Lincoln Kayiwa: Here I can create my own rhythm


I like the fact that Helsinki is not crazy big but enough to find the jewels you want in a city. It is also green and healthy, a city you can enjoy working and living in.

Ugandan-Finnish designer Lincoln Kayiwa enjoys the duality of social life in Helsinki. 

I was studying in Makerere University, Uganda, when a visiting professor told us about postmodern design. Half of the 50 slides were about Finnish designers such as Alvar Aalto, Eero Saarinen and Eero Aarnio. I liked their designs and was curious: How come this small country has so many internationally renowned designers?

I came to Aalto University in Helsinki to do my Master's studies. I’ve never had so much freedom as a student. We were encouraged to find our strengths and think what’s best for us in the curriculum, and I still appreciate that.

Luckily my diploma work was selected by the graduation committee to be commercialised, and that’s how I got started as an entrepreneur. I was paired with a company and my design was brought to market. It gave me courage to continue. At the time I also met my avovaimo, common-law wife, and made Finland my home.

Space for creativity and focus

As a creative you need all the breathing space you can have for your ideas, and I think Finland provides that. There’s also a good entrepreneurial spirit. Countries like the United Kingdom have bigger economies but there’s also more competition, and it’s difficult to establish oneself.

I like the fact that Helsinki is not crazy big but enough to find the jewels you want in a city. It is also green and has a healthy spirit, a city you can enjoy working and living in. I have a home office, and my wife and I joke that I work 24/7. United States is the biggest market for my designs, and because of the time difference I sometimes work more at night than during the day. If I have been sitting for hours and need to freshen up or clear my thoughts, I just need to go out and take a stroll. The sea is right outside our door.

In Helsinki it’s ok to tune out

In Helsinki I can regulate my own rhythm. If I want to be a social butterfly, there are art exhibition openings to go to or friends to meet. But if I’m very busy and need to focus on a project, I can keep to myself and won’t need to explain myself to anyone. Finland is famous for its silence. I love the duality, that I can tune in or tune out according to my mood.

It took me a few years to have moderate skills in Finnish, and every day I learn something new, for example when my kids’ friends come to our home. In some countries you might get laughed at for trying to speak the language without being fluent. In Finland people are happy you are trying. That’s the best thing one can get when living in a new country, the encouragement to become part of the society.

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