Founder, entrepreneur & creative visionary, Armi Ratia (1912-1979)
Marimekko’s story begins
Marimekko’s story begins in Viljo Ratia’s textile printing company Printex. His wife, Armi Ratia, commissions young artists to design new, bold patterns for the company. Armi has a clear idea of the future. “One has to dream,” Armi says. “And one must stand out from the rest.” Printex – and later Marimekko – will print textiles by hand until December 1973.
The first Marimekko fashion show
Printex’s modern textiles are admired by Finns, but few know what to do with the new patterns. So Armi and Viljo organize a fashion show to demonstrate how their textiles can be used to make clothes. Marimekko’s first fashion collection is designed by Riitta Immonen, who makes use of print patterns from different Finnish artists, including Maija Isola. The show is held at the Kalastajatorppa hotel in Helsinki in May. The audience is enthralled by the colorful patterns and clean cuts. The clothes are sold almost right off the models’ backs. A few days after the show, Marimekko is officially registered as a company. The first Marimekko shop opens in Helsinki the following year.
Vuokko Eskolin-Nurmesniemi joins Marimekko as a fashion and textile designer. She helps develop new ways to mass produce clothing and revolutionizes the way Finns dress. Vuokko’s clever, architectonic cuts liberate women from the stifling clasp of corsets. Vuokko and Armi part ways at the beginning of the 1960s. Having two such visionary women in the same company proves to be impossible.
The Marimekko logo is born. Armi wants it to be simple and timeless. A graphic designer uses a modified version of a classic Olivetti typewriter font to create the logo. Decades later, the Marimekko logo is still going strong.
Vuokko Eskolin-Nurmesniemi designs the Jokapoika (every boy) shirt – the longest running Marimekko classic still in production.
Sights on the world
Armi takes Marimekko to the Brussels World’s Fair, paving the way across the Atlantic. In the United States, Design Research, the revolutionary lifestyle and design store, begins to retail and distribute Marimekko clothing and fabrics in 1959.
Jacqueline Kennedy buys seven Marimekko dresses!
The US presidential campaign is in full swing and the other candidate’s wife, Jacqueline Kennedy, buys seven Marimekko dresses all at once. Her purchase makes the headlines and Marimekko is an overnight sensation. The future first lady also appears in her Marimekko summer dress on the cover of the December issue of Sports Illustrated. The original dress is designed by Vuokko Eskolin-Nurmesniemi. In the 1960s, Marimekko is regularly featured in international fashion magazines like Elle, Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, and Women’s Wear Daily.
One of Marimekko’s most beloved patterns sees daylight when Maija Isola paints her radiant Unikko (poppy), even though Armi was against the design of floral patterns in Marimekko. Maija also creates other perennial favorites like Kaivo (well) and Seireeni (siren) that same year. Designing iconic patterns seems to be second nature to Maija. Prior to Unikko, she had already designed classics like Kivet (stones), Lokki (seagull) and Joonas (Jonah). Maija designs more than 500 textile patterns in her 38 years with Marimekko.
Denim is taking men’s and women’s fashion by storm. Designer Annika Rimala, who had joined Marimekko in 1960, wants to create a collection of clothes that go with jeans. Clothes that will appeal to every denim lover – regardless of age, size or gender. This marks the beginning of Marimekko’s first jersey collection: Tasaraita (even stripe) – a celebration of equality.
Marimekko welcomes Pentti Rinta, a gifted designer of eye-catching dresses and everyday wear in tune with the times. In the 1970s, his colorful designs for Marimekko appear on the pages of Vogue and other magazines – from Australia to China. In 1972, Rinta designs Kuski (driver), a popular corduroy men’s suit that will remain in production for years to come.
Annika Rimala designs the Pallo (ball) jersey pattern, and soon everyone in Finland seems to be wearing a red, brown or blue polka-dotted shirt.
Armi’s son, Ristomatti Ratia, uses cotton canvas to create Olkalaukku (shoulder bag) – a Marimekko classic almost everyone has or has had. He soon goes on to design other classic cotton canvas bags, including the Matkuri (traveler) tote.
