I have been asked to tell a bit more about the background of Riina O and how it all started.
I was born and raised in the outskirts of Europe, a small country, with distinctive identity, called Estonia, in its beautiful capital Tallinn – a place very dear to me!
When I was 17 years old I got this vision of shoes with a wide strap twirling up the leg. This idea possessed me so that I just had to find a way to make them. I contacted local footwear factory, who were quite amused about a teenager coming to them with such request, but very helpful, and with a bit of their help made a pair of strappy sandals. Then it was settled – I had to become a shoe designer!
I went on to do a degree in leather art and accessories design at Estonian Academy of Arts. As part of the course i was also introduced to glove design. During my studies I was working 4 years as an apprentice at an orthopedic footwear workshop, with a chance to learn bespoke footwear making and realize all my crazy ideas under my experimental label of Õun Design.
After graduation I moved to London to do an internship with footwear designer Caroline Groves and later with a leather accessory designer Una Burke. Following year I started working with local designers, which lead to creating my new brand Riina O.
Why did I decide to start a new label? Õun Design was experimental and avant garde, while Riina O has a much more refined and feminine visual language. Besides, turned out nobody could really pronounce the name properly outside Estonia.
Back when my foremost interest was footwear design, this seemed like the right material to work with. I have got to know this natural material´s character, advantages and the possibilities it offers. Controversially I have been vegetarian for almost a decade, while working with leather. I see it as a way to “reincarnate” the animal skin as a bag, pair of shoes or gloves and in a way give it “a new life”.
While bespoke footwear making requires a whole workshop and several machines, hand making leather gloves can be done almost anywhere. I remember one summer working on a deadline for glove order while travelling across Europe – hand stitching on the train and in coffee shops.
Also there was a gap in the market in London for luxury hand made leather gloves as it is a very time consuming and almost extinct trade with just a handful of skilled people left. This lead me to work with several high end fashion designers in London and abroad as a glove maker, with hand stitched gloves appearing in their catwalk shows.
It is important for me to keep the glove making tradition going, combing the old craft with modern technological advantages. Based in London, we are trying to keep the production local, sourcing leathers from within Europe.
At the moment footwear design has been put on hold, but hopefully to be taken up again one day. Before that though Riina O will be introducing other products of leather accessories, featuring already in our next collection for Spring/Summer 16.