Merilin Sults

Merilin Šults has studied nature tourism management in Estonia and arts and media management in London. She loves writing and is interested in culture, travelling and events. She currently lives in London that is a perfect place to find a variety of interesting people and amazing events to write about.

Estonians disrupting the design world with no-branding ethos

Two Estonians and a German have founded a London-based luxury accessories business with the purpose to make timeless bags without logos and branding labels.

The trio of industry insiders – designer Oliver Ruuger, sustainability researcher Markus Vihma and a fourth-generation master craftsman Volker Koch decided to start doing something different, which is not usual in the fashion world.

Breaking the rules

In the fashion world, it is usually important to follow the latest trends, being recognised by wearing certain brands – and companies do everything to brand their products. The founders of Silent goods say they want to do things differently – make products free of distraction and design clutter and skip the unnecessary traditional wholesale markups.

“Industry forces you to a certain way; this is how the system works. With Silent goods we want to create a product exactly the way we think it should be created – and I say this after having had the experience in the industry, in the system,” Ruuger, who has run his namesake fashion studio since 2011, says, adding they want to do things as human beings, not as a company, business or brand.

Their products do not have any logo or branding – instead, they want to show that true value is based on the “how” and not the “who”. The founders say they want to make the best bags, which are going to last a lifetime. “People are talking about building a brand, not making a great product. As a customer, I do not want to buy a brand, but a good product,” Ruuger comments.

It’s what’s inside that matters

According to Ruuger, Silent goods is pursuing sustainability in every aspect. Only the best sustainable materials are used to craft the bags – from organically farmed, naturally tanned leather, right down to the glue and thread – every last element is considered.

The company is planning to sell its products directly to customers and is relying on word of mouth marketing, which frees resources and allows it to invest in the product instead.

“We end up having a ridiculously low price, because we do not have any middle men. We can invest more into the material to achieve a quality product,” Ruuger states.

They have also saved on packages, using pre-used boxes for shipping, such as the ones used for Snickers or Fairy Liquid, for example. “Why do you need a fancy box, when the customer is buying a product, not a box,” he adds.

Silent goods has also commissioned another studio to create a bespoke typeface designed to use less ink, with a purpose to reduce the environmental impact of printing shipping labels. The typeface is available for free for everyone – one just needs to contact the company.

Transparency about business

Another aspect where the company aims to differ in the fashion world is the way it communicates with its customers – or to be precise, how its products communicate with buyers.

Silent goods decided to put an NFC (near field communication) tag in each bag it is making. Each product has a corresponding page, which has all the relevant information about particular product – such as the used material, how it was made, who made it and from where the material originated. “We decided to be completely transparent about every aspect of the business. I think we make things that have a lot of value. All we have to do is to show it,” Ruuger explains.

For example, the bag’s scannable “transparency tag” shows a fully transparent supply chain, including the small family-owned factory in Turkey that collaborates with Silent goods. “I was thinking how we can show customers the makers of these products. I came up with the idea to make a documentary about this factory that goes back to 15th century. It is a great factory with good conditions and many generations working together,” Ruuger says, adding that they plan to make documentaries about every part of the product. “For example, in the winter time, we are going to a small tannery in Sweden where we are getting our leather from.”

Part of the company’s ethos is also passing knowledge to its customers on how to treat a bag. In case there is a need for repairs, its workshop in London is open for all the customers for repair, advice or care. “We want people to have this product for the rest of their life. So it makes sense to repair the product rather than throw away,” Ruuger says.

Ideas for the future

Currently the company is focused on making luxury level leather bags, but the founders do not rule out non-leather materials as long as these reach the same quality standards set in the company’s values. “We have a good expertise in this industry. Silent goods is about combining eco-conscious materials, ethical craftsmanship and purposeful design. This could be applied to anything,” Ruuger comments.

“The world is changing, the rhythm is changing. It is time for different things now. It does not stop with a product, it is about the whole process,” he notes.

