Marimekko’s colourful enthusiasm
Marimekko has graced our city and opened a store in Causeway Bay. Hailing from Finland, this small but eye-catching shop is a visual oasis of colour, sporting goods that range from cute overalls and dresses to print-based curtains, mugs and other wares for the home. Marimekko’s CEO Mika Ihamuotila talks to Louise Choi about the sustainable eco-manufacturing which the company has been championing for the past 60 years – and on the principle of ‘buy less but buy quality’. Find out more about Marimekko’s ‘together’ business model, which is in vast contrast to HK’s ‘winner takes all’ business approach…
Can you sum up Marimekko’s approach for us?
We are a very independent brand for independent people. The images are very much about authenticity. We want to inspire people to stop pretending. And that’s one of Marimekko’s principles, which is to encourage people to be who they are and appreciate their own identities.
Vivienne Westwood advocates consumers to buy less but buy quality. It seems that Marimekko shares the same spirit. What are your views on fast fashion, fast homeware?
In 1951 when the brand was established, the whole idea was to create timeless fashion. Our founder once said that ‘Paris lies’, meaning that one shouldn’t buy things that are fashionable for a while and then out of fashion in three months. For the past 60 years, Marimekko aims to create timeless pieces with such good quality that you can keep them for 30 years. We have seen the biggest value change in consumers in recent decades when people opt out of luxury brands that hide your identity.
Apart from encouraging people to buy quality, what do you do that makes your business eco-friendly and sustainable?
We’re very interested in where the material comes from and we know where the cotton is from. We have machinery that consumes as little water as possible. We have always purified waste water from the printing machines before it goes to the municipal waste water system. We did that 60 years ago, way before people become very aware about environmentalism. We Finns have always been interested in nature. I think it’s not just Marimekko but all Finnish companies have extremely high ethical morals and a very high respect for nature.
So what is your creative process like? You say that creativity is key to your business. What about your office, management and designers?
We have 40 designers and, actually, our headquarters is quite a special place because we have the headquarters, the designers and the printing factory all in the same place. For instance, we have so-called ‘morning porridge’ every morning, where the top management, together with the factory workers, together with the designers, all work together. I try to create a very strong feeling of togetherness, a very anti-hierarchical culture where people will feel that there is a meaning in their work. Through that process, we want to give a lot of freedom for our designers, we want to say to them – don’t please the market, don’t mimic anybody, don’t follow anybody, don’t try to think what’s the right yellow for next spring… just follow your heart. And from that you will eventually find what’s interesting for the consumers. If they don’t like it, it’s okay – what I’m trying to say is… don’t push too much.
It’s very playful!
Oh yes, very playful! And I think it’s a paradox because the brand comes from Finland, which is one of the coldest and darkest countries in the world – and how is it possible that the most colourful and playful brand comes from somewhere like that? When I asked this to my designers they always say: “Mika! That’s the very reason! It’s November. There’s snow and it’s really cold… you don’t want to use the blacks and the greys. You want to be playful.”
How about that split in Scandinavian design, one side very colourful and the other very monochromatic. Why do you think there is this split?
That’s a good point – we appreciate that contrast in life, and if you don’t appreciate contrasts and allow them to be in your life then… it’s like summer and happiness: you don’t understand happiness from its true perspective, if you haven’t had sorrow. It’s about contrasts.
What about Hong Kong?
Well, the store has been open for three days and I’m actually quite motivated that there is room for a brand like Marimekko in Hong Kong. Hong Kong is a very, very busy place. People are working too much – and they are too busy. And Marimekko is what makes people stop for a while and think what’s important in your life. You feel it in the store.
Are you planning on opening any more stores?
Yes, we would like to see maybe two or three stores in Hong Kong and then we will be opening in October a store in Shanghai, and then in Beijing, and as I said before we now have 22 stores in Japan and South Korea. So we are in the process of building several new stores in East Asia.