Marta Valtovirta, LUT-alumna and the CEO of the clothing company hálo, warmly recommends the LUT School of Business and Management to anyone interested in international marketing. She says LUT has good international connections and the cost of living in Lappeenranta is lower than in Helsinki. In addition, she claims that the strong sense of community that everyone on LUT’s Skinnarila campus refers to as the Skinnarila spirit is no exaggeration.
In addition, Valtovirta lists good student exchange possibilities, a wide range of courses, excellent lecturers and “awesome student parties” as LUT’s strengths.
Valtovirta studied international marketing, supply management, and languages such as Russian and Spanish in Lappeenranta. She graduated in 2008 and remembers her years at the university as one of the best periods in her life – if not the best.
“We had an amazing circle of friends at LUT, and we still keep in touch. Many of us have gotten far in life. We still spar each other regardless of where we currently reside,” Valtovirta says.
Valtovirta praises LUT for making student exchange so easy. She herself left for California and Barcelona.
”Especially the marketing courses in California differed from Finnish ones and really opened my eyes. They’ve helped form the path I’ve taken in life.”
"The suit everyone is talking about"
People near and far have recently seen more of hálo’s clothing in the media. Finland’s Prime Minister Sanna Marin posed for a photo shoot for the magazine Trendi in hálo’s blazer with nothing underneath. The Prime Minister’s plunging neckline aroused a colourful debate for and against. Many women and even men sided with Marin and showed their support by posting selfies in similar attire – as did Marta Valtovirta.
“Reactions to Marin’s blazer portrait surprised and confused me. I didn’t expect such push-back. The picture is tasteful and not at all too revealing in my opinion. Why couldn’t a prime minister follow trends in her clothing choices?” Valtovirta analyses.
The picture of the Kaarna pantsuit that Marin wore is now captioned ”The suit everyone is talking about” on hálo’s web site. The model in the picture is wearing nothing underneath the blazer.
”The press pictures of the suit were taken already in February or March. We as a clothing brand have no say in how stylists dress people in photo shoots even if we lend them our clothes. We were given a heads-up about our Kaarna blazer in the pictures, but we never expected such attention,” Valtovirta relates.
Brand based on lengthy experience of the fashion world
The extensive media buzz has spiked hálo’s sales, but the brand was already known in fashion circles. Valtovirta and Jukka Puljujärvi launched the clothing brand three years ago, and many retailers worldwide now carry hálo items. Aside from Finnish TV series and magazines, the company’s clothes have been showcased in the Italian edition of Vogue magazine, the Swedish edition of ELLE, Cosmopolitan Hong Kong, Marie Claire Korea, Harper’s Bazaar China, and L’Officiel Arabia.
Braving the COVID-19 pandemic, hálo opened a flagship store at Levi, in Finnish Lapland.
”Our autumn sales at Levi were good. Jukka and I like to do things a little differently. Many would have thrown in the towel when the building permit alone took three years to secure. We never considered giving up, but I did get my fair share of grey hairs,” Valtovirta grins.
The company also has a store in the Finnish capital of Helsinki, where Valtovirta lives with her family. Many of her friends and acquaintances are amazed by how a wife and a mother of soon to be three children can be such an achiever.
”I’ve always had a very commercial frame of mind. I’m hungry, driven and ambitious. On the other hand, growing up in North Karelia in a very small town called Kitee instilled a certain integrity and humility in me. My mother was horrified when I took an unpaid internship with Minna Parikka fresh out of university. But I knew I had to pay my dues to get my foot in the door in an industry where I had no experience but great ambitions.”
Valtovirta’s professional history prior to hálo includes design brands such as Ivana Helsinki by Paola and Pirjo Suhonen. Ivana Helsinki is where Valtovirta met Puljujärvi, her current business partner and co-founder of hálo, and the duo started toying with the idea of their own clothing brand.
”I’m proud of how we’ve managed to grow since our foundation and to break even instead of making a loss. We’re doing pretty well considering the circumstances,” Valtovirta says.
Strong sense of community on campus
Valtovirta warmly recommends the LUT School of Business and Management to anyone interested in international marketing. She says LUT has good international connections and the cost of living in Lappeenranta is lower than in Helsinki. In addition, she claims that the strong sense of community that everyone on LUT’s Skinnarila campus refers to as the Skinnarila spirit is no exaggeration.
”LUT’s community spirit stems partly from the fact that students who move to Lappeenranta may not have prior social connections in the area. It is an advantage that students from different parts of Finland and all over the world come to study at LUT. As a student, I tutored international exchange students and spent a lot of time with them,” Valtovirta reminisces.
What originally drew Valtovirta to Lappeenranta were international marketing and supply management studies. Both subjects are still taught at LUT. If Valtovirta could have a do-over, she would also take entrepreneurship courses.
“Your major subject is important, but you should also take advantage of LUT’s wide range of other courses. I’d tell today’s students what my dad said to me when I started my studies at LUT: Have fun; you’re going to have the time of your life!”