Silent goods’ bags will be available to pre-purchase on the crowdfunding platform Kickstarter.

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Cover: Silent goods decided to put an NFC (near field communication) tag in each bag it is making. Images courtesy of Silent goods.

Paul Piliste – a vehicle designer for future cars

Paul Piliste is a London-based vehicle designer who is part of the team behind the “Driverless Futures” exhibition, currently held at the London Transport Museum.

Passionate about cars

Piliste, who is orginally from Tallinn, Estonia, has been living, studying and working in the United Kingdom for twelve years, past three years in London.

He works at the Helen Hamlyn Centre for design at the Royal College of Art as a designer and researcher. His background is in product design and he has spent a few years working for a plastic product manufacturer in England.

His interest in cars started when he was a child and he went to car shows with his dad.

”Being a small child I would climb inside the cars and my parents were always losing me in the crowds at the shows because I was so excited,” he says.

Initially he wanted to study automotive design, but was also interested in electronics and everyday objects. After speaking to the professors at the University of Northampton, he decided to study product design, to gain a wider understanding of ergonomics, aesthetics, colour theory, form, materials and manufacturing.

”Admittedly, most of my projects involved wheels of some sort, and my degree project was an electric driverless taxi for London, called ‘Opti’,” he recalls.

”After a few years, I realised I wanted to follow my dreams of designing the most exciting and romantic products we own – cars.”

He applied for the vehicle design course at the top university in the world for art and design, the Royal College of Art in London.

”I knew that the university had taught some of the most influential figures in the vehicle design world and I was amazed and shocked when I was offered a place,” Piliste notes.

Exhibition “Driverless Futures”

Currently, he is one of the designers and minds behind the exhibition about driverless vehicles, which include display and series of exciting pop-up events at the London Transport Museum.

Part of the Gateway Project, it is a government-funded collaboration between the Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design, Royal College of Art and the Intelligent Mobility Design Centre. The project is about research and design looking to the future of urban driverless vehicles, based in the Greenwich peninsula, London.

”Last summer, we held workshops with over a hundred people, gathering their hopes, fears and gaining an understanding about what would make their dream vehicle. Simultaneously, we worked together with vehicle designers, project researchers, architects and textile designers from the Royal College of Art to formulate ideas about how the future of transportation could look, feel and work,” Piliste explains.

The exhibition raises questions about how we should design future driverless vehicles. It also shows the future of London in juxtaposition – on one side a dystopian society and on the other side a utopian society.

”We have a chance to reinvent this machine that transports people and goods, it does not have to be the same as before – the rules are changing,” he adds.

Driverless cars and their impact for the future

Self-operating cars are definitely another step in manufacturing cars and vehicles in general. It will change our everyday life, changes our habits and our perspectives about vehicles and their usage. Also it has both a positive and a negative impact on us.

”In my opinion, the positive points could far outweigh the negatives, for example independence for the disabled, older people, the visually impaired and those not able to drive, could really change people’s lives,” Piliste mentions.

A driverless car, also known as autonomous car is a vehicle capable of operating without human input. Many such vehicles are being developed, but as of February 2017 automated cars permitted on public roads are not yet fully autonomous.

”I think the future is really up to the designers, architects, engineers and the thinkers of today. If we do it right, the future can be amazing. The danger is, of course, with machine learning technology developing faster and faster. Yes these machines are here to make our lives better, but I share Elon Musk’s fear of artificial intelligence becoming smarter than human beings,” he says.

”Our exhibition in London focuses on the next few decades – when the technical issues have been resolved and driverless vehicles are sharing the roads with each other. These machines and computer minds need to be created with values and ethics that are similar to our own, ultimately their purpose is to serve and help humans.”

In the future, Piliste sees himself designing all kinds of vehicles, driven and driverless. A long-term dream of his is to walk down the street, whether this is in Europe, the Americas or Asia, and see cars that he has designed, driving around and being loved by their owners.

