SANDRA LUKS – TALKS WITH PETRI
I talk with Sandra about finding your true passion and how it may take a few detours before you’re sure what you really want to do.
(NOTE: The text may contain errors, misconceptions and even comical unintended contexts. Please use it only as a reference to the actual audio conversation from where it has been transcribed.)
Petri: Hey, Sandra, how are you doing?
Sandra: Hi, I’m good. How are you?
Petri: It’s been a long day, but a fun day. So much stuff happening every day. I’ve been doing a lot of these episodes, talking to people around the world. It’s pretty cool.
Sandra: It’s so great to hear that someone is actually busy during this time, not just staying home and watching Netflix and doing nothing.
Petri: I don’t think that’s true. Whenever I’m pinging you, you’re like you, you’re talking to China or you were doing a photoshoot like to just before we came alive here and you have your side business doing some Sick designs and Stay negative in a positive way. And so many things. I think you were just fooling me around.
Sandra: Maybe that’s it. I don’t know.
So, I had a relatively happy childhood. I mean, I was born during the Soviet time, but obviously I don’t remember much from it. We lived in a very small town called Viru in Southwest Estonia. And so we had like a hood, I guess you would say it was like three houses together. And then my mom actually grew up in the same apartment.
All of her friends’ kids ended up being my friends. And so it was like, really cool community. We had like our own pack but then when I was 10 years old, we moved away. We moved to a house and, and I remember being really upset about it because I was losing my friends.
And so we moved like four kilometers outside of the town. And then I had to, whenever we were to go to school, my parents had to drive us and then pick us up, or we took the bus. And so no more hood life.
Petri: But you were still in the same school?
Sandra: Yes, I was in the same school, but I never actually had that many friends from school.
I sort of kept to myself and was super nerdy. By the time I reached like seventh, eighth, ninth grade, we had like this one group of nerds and then we hung out together but just totally separate from the rest of the classmates.
Petri: What did the nerds do in Estonia?
Sandra: We would, I remember this one time, me and my friend, we had a competition, like who could finish reading Tõde ja Õigus (Truth and Justice) faster. So I remember I stayed up all night and read it. From cover to cover, just so I could beat her.
That’s what nerds did. Well, that’s what we did. And then our teachers would count our grades and then they would make this list like who has the highest GPA. It was always people from our small group of five or six or however many there was, we would always see who has 4.97 or 4.95 and it was just something that we kept the count.
I don’t remember having that good grades in elementary school. But when my sister, my middle sister, went to school and she got started getting really good grades, I got very competitive and I wanted to be better.
And then I started studying harder and I sort of became obsessed with getting only straight A’s and, being overall perfect.
Petri: Soon you’re where the best of the class?
Sandra: I was among the top three to five. Yes. We had this small group of girls, we were the ones who would participate in competitions.
And the teachers would have this list after every semester period where they would count all the grades we had gotten during that period, and then count the average, and then make a list of all the students. And so basically the people in our small group were always among the first.
I think it was like a few years back, I went to my parents’ place in and I have this box of old stuff. I keep some of the stuff that makes me nostalgic and I have one of those lists over there. And it’s just so funny to look back at it and think, damn, we were such nerds.
Petri: You were good at math, and arts and crafts?
Sandra: Oh, in arts? I was shitty in arts!
Sandra: I was really good yet in math and chemistry, all the scientific subjects I was really good at. I very much enjoy numbers and, but we had art class and I remember I got a three for one of the pieces that we have had to make. You can imagine my disappointment always striving to get A’s.
And then there’s like, you had to paint something or draw something and I would get a three, which is like a C. And I was very, very upset about this. Oh, that was at the time when people were not like, why are we grading artistic subjects? These are totally subjective and who are you, the teacher, to say that this piece that I made right now is crap. How can you put a mark on this?
Petri: So maybe you were rebelling?
Sandra: No, no, no. I never called anyone out for it. I was just upset on the inside, probably cried in my bed for getting a three… totally messed up my GPA.
