eventually I want to build a team and enter the Riga Fashion Week with a collection. It’s not something I could do alone. 

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