”I am in love with Chris Bangle’s (known for his work as the chief of design for BMW Group – editor) quote, ‘a car designer is really a sculptor’, because people often forget that cars are a work of art, they are engrained into our culture and they express emotion, passion and purpose, much like a painting. Automobiles are not just boxes that move people from A to B, they are moving sculptures,” Piliste says.

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Cover: Isolation pod dystopia by Paul Piliste (courtesy of Royal College of Art.) Driverless Futures: Utopia or Dystopia? is open until 23 April at the London Transport Museum. Please consider making a donation for the continuous improvement of our publication.

Riina Õun is on a mission to carry on the tradition of handmade leather gloves

Riina Õun is a London-based leather glove and accessory designer who is making a name for herself in the global fashion industry.

From experimental to more classy work

Õun, originally from Tallinn, Estonia, has been living and working in London for nine years – and has worked as a freelance designer and manufacturer for the last five.

After graduating from the Estonian Academy of Arts as a leather accessory designer, she concentrated on footwear design.

Her work brought her to London when she was offered an internship at a footwear manufacturer founded by the British artisan, Caroline Groves. Õun is in touch with Groves to this day, and they occasionally work together on various projects.

Õun later continued with an internship at Una Burke, a leather accessory designer. “During the internships I learned a lot and it helped me get ideas for my own brand. I learned various new skills and made useful contacts,” she says.

When she first started out in the business, Õun was doing more experimental work under the brand name of Õun Design. However, as her branding skills advanced and the creative direction took a classier and more sophisticated path, she felt a need to start from scratch. “In London, nobody was able to pronounce my brand name, so I decided to build a new brand and that is how Riina O was born,” Õun comments.

Making a name

Õun’s new label, Riina O, is a leather accessory brand specialising in luxurious handmade leather gloves, often featuring laser-cut decorative ornaments. In addition to the standard sizes, she also offers a made-to-measure service, which means meeting the client in person (or sometimes communicating long distance via e-mails) and measuring each finger to adjust the pattern to “fit like a glove”.

“My brand has used laser-cut technology in its collections for several years now, creating new patterns and designs every season. Luxury gloves are all crafted at a London studio and are rather timeless, not ‘expiring’ when the season is over, but being available for personal orders later on as well,” Õun says.

In 2016, Riina O added a new line, called “attainable luxury”, to its collections, offering more practical leather gloves for affordable prices, made at a factory in Europe. She thinks it is important to keep the production and material sourcing as local as possible, within the continent.

“Recently, my brand also started making reflective stickers you can attach to your clothes or bags to be more visible on dark evenings,” Õun mentions.

In addition to gloves and stickers, Riina O also offers leather bracelets made using waterjet cutting technology, which is quite unique, as it is commonly used for cutting large metal details for cars, tanks and airplanes. According to Õun, connecting traditional hand crafting with modern technological advantages lies at the core of her brand’s ethos. She has chosen to work with leather as a material because of its texture and possibilities.

Talking about creativity, Õun says she is familiar with the latest fashion trends and derives inspiration from various subjects. “I am finding inspiration from nature, architecture, movies, historic styles and new material trends.”

She is happy that her work has been noticed in a very competitive industry – Riina O gloves have appeared on the pages of fashion and lifestyle magazines such as Love, Elléments and Phoenix; they have been shown in Vogue shoots in Beijing and New York. The gloves have also been featured in show collaborations at London Fashion Week and elsewhere with various fashion designers.

Õun’s ambition doesn’t stop there – her role models are several fashion industry icons, such as designers Alexander McQueen, Vivienne Westwood or Hussein Chalayan. “When I am older, I would like to be such a cool lady like Vivienne Westwood is in her age now.”

The craft of hand stitching gloves almost extinct

These days, Õun is one of the few handmade glove specialists in London, which means there is not much competition left in her artistry. That’s partly because of the craft of hand stitching gloves is so laborious – mechanisation of the production process has taken over.

