Five lessons to learn from iconic Marimekko’s success in spanning time


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Daring yet classic – 2007 is a year for Marimekko pattern design. I got the buzz as a sudden urge to buy Marimekko stuff as Christmas presents in December. Why? The fabrics contain a funky nostalgia within their designs – funky especially in my case, since I wasn’t even born, when Marimekko topped in the 50ties, 60ties and 70ties with Jacqueline Kennedy as one of the brand’s first ladies! So how can one go retro on something and get all nostalgic about it, when one wasn’t even around at the time Marimekko made it in the first round?

Isola_keisarinkruunu_66_3Marimekko spans time and made it into a new century by combining uniqueness, simplicity yet novelty with classic good quality that has turned its fabrics into an iconic, easy recognisable and trust-worthy industrial design classic. A brand that succeeds in bridging the generational gap, by appealing to its consumers and stakeholders – primarily women – then and now – a dream to achieve for many brands!

In fashion, graphics are in. And this year also Kunstindustrimuseet devoted attention to the Finish flowers and iconic fabric designs, showing the exhibition "Marimekko – The Story of a Nordic Brand’ since March until the end of May. Also designers as Helle Hoegsbro now include Marimekko fabrics in her designs, making new interpretations of how to use the patterns.   

Annika_rimala_dress__kaarina_kellomWhat is Marimekko’s success about?
The code behind Marimekko’s success seems to be their ability to ride on the edge of change and time. The design platform roots in inspiration from New Worlds: Abstract art, pop art, functionalism, ornamentation and impulses from exotic or foreign worlds, as well as nature, combined with romanticism, purity and urban modernity, all united within the coolness of a Nordic brand universe. On top of that, Marimekko was always driven by women. Founded by the visionary and experimenting Armi Ratia (1913-1979), who, with a back ground in advertising, in 1951 presented a progressive management style and concept for creating designs for independent women with Marimekko. The brand name Marimekko is actually combined of the Finish word for ‘little dress’ (mekko) and Mari, an anagram for Armi, its founder – one of Finland’s most famous female entrepreneurs.

Unikko_1_bigUnikko_30_big_6 The openess towards change – in society, design and the arts – and the feminine core of Marimekko explain part of the brand’s success: Marimekko was born at the same time as the ‘women’s liberation’ started to grow. This value is truly inherent in Marimekkos business concept, in its designs and products as well as in its history of management style. Female front-runners of the 50ties, 60ties and 70ties who took public centre stage to contribute outside the family in myriads of ways dressed up (and dressed their homes as well) in Marimekko – from Jacqueline Kennedy to flower children and intellectuals. The Marimekko brand seems loaded with dare, freedom and novelty, yet without ever compromising soft and caring femininity. Even within the company, Armi Ratia’s management was progressively challenged by young house designer Maija Isola in 1964, when she presented her ‘Unikko’ collection with huge and colourful flowers – just after Ratia in public proclaimed that florals would never be a part of Marimekkos designs! ‘Unikko’ became a big success and is probably to be considered Marimekko’s signature pattern ever since.

Maija_isola_albatrossi_1967_3 A brand promise and history worth revisiting
Marimekko’s brand promise is one worth revisiting for women in 2007, even though it works with a touch of nostalgia. The brand promise actually tells us the story of where women of today come from, and possibly unite the many different roles women now fulfil, where the stereotypic distinction between either ‘Hausfrau’ or ‘Female Power Suite’ stopped making sense. This brand promise and story, as well as the distinct qualities of the pattern designs seems to be a code of Marimekkos achievement, since the company is now experiencing a – yet slow-foxy, but certain – come-back, as their corporate story, numbers and display show.

Sure – Marimekko had its downs in the 80ties and 90ties, when fashion went all black and craved for huge logos, and interior design tightened up and went straight and pattern-less. But when you made it big in the first round, you are always destined for a great come-back in the app. 20-year classic fashion cycle – unless you really f… up! (So, Whitney – get a grip…The Time is Now!; red.)

What’s to learn from iconic Marimekko’s span in time
Without going deeper into Marimekkos brand story, five lessons to learn from Marimekkos success in spanning time seems to be:

1. Do what you believe in: And do it all the way through your business! That’s also quality.

2. Keep it simple: So you stay true and recognisable at all times. That’s also part of your unique concept.

3. Look for change and conceptualise it into your business, to grow: Look for change around you and within your self – it’s your vehicle to grow! Then make it into your business to conceptualise how signs of change can be met with new Marimekko_mussolutions and concepts. Pin-pointing change to provide a solution or products that fill the gaps of change through time is of value to others! And that’s off course one key to a successful business adventure. We see this in many forms all the time; Pharmaceuticals providing new solutions to changes in populations’ health, IT/technology and e.g. social software providing platforms and products to fill many gaps in the walks of work and life (on different levels, socially, practically, strategically and creatively), and development of products/services that match needs among new consumer groups, making them feeling understood and a part of consumer society (like Marimekkos independent women of the 50ties and 60ties, today’s Tweens – the 8-12 year old Kids That Grew Old Younger – who has their own media scapes, consumer communities) etc…    

4. Thrive in change: Since change is inevitable at all times in business as well as in life, prepare for it up-front. Define a core, concept and signature for your business that you truly believe in (brings us back to step 1 and 2 on this list), – but while staying true to this, load it with novelty and change from the beginning (see step 3 on this list). That will also leave you with a great and true history of having made a difference, and a good brand promise to spread in the future.

5. Keep moving: Stay open, leaving room for more change in the times to come – that’s making room for your brand’s learning potential. Remember to change with times (still without compromising your core values and recognisable signature) – or else you’ll have to wait 20 years for your comeback!

Now the 20-year fashion cycle and women’s history has turned in favour of Marimekko! So – I really hope my (independent yet caring) mother likes the apron I gave her for Christmas…