Finnish Streetwear Pioneers | Juho Pihlajaoja
We are once again back with more of our Streetwear Pioneers series. We had the honor of sitting down with Juho Pihlajaoja who is the founder of Variety Vintage among many other affiliations to the Finnish streetwear culture.
Subject: Juho Pihlajaoja
A stylist & the founder of Variety Vintage.
Photocredit: Jussi Kantonen
Early life: What did you do in your teenage years?
I basically grew up skateboarding, listening to music & going to hardcore punk shows.
What were the strongest influences in your youth that led to your current position as an entrepreneur?
I would say all those things shaped me immensely - the DIY ethic and learning how to use my surroundings in a way they were maybe not meant to be used originally. Using my head.
What does Variety Vintage mean to you as a brand?
What I think I’d like the most with Variety is that it will shape itself by not just the products on the shelves but the overall feel of the shop. I wanted the store to come out as it would shape up to be through people coming in - and not by design. To me that’s how you last time and build something original. Trends come & go.
What made you open your own store - was it a gap in the market that attracted you to it or was it something else?
I was partially living in NYC at the time and was very inspired by the characters I would meet there. I’ve been a collector my entire life and my time there made me realize what I thought was actually interesting: people & style. That doesn’t necessarily mean clothes but it’s medium of non-verbal communication like any other. I wanted to bring a piece of that with me and saw a shift in Helsinki when especially the younger crowd thinking and absorbing things differently. That’s when I thought it was time. I guess I wanted to bring something exciting to the market. I didn’t really think it much further to be honest. I auctioned my entire vinyl record collection & with that paid to open my store.
What do you think about the contemporary vintage & streetwear culture in Finland?
I think Finland has always had this quirkier style to most things coming out of here, maybe because we’re a bit isolated. I’ve always liked that.
What’s your go-to place to thrift vintage pieces in Finland?
I try to go to as many places as often as I can.
How about in the entire world?
Same thing as above. But because of work I mostly try to meet with collectors, buyers & check what other curated shops are carrying when I visit places. I find that interesting.
But flea markets etc are everywhere, so I’d suggest to just go & search. I still love the feeling of finding something cool in a random place - go talk to people!
What’s the craziest vintage grail you have/have had in your personal collection/store?
What I’ve sold for the biggest amount of money aren’t necessarily my personal grails.
Some expensive items I’ve sold for dirt cheap at the shop because I felt like it. Bad business in a way, but I like seeing clothes getting to to a new home as cheesy as that sounds.
But I personally still love faded and worn out band tees over anything else probably.
Is there a vintage piece you hope to have in your collection someday?
I can’t name one thing over another. Always hunting. Life isn’t like a Pokemon game, you’ll never be able to collect them all.
Do you feel Finland is experiencing growth or decline in demand for brick & mortar clothing stores?
I think overall people want experiences in the modern world. Stores need to think beyond the sale item and more of an overall picture. I think that’s why people are buying a lot more used clothing.
Where do you hope to see yourself in 5 years from now?
Still having my health.
How do you see the future of Variety Vintage?
The store is turning 6 this fall, which feels crazy! Hopefully continuing to meet people and move forward.
What Finnish brands do you like the most & why?
There’s a lot of great emerging designers from Finland, and I keep being extremely inspired by people in Helsinki! But purely Finnish brands are tough, there’s not many that design & manufacture their products here. One that comes to mind is Tarvas footwear.
Can you share with us your craziest streetwear related story?
Probably being considered as a streetwear pioneer hah!
We like to ask this from our interviewees: What’s your favorite food joint in Helsinki?
I’ve been eating a lot of spicy noodles from Mei Lin. I also like Pompier for lunch.