However, Õun has no plans to be the last woman standing in her expertise. “I have a mission to spread the skill and planning to introduce workshops to carry on the craft techniques, continuing the tradition of hand making gloves,” she says.

Talking about living in London, she thinks the city flows at the same pace with her. Despite being a rather intense and busy place to live, it is a cultural mecca with enormous opportunities. She feels that working in London has taken her creativity to a new level.

“I would like to continue to introduce my work to the wider audience. It has been a challenging journey to develop my own brand and make it successful, but it is important to never give up and go after your dreams,” Õun says.

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Cover: Riina Õun (image by Raigo Tõnisalu.)

Kristel Klein: a fitness model who is proud of her roots

The London-based Kristel Klein has always been active and played sports, but even she couldn’t have predicted that she would get into the fitness world that would considerably change her lifestyle. A time that was meant to be a gap year before going to the university in Estonia turned into eight years away – and recently, she achieved international success in fitness.

Klein is from a small Estonian island called Kihnu, where national traditions have important roles in everyday life. There are many active people in this small island who love to play sports, but there are not that many opportunities. After leaving Kihnu, she got engaged in athletics and started to go to the gym. “My plan was to study physical education in Estonia, but I decided to go explore London and improve my English before going to the university. I never thought I would stay here for such a long time and all my plans were going to change,” Klein says.

The path to fitness

When she arrived in London, she was just doing a little bit of jogging to keep herself fit. Visits to the gym were not more frequent than one’s usual in a fast-paced city. But something new was on the cards. “I wanted to become a trainer and completed a course to get a diploma as a personal trainer. I was conducting training days for others in the park and putting together training plans which could be viewed online,” Klein recalls.

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She then embarked on a more ambitious journey in fitness world. There were a few fitness competitions coming up in the UK and she decided to challenge herself to compete.

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Klein underwent proper training along with an eating plan. She was also taking posing lessons with professional coaches to learn how to act on the stage. It was a tough seven months for her, but she was full of excitement. “In the beginning it was a plan to take part in only one competition, but finally, I decided to try my luck at Pure Elite where I was successful,” Klein recalls.

Pure Elite – where everything began

Pure Elite is the fastest growing bikini, fitness and muscle model competition in Europe.

“At the beginning, my plan was to participate in the bikini category, but due to me being in a better physical condition, I decided to compete in the fitness category,” Klein says. It was a lot of hard work and learning before she was actually ready to shine on the stage.

She was recognised in Pure Elite and got a lot of opportunities and sponsors thanks to this contest – other competitions invited her to participate and sponsors asked her to be an ambassador for their products. “It is essential that a whole package is perfect when you are in a competition. I was scared of the first time being on the stage, but I did my performance as well as I could and I was confident with my looks,” Klein states.

And thus, Pure Elite was the beginning of her fitness journey.

The birth of Pure Elite Estonia

She has always been proud of her Estonian roots and the fact she is from small island of Kihnu. During her different competitions, she has always been wearing Estonian-themed clothes and flying the Estonian flag while walking on the stage. “In Pure Elite, everyone knows that I am an Estonian, from the island of Kihnu,” Klein points out.

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During her holiday, Klein heard news from the Pure Elite founder that the competition was planning to expand outside the United Kingdom. This made her ask whether Estonia could be a suitable location for its expansion. “I was thinking about this opportunity – I really loved this event with its show element and the idea. Nothing like this existed in Estonia, so I decided to accept the challenge,” Klein says.

kristel-klein-siim-kinnasIt was not an easy task she took upon herself – there were a lot of preparation, promotion and problems to deal with. It was a bigger ordeal than she had imagined, because even the Estonian Fitness Union could sense the rivalry and was trying to change her mind about organising this event in Estonia. “If I would have known how challenging it is to organise this kind of contest, I would have thought it over, but I do not regret my decision,” Klein adds.

