Marimekko began as “a cultural phenomenon guiding the quality of living,” according to founder Armi Ratia in 1962 and is still ingrained in Finnish culture today. From locals’ clothing to Finnair blankets, you cannot visit Helsinki, the Finnish capital, without seeing the timeless and sustainable designs of Marimekko. Since the beginning it was a brand made by women for women, led by the CEO Armi. Marimekko’s bold prints caught Jackie Kennedy’s eye and she wore multiple Marimekko designs during the US Presidential campaign in 1960.
While visiting Helsinki, I had the pleasure of touring the Marimekko factory headquarters, which is not open to the public, thanks to the Tourism Board of Helsinki. The factory and outlet store is located in Herttoniemi, which is about a twenty minute drive from the city center. At the factory, I sat down with one of the current designers, Riikka Buri and the PR Specialist Lila Vertanen.
Lila, pictured above, explained that “Marimekko is more part of the culture than being a brand. It has influenced the whole design field and some great Finnish design brands as well. You cannot grow up here without wearing or seeing or using the items.”
Riikka, pictured above, started working at Marimekko with an internship in 2010 and is now graduating as an MA in Fashion Design. She breathes new life into traditional patterns as she specializes in designing fashion shapes. Riikka shared the following interview with me at the Marimekko factory.
1. When did you first hear of Marimekko?
We Finnish people know Marimekko from a very young age. Both of my Grandmothers and my mother and many Finnish people have Marimekko clothing and designs in their homes.
2. What inspired you to pursue fashion design?
I was not that person who, when I was little, had a Barbie and made clothes for it. I started to really get interested in fashion as a teenager and I felt like that was the only profession I was interested in.
3. What is the relationship between the traditional patterns and new designs?
We start to build up the collection with inspiration from archive. We want to preserve the history in that way but we also want to be developing new patterns all the time. Freelancers design new patterns all the time according to the brief. Some designers specialize in home or accessories, some in pattern and some in shapes. They start designing, we start designing, and everybody continues this process as a team.
4. What is your role at Marimekko?
My responsibility is to keep the design in a very Marimekko way. We all see Marimekko in different ways. I love the research process when you’re sketching and it’s not ready, anything can happen. This period you get really into it. Soon we start again with the next collection.
5. Have you been inspired by other cultures while traveling?
It is always good to try different places and things – things different from fashion. While traveling I have new idea inspiration.
6. Do you have a favorite trip that particularly inspired you?
I am a big Italy fan. I go there every year. The light and how you see the colors, it’s like a dream, I just love Italy. This summer I went there twice driving around the Tuscany countryside. I saw lots of flowers and red poppies. (Marimekko is well known for their red poppy design, one of these poppy designs is pictured above.)
7. Do you have a favorite design that you’ve created?
The blue dress (pictured above) in the new collection is very important to me because there is something very modern about it while capturing the essence of Marimekko. It’s also very flattering for many different people.
8. Do you have a favorite souvenir while traveling?
I would say the pictures are the best souvenir for me.
9. What is a souvenir you recommend for people to bring back after visiting Helsinki?
You have to go ice swimming. You have to experience going swimming when it’s this cold, so you can feel the blood rushing in the body and remember to breath. Ice swimming is our tradition, first sauna then dip in ice cold water. It’s really healthy and good for your circulation. It is part of the culture.
Have you heard of Marimekko? Would you go Ice Swimming? Comment below!
For more Helsinki design inspiration, read 11 Most Instagrammable Places in Helsinki.