Catching up with Consul General: Anna Hakkarainen on Marimekko’s lasting success on the cusp of the company’s 70th anniversary
Marimekko, one of the trailblazers in timeless Finnish design, has pushed through the multi-pronged uncertainties and volatile markets of this year relatively unscathed with its decade-long experience and continuous ability to innovate. Consul General Mika Koskinen had the opportunity to chat with Anna Hakkarainen, the Head of North America, about the company's strong female leadership, sustainability as the company's DNA, and what's in the bag for the anniversary in 2021.
Anna Hakkarainen is the Head of North America at Marimekko. She has been with the company for seven years and is still fascinated by the humane and progressive philosophy of the founder Armi Ratia.
She has lived in NYC for five years and loves the city though misses the sauna and the woods like most of the Finns. She is also a passionate collector of Karelian folk dresses. She cannot wait to dance and sing with friends and strangers in 2021.
Mika Koskinen: Marimekko is not only one of the dearest fashion and lifestyle brands for Finns but also an essential part of the country's design history and culture. Marimekko is also well known in the United States, and many famous personalities have been and are your clients. How would you describe the company’s position in this market currently? How has it changed during the last decades?
Anna Hakkarainen: Marimekko has always enjoyed cult following here in the U.S. starting from the 1960’s. However, we are very happy to see more and more new customer and a whole new generation finding us. We have developed our collections to a more contemporary direction, engaged in interesting collaborations and introduced fresh new concepts such as Marimekko Kioski, a streetwear inspired capsule collection with hoodies, caps and other easy to wear items. Our home collection has evolved from fabrics to a full lifestyle assortment that encourages mixing and matching and allows to express your own unique idea of beauty. During 2020 we have definitely noticed an upswing in home sales as people really want to bring joy to their everyday lives. Also, maybe most importantly, it truly seems like this is the time when people are looking for timeless, sustainable, inspiring, meaningful and authentic choices and that is what Marimekko is all about.
MK: In the coming year, Marimekko will be celebrating its 70th anniversary. What kinds of activities have you planned for this jubilee? Does this include any festivities in your flagship store in New York?
AH: There will definitely be a lot of festivities year round! We cannot reveal some of them yet, but we for sure are hosting the 70th-anniversary celebration on May 21st, which is the official birthday, and hopefully, by that time can serve strawberry cake for our dear customers and friends whom we miss so much! Also, the collections in 2021 are very special, with a lot of new and archive themes and collectibles. Stay tuned!
MK: Marimekko and Japanese casual wear designer, manufacturer, and retailer Uniqlo have been launching several collections together in the past few years. How was this collaboration born, and how successful has it been here in the United States?
AH: We have been very happy to work together with Uniqlo as it brings together both companies' complementary approaches. Marimekko’s mission is to empower people to be happy as they are, and to bring joy to everyday life through bold prints and colors. LifeWear is the UNIQLO commitment to creating high-quality, functional, and affordable clothing to suit everyone’s daily lifestyles. I cannot comment on the sales' success; however, one cannot find too many pieces left after the launch.
MK: Marimekko is known for its sustainable practices in the manufacturing processes. Could you tell us a little bit about your products' sustainability and how you have been able to develop these practices over the years?
AH: As this is such an important question, I want to share with you a quote from our sustainability release, which was just published just a few days ago:
Since the company’s beginnings, Marimekko’s operations and design philosophy have been based on sustainable thinking, and the advancement of sustainability has been part of our daily work for years already. We want to be at the forefront of developing more sustainable products and practices and therefore, we have now raised our sustainability targets both for our own operations and for the entire value chain to a new, markedly more ambitious level. We believe that, in the future, timeless and sustainable products will be made in balance with the environment, in line with the principles of the circular economy, and with full transparency, starting with raw materials. Our long-term vision is that our operations leave no trace on the environment. Achieving this requires new technological, material, and business-model innovations, which we are committed to continuously developing together with our partners.
”Marimekko’s purpose is to empower people to be happy as they are and bring joy to their everyday lives through bold prints and colors. In line with our mission and values, we see it as our duty to strongly promote sustainability and, through the power of our example, to move the entire industry forward towards a more sustainable future. Besides our own sustainable operations, we want to have a positive impact on the entire value chain – from raw materials to product use and recycling,” says Tiina Alahuhta-Kasko, President and CEO of Marimekko.
“We are excited about this meaningful challenge. We still have a lot of work to do, and achieving our ambitious long-term sustainability goals also requires close cooperation with various partners and players as well as new industry innovations. Today, sustainability is essential for ensuring a company’s longevity, but we at Marimekko think that it also opens up new value-creating opportunities for our business as we are serving a growing global customer base”, Tiina Alahuhta-Kasko continues.
Marimekko’s new sustainability strategy is built around three guiding principles:
Timeless design brings joy for generations to come – piloting the resale of pre-loved Marimekko gems in 2021
Sustainability is part of our DNA at Marimekko. Our design philosophy and our operations have for nearly 70 years been based on longevity: we want to offer our customers timeless, functional, and durable products that bring them long-lasting joy and that they will not want to throw away. We aim to continue creating new classics – high-quality products that stand the test of time. Our objective is that, during their lifetime, Marimekko items bring joy to many different consumers, even generations, after which they are finally recycled into new products. To encourage our community to give their pre-loved Marimekko gems a new life, we will pilot resale services in 2021. We will also expand our service offering related to product care in order to prolong the life of our products.
The products of tomorrow leave no trace – Marimekko’s own operations are already carbon neutral
We have launched several projects to significantly reduce emissions in our entire value chain – it is our intention to align our emissions-related targets with those of the Paris Agreement. We commit ourselves to reducing the environmental footprint of our textile materials by 30 percent (measured in the Higg Material Sustainability Index) by 2025 through using more sustainable materials and to cutting it further by 2030 by adopting new material solutions. We also aim at reducing emissions from logistics by 50 percent by 2025. As a result of continuous development work and emission offsetting, our own operations are already carbon neutral in 2020.
Positive change through fairness and equality – aiming at full transparency of operations and the supply chain
Fairness and equality have always been important principles for Marimekko. We want to promote their implementation in our value chain and see that our entire value chain is built on these principles. We will continuously provide more information about our products' origin, ultimately aiming at full transparency of our operations and supply chain, starting with raw materials. We will also extend audits to second-tier suppliers in risk countries. By actively collaborating with other players in the industry, we can promote sustainable practices and drive positive change across the whole sector.
MK: At the moment, Marimekko’s top management consists solely of women, and the leadership has been praised in the Finnish media widely. The company's sales have also been brisk even in this extraordinary situation in the midst of the pandemic. Could you share with us some of the secrets of Marimekko's excellent management?
AH: It has been a very challenging year indeed; however, we can be proud of how we have been mitigating. I think some of the secrets can be found in Marimekko’s Finnish common sense and doing things together approach. Also, I would like to share Armi Ratia’s management memo from the 1970’s for inspiration:
IT’S GOOD TO REMEMBER
Dare to take the “blame”
No compromises under compulsion – not even then
Nimble wrist movements – gambler’s instincts
Your word is as good as your bond
Calculate carefully – act recklessly
Always keep three alternatives in hand
Talk straight, even if it’s difficult
IT’S GOOD TO AVOID
Holidays in the sun
Fear of making independent decisions
Faith in rear mirrors and past opportunities
Managerial patent medicines
Taking things too seriously – at least yourself
MK: What would be your New Year message for 2021?
AH: I believe it will be a year when we can appreciate all the wonderful little things in life that make us human. The first months will still require patience but I’m hoping by summer we can have a celebration like no other!
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