She put together an entire programme and decided to do all the organising. The last few weeks, her friends and family were doing whatever they could to support her to deliver a successful event. Naturally, an Estonian element was not missing from the show – there was a group of people performing on the stage wearing the Kihnu folk clothes. “It is important to pay attention to every single detail. Everything has to be thought through and it is essential to sell your event for as many people as possible,” Klein says.

The first Pure Elite Estonia contest turned out to be successful and received a lot of positive feedback. The majority of competitors were non-Estonians and they all loved the country and wanted to return. “Over half of the competitors are willing to compete again next year. It is a huge compliment for me. Also, I hope next year there is going to be more interest from Estonians,” Klein remarks.

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In 2017, she plans to organise the event in an even bigger scale. Klein says that she now has the experience and knowledge of what to do differently or better. “I am definitely not trying to manage this alone anymore – I am going to ask people’s help with planning and organising this from the beginning,” Klein promises.

Fitness as a lifestyle

For Klein, the fitness has become a lifestyle – she is training regularly, observing her food intake, and her life goal is to be healthy and physically fit. “The more your body changes, the more you want to train. It is something you are doing for yourself, not for others,” she says.

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She has not planned her future because, so far, things have just fallen in place for her. At the moment, she is concentrating on her fitness, being an ambassador for several sports brands and preparing for the next year’s Pure Elite Estonia. She is also dreaming of creating her own line of clothes one day. “It is always important to be consistent and never give up; with consistency, it is possible to go far in life,” Klein believes.

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Klein thinks that it is important to promote Estonia and the small island where she comes from – she is a kind of an ambassador for fitness in Kihnu because she is the only fitness model from there. “Fitness and the Kihnu folk dance do not go together, but who says that they cannot,” Klein remarks.

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Cover: Kristel Klein (photo by Matt Marsh.) Images by Matt Marsh, Siim Kinnas, Simon Howard, UV PRO Photography/courtesy of Kristel Klein.

Estonians in the post-Brexit Britain: the UK is about to lose many talents

In June, the United Kingdom held a referendum on its future in the European Union and the result – to leave the EU – came as a shock to many Estonians who live in the UK or conduct business there. Estonian World caught up with some of them to discuss future.

Britain’s decision to leave the 28-member political and economic union is unprecedented in the EU’s history that spans almost 60 years – and the future is uncertain, for both the UK and the EU.

Immigrants not welcome anymore, but needed

As the British government contemplates on its negotiating tactics with the EU, questions remain whether the principle of free movement of people between the UK and the EU will be retained and how will it impact Estonians among others.

egerth-jaansalu“Immigrants are not welcome here [anymore], but at the same time they [in the UK] need us because without immigrants the economy wouldn’t be as strong as it is now,” Egerth Jaansalu, who works as an electrical designer at the historical British parliament building in Westminster, said.

Before the referendum there were strong campaigns from both sides – the supporters of remaining in the EU, and the supporters of leaving. Many people were strongly influenced by the political propaganda and were not able to make up their minds and form their own clear opinions. Many have later regretted their vote to leave the EU, a union that has helped ensure peace in the continent for over half a century.

“People were given false facts, they were not informed about the correct aspects and about the outcome of leaving the union,” Jüri Nael, who is working in the arts sector, said.

All the EU members are part of a single market, with a population of over 510 million, which is important for trade. If the UK plays hardball and chooses to opt out from the principle of free movement of people, it might also lose the right that the centuries old trading nation currently considers more important – the free movement of goods and services.

Britain is facing the loss of many talented people

“Britain is facing the loss of many very talented people. London is the biggest European tech hub; almost every second startup wants to enter the UK market. People come here to work for the best tech companies in the world. Furthermore, London is one of the globally most diverse cities. Its reputation could be damaged among startups, once there are more barriers to enter the market,” Triin Linamägi, a cofounder of the SaaS (software as a service) human resources company, Jobatar, said.

