Finnish label Marimekko has a long history of being bold — 70 years as of tomorrow, in fact. But the label’s boldness extends beyond its colourful and intriguing prints. Marimekko constantly thinks outside the box, bringing back prints from its archives to create beautiful contemporary works while releasing brand new, gorgeous prints alongside them, sometimes in collaboration with other designers and innovators in the field as part of the label’s ‘co-created’ collections.
To celebrate the label’s momentous 70 year anniversary, the team at Marimekko are going all-out. The label is releasing Treats for Life, a rich and fun collection inspired by the summer markets of Finland. It’s also launching a new line of printed bags, entitled Sorea, and a brand new art book published by Thames & Hudson. All of this coupled with the fact that the label reached carbon neutrality last year, and it feels like the future for Marimekko is as bright and bubbly as the designs featured in Treats for Life. Schön! spoke with Satu Maaranen, Head Designer of Ready-to-Wear, Bags and Accessories at Marimekko, to hear more about the collection, sustainability and what’s coming next.
First, congratulations on the 70th anniversary! How did you decide which designs to feature and archive prints to bring back for this anniversary celebration?
Thank you, we couldn’t be happier to celebrate this amazing milestone! Actually, each Marimekko collection always features both archive prints and new, commissioned work by a younger generation of artists. Our design philosophy is rooted on timelessness — we believe that a good print never gets old. For this Spring/Summer collection called Treats for Life, we wanted to evoke a celebratory feeling with bright colours and a pure joyfulness, [as] Marimekko’s official 70th anniversary is on the 21st of May. For this collection, we were inspired by the sunny Finnish summer markets overflowing with fruits, berries, flowers and vegetables. We obviously wanted the prints to reflect this mood and theme, so we dug into our archives and chose Maija Isola’s amazing Appelsiini (orange), Mansikka (strawberry), Mansikkavuoret (strawberry mountains), Melooni (melon), Tori (marketplace) and Päärynä (pear) for example, all from the 1960s and 1970s. This delicious mix was then completed with new prints by the talented Antti Kalevi — his Mehu (juice) and Torin kukat (market flowers) prints are both from 2020. This is the most colourful collection we’ve had in a while, perfect for our birthday celebration!
Can you tell us more about the Finnish summer markets that inspired this collection, and what about them you were looking to capture with these prints?
The Finnish summer market has certain classic elements to it that have remained virtually unchanged for many years — strawberries and pears are items that you always get from the summer market, for example. Therefore, it felt paramount to incorporate prints with these elements in the collection. Luckily, Marimekko’s vast print archive contains over 3500 prints to date, so we have so much to choose from for almost any theme.
Introduce us to the Sorea bag series.
The new Sorea bag series introduces a beautiful combination of cotton canvas together with vachetta leather. The Spring/Summer 2021 pieces carry the beautiful Taifuuni (typhoon) and Unikko (poppy) prints in beautiful, berry-tinted tones. The cotton canvas used in the bags has actually been printed in Marimekko’s own textile printing factory in Helsinki. Our factory is practically glued to our HQ; I go there very often to test out new things with the staff or just to get inspired.
Can you tell us more about the material choices for this collection — what they were and why you selected them?
We at Marimekko usually prefer to work with natural materials — cotton, silk and wool, for example. In our experience, they last the longest, and this way we can ensure our products’ longevity in use, even from one generation to the next. In addition to the timelessness, we want our collection materials to reflect the design expression of the collection and of course, the season. In this particular collection, we chose a lot of breezy silks and linens to cater to the warm summer months. Finally, sustainability is of course key in our design thinking — this applies to the chosen materials, but also to the way we cut our fabrics to minimise waste. We are currently on a mission to increase the share of sustainable materials in our products, which is why we have a lot of unbleached linens in the collection, for example (linen requires significantly less water than cotton). There are delicious pieces in recycled polyester as well — a favourite of mine is the crinkled, light strawberry-printed Lennellä dress, for example.