Petri: I think you’re quite visible nowadays, so something must have switched or something happened in-between there, if you or the teacher just didn’t like your subjective interpretation of the expressionism or whatever you were doing something doesn’t compute here.
Sandra: I think our art classes were very much like I also wanted to be perfect. So if we had to draw something, let’s say, you have to draw a house and I would find a picture of house and then I would try to draw that same house. So I didn’t really allow myself to be creative and think of a house myself. Like, oh, maybe this one will have a purple rooftop, and maybe this one will have yellow windows. I would be like, okay, this is the picture of the house, and now I’m drawing the same house as close to the real image as I possibly can. I guess I was striving for photo realism or something.
But then after that was like way after I had already finished high school and everything and I had these entrance exams to art school where we had to paint and draw. And I remember I got out of 10 points, I got two points for my drawing and then I got three points for my painting out of 10.
Petri: But you still got in?
Sandra: That was the first time. Yes, I got in, but I got in on like a paid position. I would have had to pay tuition.
I didn’t end up going to art school after high school, I got in, but I would have had to pay for it.
And it was hard enough living away from home and being dependent on my dad’s money. And, it’s always a stress to ask someone for money. So, I could never have gone to him and say like, oh yeah, dad. So I went to a really good school, graduated with honors, and now I want to go and do art. Can you pay for it?
So, that sort of ended my dream of becoming a designer at that time. And that was straight after high school. Yeah. And then I was like, okay, I’m going to do science then, or whatever. I can get in for free. And I had always been a nerd and everything. I was really into medicine and astronomy as well.
And I thought, okay, well, if I can’t study art for free. I will go and study something really expensive for free. I went to med school and I studied medicine for two and a half years. I think it was my second year or something after that when I was like, oh my God, I can’t take this anymore.
Like I can’t, I cannot be a doctor and I’m going to do another tryout for the arts school. And then I went to the entrance exam and then I just like, okay, just forget everything. Like, don’t try to draw.
Petri: Perfect house….
Sandra: What you see or, yeah, exactly. Don’t try to draw everything exactly as it is, but you know, like, just let go and just be creative.
Just have fun with it. And then I remember I got seven and an eight out of 10 points on the drawing and painting part of the entrance exam. But then again, I didn’t go.
Petri: For the second time, you knocked on the door
Sandra: That was the second time.
Petri: You got in, but you said: nah.
Sandra: Then I didn’t go. Yeah.
Petri: But you were still in the med school?
Sandra: Then I took a year off from the med school. I had this thought, I can’t do this anymore. But I wasn’t gonna withdraw my papers and just go. So I took this academic leave, figured like, I’m going to go and figure life out a little bit, live a little, and then come back and see what I actually want to do.
I remember telling my dad though that being a doctor is what I want 100%. I’m just going to travel a little bit for a year and then just come back and then I will finish med school and I’m going to become a doctor. And that never happened.
But I ended up going to Italy for a while, did some traveling, and then at one point I got this thought that I’ve been sewing since I was a kid. I really liked design. I can’t even remember why I didn’t go to art school.
I ended up going to a vocational school halfway through my academic leave, and so I went and started studying tailoring. And that was the beginning of my designer career.
I started tailoring and half a year later, it was time to choose if I was going to go back to med school or not. And that was when I went to the dean’s office and said, okay, I’m gonna unenroll from the medical school and I’m going to continue with my vocational education.
Petri: You’re going to do another type of stitches.
And that was me being done with medicine. I got a lot of contacts and I was very into science. I just kept reading on my own and trying to stimulate my mind in some other way. But I really enjoyed working with my hands, making clothes and doing the other kind of stitching.
After that I thought I have to get a university degree as well. And then I went again to do an entrance exam into art school. But that time I did an entrance exam to Estonian Academy of Arts.
And then I also tried out for another design school in Denmark, and then I didn’t get into the Estonian Academy of Arts, but I did get in to this design school in Denmark.
Petri: So you moved to Denmark next.
Sandra: I did not. I did not. That would be too simple, exactly.