Currently it is still uncertain how the post-Brexit climate will affect Estonians, but it will definitely have an impact as many Estonians have started businesses or are working in Britain. Many have strong economical connections with the UK even when they are based in Estonia or elsewhere.

triin-linamagi“It definitely affects the free movement of workforce, but also people who plan to establish their businesses in the UK. There are many talented Estonians working and setting up their businesses here, or just about to expand to the UK market. Which all makes sense because London is the city that traditionally opens its doors to new markets and capital, as well as talents,” Linamägi observed.

But she also saw a positive side for Estonia – perhaps the Estonian talents in the UK will start thinking about returning home at some point. “Also, the attractiveness of Estonia as a tech hub for entrepreneurs and talents might increase while London sets more barriers to enter. Already today, in many conferences in London, Estonia has been mentioned as one of the strongest tech hubs,” she added.

TransferWise location dependent on EU ‘bank passport’

The most successful London-based, Estonian-founded company is the money transfer firm TransferWise. Its founders, Kristo Käärmann and Taavet Hinrikus, have so far been vague about their plans for the future.

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“Our focus is on business as usual and providing the best service we can to our customers. The two main benefits of being part of the European Union are access to talent because of the free movement of labour, and an EU ‘bank passport’ – if your financial services firm is regulated in the UK, it is automatically regulated across the EU. We don’t know what is going to happen with either of those,” said Hinrikus, the CEO and co-founder of TransferWise.

kristiina-rokashevichThe UK has not yet triggered the EU’s Article 50 that is the formal mechanism to start the leaving process.

“In a long term, it can be beneficial for Britain to leave the European Union. Everything depends on the government and the parliament and the actions they decide to take.

At the moment, various problems are occurring in Britain and it seems nobody has an actual plan and nobody wants to take a responsibility,” Kristiina Rokachevitch, a pianist, pointed out.

“EU has to start behaving  less as an empire”

There are also those Estonians who expect the EU to take a self-critical and introspective look. “The European Union has to start behaving more as an economic union and less as an empire,” Toomas Ojasoo, one of the figureheads at Eesti Hääl, the longest running Estonian newspaper in the UK, said.

Most UK-based Estonians agree that it is important that the best possible choices are made to ensure a success that would be beneficial for both – for the British citizens and for the foreigners who form an important part of the culture and the economy of the United Kingdom. That means retaining the close economic cooperation and the free movement of people.

The future is uncertain and it is a difficult to predict what the outcome will be. Nothing will change overnight and it takes time until everything is settled and there is a plan forward set for the United Kingdom.

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Cover: A balloon decorated with the Union Flag (courtesy of Alamy/the image is illustrative.)

Mouse Tail Coffee: Estonians shaping ideal espressos in London

The Estonian founders of the London-based business, Mouse Tail Coffee, are passionate about their coffee and customers – and are always trying to put on a personal touch to everything they do.

Four enterprising young Estonians – Margus Varvas, Kristel Parts, Kristin Kalmu and Jaanus Üksik – started their coffee trade in London three years ago with just a single coffee van, and didn’t know where this journey would take them. Now they operate a booming business of this ever-needed energising drink.

Kalmu and Üksik had originally come to London to study in 2010; their partners in the coffee business, Margus Varvas and Kristel Parts, arrived a few months later.

The huge metropolis, with its endless opportunities, yet a demandingly high cost of living, motivated the quartet to come up with a business plan, to make ends meet.

Love for a coffee

First, the aspiring Estonians had a plan to start selling smoked fish, but this didn’t go as well as they had hoped for. But the entrepreneurs did not feel that like going back to Estonia and decided to try their luck with something else. This is how their “coffee journey” ultimately started in 2013.

“This business seemed something we would be able to do – and yet, it would not need so much investment,” Margus Varvas remembers, adding that their journey has not been easy; there is lot of hard work and ambition behind it. It helped that the four all have hospitality background and a love for a coffee.