You’ve also collaborated with Sasu Kauppi this year. How did that collaboration come about?
Yes! As a part of the anniversary year, Marimekko has invited creatives around the world to interpret our unique design language and philosophy. The co-created concept was born out of a desire to introduce a new, fun concept to highlight the essence of Marimekko. Co-created is an invitation for new talents to make their own interpretations of Marimekko’s 70-year-old legacy. All of them have something Marimekko does not have in terms of special talent or expertise, and in Sasu’s case, we were really intrigued by his distinctively relaxed streetwear aesthetic and inventive use of colour. Sasu and I actually know each other from the Aalto University of Arts in Helsinki. We both studied fashion design there and were classmates.
I’m very happy about how the collection turned out; our classic Unikko and Appelisiini prints have been given a whole new dimension. The next co-created collection will be with the amazing Japanese designer Wataru Tominaga, and it will be launched in August 2021.
The company’s own operations reached carbon neutrality last year. Can you tell us more about your sustainability plan going forward?
As mentioned, Marimekko’s design philosophy and operations are very much rooted in timelessness and longevity, and various projects related to sustainable innovation have been a part of our daily work for years already. We have tested pioneering wood-based fibres and fabrics and are currently experimenting with natural dyes, to name a few examples.
This said, the fashion industry has no choice but to become more sustainable quite urgently. It is important for us at Marimekko to be at the forefront of developing more sustainable products and practises, which is why in late 2020, we raised our sustainability targets to a new, markedly more ambitious level. We believe that in the future, timeless and sustainable products will be made in line with the principles of the circular economy and with full transparency. Our long-term vision is that our operations leave no trace on the environment.
At the moment, we’re quite invested in reducing emissions in our own operations and across our supply chain, and with the help of carbon compensation, our own operations were already carbon neutral in 2020, like you mentioned. However, there is still lots of work to be done. To give you some concrete examples, we have committed to reduce the environmental footprint of our textile materials by 30% (calculated using the Higg Material Sustainability Index) by the end of 2025. In the same timeline, we also aim to reducing our greenhouse gas emissions in the company’s own operations by 40%.
What about creating prints with Marimekko do you find most exciting?
I actually don’t create that many prints myself anymore, although my career at Marimekko did start with me designing prints for Marimekko as a freelancer. Now, my job is to lead the team for ready-to-wear, bags and accessories. Marimekko works as a creative community, and we commission new prints from young talents each season. I’m very happy to work with other print designers, [and] the fact I have that background myself helps a lot when briefing and guiding the process.
70 years are behind you — What is next for Marimekko?
Our mission has been the same since the brand’s beginnings: to empower people to be happy as they are through our bold prints and colours. Our art of printmaking and a joyful outlook on life is probably what we are best known for, and that is the spirit of Marimekko we want to cherish for the next 70 years as well. Marimekko has never been about fast fashion, and we want to create timeless, functional and durable products that bring people long-lasting joy that they will not want to throw away.
Looking forward, it is our job in design to ensure that people connect with us, so we are constantly thinking of ways to ensure that Marimekko is relevant today and tomorrow. As mentioned previously, we are very heavily focused on sustainability, working on ways to replace conventional materials and introducing more sustainable materials in each collection.
The anniversary year will keep us quite busy as well, and there are many exciting things coming up! May will be the biggest celebration month. Marimekko and Thames & Hudson will, for example, publish a beautiful art book written by Laird Borelli-Persson. I’m also very excited that we will launch a vintage pilot called Pre-Loved later this summer.
We have a quite clear vision of where we are going, but I’m very much in love with the wonderfully unrestrictive aspect of our brand. Marimekko’s founder Armi Ratia has once said that Marimekko could have been anything: jazz, an ice-cream shop or a flower shop…so who knows what we will come up with in the future! To put it simply, Marimekko is about optimism, joy and unbound creativity.
Celebrate Marimekko’s 70th anniversary in colour: explore all of Treats for Life on the label’s website.