That was again the time when money became an issue and I was like, I cannot afford to live in Denmark. So, I didn’t get into the Academy of Arts either. What was there to do? I wanted to go to a higher education, like an actual bachelor’s degree.
Petri: Did you finish the tailoring?
Sandra: I guess it would be like an associate’s degree or something.
Petri: You’ve got some kind of a degree, you finished that one. So you’re like a certified tailor in some sense.
Sandra: Yes, that’s correct. But I ended up going to the University of Applied Sciences in Estonia. And then I studied resource management of clothing and textiles. And halfway through that I became so bored because..
Petri: Let me guess, two and half years?
Sandra: Yeah, give or take. I mean, I got bored because it was so easy, and I didn’t like that school at all. I felt like I wasn’t really getting too much out of it. I did finish it like I graduated and everything but I wanted to…
Petri: So, now you have two degrees?
Sandra: Yeah. If you count the vocational one and now I’m about to get my third one.
Petri: You don’t still have your door open to the med school anymore, you closed that door at the time?
Sandra: I think about it every June, July when they’re doing enrollments to university. Oh, maybe I should go back. Maybe I’ll try that again.
Petri: So, some stitches are still itching?
Sandra: Yeah. I wasn’t missing it. I miss being book smart, I guess.
Petri: So that’s the nerd again.
Petri: And now you’re about to finalise your degree.
Sandra: Yeah. So it was actually a funny story when I was like two and a half years done into the applied sciences university, I got an internship at Baltika and…
Petri: Can you explain to the audience what is Baltika?
Sandra: Baltika is one of the biggest fashion houses in the Baltics. At that time, they had five brands that they operated all through the Baltics and some parts of Europe. And I was doing a design internship. After that I got a job offer to become an assistant buyer for the men’s wear brand Baltman.
After a while, there was some restructuring going on and I went from being an assistant buyer to becoming an assistant designer. Then I thought this is my last year in the University of Applied Sciences. I have a job, but why am I still bored? Why am I still feeling unfulfilled?
I figured out that I really need to get this art degree that I’ve been yearning for since 2009. I’m going to try it again. I’m going to try again to get into the Academy of Arts, and so I did, I was accepted. And there was a period in my life where I was doing two universities and a full time job, which was pretty fun.
Then I graduated at the University of Applied Sciences university and continued with my job and the Academy of Arts, and studied fashion design there. And now I am about to graduate. I’ve been in the Academy now for five years. I took a gap year where I did an internship in New York.
But I guess, what’s the moral of this story is that somehow life will direct you to the thing that you’re meant to be doing. I was always into sewing and I was a creative type. I let myself be pulled into this..don’t get me wrong, I do love science and medical school… I let myself go into a more elitist route, if you will, because I thought like, I have to be perfect. I have to get my parents to be super proud of me because no one in my family has a higher education. And I was like, oh, I have to be like, I have to have to be making them so proud. And. But then in the end, I still thought, no, I can’t do this.
Something pulled me into the arts, back into the arts and towards fashion, and here I am.
Petri: And actually quite many times because you were knocking on those doors, quite many institutions and universities, and sometimes you were accepted and at other times you were not. But you were really like knocking and then going back to the maths and STEM.
Sandra: Yeah, persistence is key, I guess.
Petri: And then you somehow found yourself in New York.
Sandra: I did. I found myself in New York.
Petri: What is your favorite word?
Petri: What is your least favorite word?
Petri: What turns you on creatively, spiritually, or emotionally?
Sandra: Intelligence and Ted Talks.
Petri: What turns you off?
Petri: What is your favorite curse word?
Petri: What sound or noise do you love?
Petri: What sound or noise do you hate?
Petri: What profession other than your own, would you like to attempt?
Sandra: First lady.
Petri: What profession would you not like to do?
Sandra: Social media marketing manager.
Petri: If you could be a co-founder of any startup at any era, which one would you choose?
Petri: Any final words you want to say?
Sandra: I feel like I explored a lot of myself during this talk. So, thank you for that. You really gave me something more to think about and I enjoyed it very much.