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The coffee entrepreneurs didn’t want to be seen as just another generic and rather bland coffee seller, making cups of bitter, mediocre liquid and selling it on at a premium. They decided the best way to stand out in a crowded marketplace was to really focus on quality, and thus, the Mouse Tail Coffee was born. In barista slang, the “mouse-tail” stands for the precise shape that good espresso makes as it flows into a cup.

Humble beginning in Peckham

The business got off the ground with a single Piaggio Ape coffee van. The founders had a great challenge to find a perfect van, location and enough funds. But the launch in Peckham, South-East London, was successful and pretty soon the coffee startup had a first expansion. “We expanded because we understood that to be successful it is not enough to have one coffee van,” Varvas states. “There were two families to feed and we had to develop with our business,” Kristel Parts adds.

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Three years later, the company has two vans and two cafes, most of them located in South-East London and one of them in East London, where their business partner, Benjamin Vincett, is in charge. “We are definitely not there yet where we want it to be. We are planning to open another café soon,” Varvas says excitedly.

The London-based Estonian coffeemakers have their own way of doing things. “Cups have different sizes, but how we brew our espresso or steam our milk is exactly the same. Our milk is steamed to elevate the sensory experienced espresso. Right technique transforms milk to sweet, rich and velvety virtually liquid goodness,” Parts explains.

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They also have their own kitchen where all delicious cakes, salads, sandwiches and much more are made. “Majority of stuff is handmade and homemade by us,” Varvas asserts.

Roastery expansion

Mouse Tail Coffee recently also expanded into roastery business – to ensure quality control, they took over the London-based Mission Coffee Works and are now roasting their own coffee as well as selling it to others. Their coffee beans are coming from all over the world – Colombia, Ethiopia, Nicaragua, Brazil and India – and it is usually seasonal.

“We know exactly where our coffee is coming from, we know name of the farmer and their working conditions. The beans need to have a story to them. Not just a country or origin, but information leading all the way back to the farms,” Varvas states, adding that ethics and quality of products is extremely important for them.

The founders say that in operating the business, they are doing as much as they could themselves – because “then everything is run as they want it to be” – but they underline their “amazing team”. “Our employees are our friends, not just workers. It’s like a big family – we are doing things together and we know everyone,” Varvas says proudly, adding that all of their employees who joined with a team have stayed.

Multicultural, but Estonia is not forgotten

Like it is customary in the multicultural London, Mouse Tail Coffee has people with diverse background working for them: some are British-born, but the workforce also includes Spaniards, Lithuanians, Romanians, Swedish and, of course, Estonians.

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Many of their customers are Estonians too. The company has also participated in the annual London Scandinavian Christmas market, where the Estonian stalls have in recent years stood next to Nordic countries.

The Mouse Tail Coffee founders have retained a strong connection with Estonia, staying in touch with Estonians in London and back home. In fact, Kristin Kalmu and Jaanus Üksik have moved back to Estonia. “At the moment, our business is not organised in a way that we could all be away and operate it from the distance, but we do not want to stand still, it is always important to improve,” Varvas says. He doesn’t rule out the expansion of Mouse Tail Coffee to his country of birth, should there be a market for their precisely shaped espressos.

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Cover: Mouse Tail Coffee’s cafe in Whitechapel, London.

Global Estonians: Meriliis Rinne – the artist who paints all her paintings as if they were her last

Meriliis Rinne, also known as Meru, is a London-based Estonian artist, whose motto in life is that nothing is more powerful than talented people doing what they love. In her opinion, talent can express in different ways and it is important that we are confident in ourselves and don’t let others to tell what is a right way of living for us.

Rinne, who is originally from Estonia, has been living in London for more than four years. She has gained recognition with her enlightening works, having exhibited them in Tallinn, Copenhagen, Oslo and London. Her journey hasn’t always been easy, but she has now reached an episode in her life where she is happy and is doing what she loves – making a living by creating art. When you meet Rinne, an open-minded and energetic individual, she oozes positivity that inspires others. Even her artist name carries the meaning of good energy behind it.

Meru IBut it hasn’t been as straight-forward journey, as one doesn’t just become an artist overnight. Rinne has always been somehow connected with art, but she had never thought that to be an artist is going to be her true profession and a way of making living. “Life always threw many other ideas and opportunities to my path, but somehow everything that happened to me, helped me understand what my real passion is,” she says. Curiously, it was while studying law when she gained a sociological knowledge and courage to discover “the real me”, and understood her identity. That was a point where she knew she wanted to be an artist and started working towards fulfilling her dreams.

Rinne first came to London for a few months in 2011, to see if her ideas and cognition of colours have an impact on people elsewhere, other than Estonia. Just like anyone would be before embarking on a major new journey, she was afraid of failure, but in spite of that decided to give it a try. “I loved this city in all of its versatility and hugeness,” Rinne remembers. In 2012, she chose to settle in London and to accept the challenge and try her luck in the metropolis.

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Now, she has a beautiful and cosy studio, called “The Atelier”, in North London, which she found thanks to a business space owner, who saw her potential during a difficult time when she was feeling ready to give up her dreams. “I felt that my artistic flame had burnt out,” Rinne recalls the period prior to discovering a place which would be perfect for her studio.

Rinne remembers that when she was sitting in her own art studio for the first time, she was like a changed person – just overwhelmed with happy emotions. “The studio made me finally feel right in my place and realise that I should never give up painting. You should never stop doing those things for what you have a passion for!”

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Artistically speaking, Rinne has never had a mentor to support her – or to question her – which means her professional journey has been long and difficult. “There has been a lot of self-discovery, but thanks to this, I feel a strong and independent woman now,” she states.

She describes her art as colourful and playful, having a deeper meaning with hidden secrets and stories within them. Rinne says her paintings must always in some way find the possibility of communicating with that individual who lays eyes on her works. Rinne also emphasises that every painting she paints, it is painted as if it were to be her last. “My last artwork should always be a good and positive painting, which would leave everlasting impression by channelling memories, depths and textures – as we don’t know what will come tomorrow,” she says.

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Rinne also enjoys collaborations with fellow designers, as she is involved with various projects, activities and art forms. “I love to use my paintings in many different mediums, because quite frankly, due to technology it’s possible.” Her studio is used mainly as a showroom, but sometimes there have been gallery exhibition evenings, yoga classes, art classes and in the future there may even be a very intimate supper club.

Among other initiatives, she is also trying to recycle, to re-use and at the same time keep her studio as waste-free as possible. Recently, Rinne started to do video tutorials in which she teaches how to make artworks with things one doesn’t need anymore. She has also been involved in charitable activities – in April, she had a solo exhibition, called “Karma”, in Tallinn and a percentage of her sold artworks went to the Tartu University Hospital Children’s Foundation, to support children with hearing problems. Meru, a long-time supporter of the foundation, says that she is a big believer in giving back to the community. “My art needs others, so I help others,” adding that it’s an amazing to feel that art can be beneficial in many ways.

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Talking about London, Rinne says the city has shaped her and has taught her to be a person she has become now. “As an artist, I absolutely love to be in London, but I would definitely not rule out living in some other big city someday.” She says that discovering herself is an ongoing process and that there is still a long journey ahead. “There is so much to learn and to experience and I am not yet close to my dreams. I need to travel so much further.”

Painting Modern Mona Lisa - Meru

Speaking to Rinne, one certainly gets and impression that she has a lot of energy and courage to conduct anything that comes to her mind and there will definitely more to be heard from her in the near future. “As the saying goes, in the confrontation between the stream and the rock, the stream always wins – not through strength but by perseverance. Even though we are little nuts in a large system, we can make a lot of change as individuals,” Rinne persists.

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Pictures courtesy of Meriliis Rinne.

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