Marimekko gets a new factory in Helsinki
Marimekko opens a new textile printing factory in Herttoniemi, Helsinki and acquires its first flat screen printing machine. The factory is expanded in 1979, when the company moves its entire textile printing to one location. The second expansion is completed in 1983, when the company’s headquarters and design staff make Herttoniemi their new home.
Japanese designer Fujiwo Ishimoto joins Marimekko. During his career at Marimekko, he designs about 400 magical textile patterns.
Katsuji Wakisaka designs Bo Boo, a Marimekko classic featuring cars, trucks and buses. The pattern immediately wins over both children and playful adults. Especially in the United States, Bo Boo inspires a wonderfully varied and colorful assortment of products, including bed linen, towels, bags and tableware. Wakisaka, who joined Marimekko in 1968, is the first of many Japanese designers to work for Marimekko.
Marimekko’s dark moment
Armi Ratia dies on 3 October. Her death leaves an immense void. Armi was Marimekko.
Fujiwo Ishimoto, the creative force behind so many Marimekko classics, designs one of his most popular prints, Maisema (landscape). The pattern shows how the nuances of color and light in Finnish nature change with the seasons. The influence of nature can be clearly felt in almost all of Ishimoto’s pattern designs – whether figurative or abstract.
Amer Group acquires Marimekko
Armi’s heirs sell Marimekko to Amer, a Finnish business group. Amer has high hopes for the company, but soon admits that it’s in trouble with Marimekko.
A brilliant new owner
Kirsti Paakkanen buys Marimekko in September 1991 and wastes no time in changing the company. She ushers in a new era of growth and profitability, and welcomes new designers like Ritva Falla who specializes in women’s business wear. Jukka Rintala and Jaana Parkkila are also recruited as fashion designers and Matti Seppänen begins to work on men’s clothing. Marja Suna, who was hired by Armi in 1979 and who created Marimekko’s first knitwear collection, continues to make her mark as a versatile fashion designer.
First fashion show in the park
Kirsti comes up with the idea of organizing a fashion show in Esplanade Park in the heart of downtown Helsinki. This marks the beginning of a new summertime tradition that continues to this day. Kirsti also brings joy to the friends of Marimekko with free fashion shows elsewhere in Finland at different times of the year.
Fashion designer Mika Piirainen joins Marimekko. At the beginning of the 2000s Mika is inspired by classic Marimekko patterns and begins to use them in his clothing designs alongside new prints. Classic and contemporary come together successfully and soon other designers follow Mika’s example.
More young designers
Designer Sami Ruotsalainen settles in at Marimekko. Several talented young designers are brought in through desing competitions in 2003 and 2006, including Maija Louekari, Aino-Maija Metsola and Jenni Tuominen. They go on to create many of Marimekko’s most popular patterns in the coming years. Fashion designer Samu-Jussi Koski’s distinct style can be seen in Marimekko clothing collections between 2004 and 2009.
Erja Hirvi creates a universal hit: Lumimarja (snowberry). This expressive design has clearly earned its place among Marimekko’s many classic textile patterns. Erja began her career at Marimekko in 1995 with her successful Lenny design – the story of an angel who takes to the skies in fast and colorful flight.
The Herttoniemi factory celebrates
The textile printing factory in Herttoniemi gets a new flat screen printing machine and digital screen-making equipment.
First Marimekko stores in Japan
The building of a network of Marimekko stores in Japan gets off to a good start. Today, the number of stores is already close to 40.
Mika Ihamuotila takes the helm of Marimekko
Mika Ihamuotila becomes the majority owner of Marimekko. As of February 2008, he is also the company’s President and CEO. He makes a determined effort to build Marimekko into a more international company.
Oiva tableware is launched
The Oiva (superb) tableware By Sami Ruotsalainen hits the stores and immediately attracts a devoted following. Finding inspiration in allotment gardens, Maija Louekari designs the first patterns for the tableware collection.
Anu Penttinen’s Sukat makkaralla (socks rolled down) glassware is launched. Straightforward in spirit yet complex in form, this colorful mouth-blown glass is perfect for any table, any day.
Online store opens
The building of international e-commerce begins in the United States. The following year sees the opening of Marimekko’s Finnish e-shop, and after that online business expands year by year. China becomes the 32nd country for Marimekko’s e-commerce in 2019.
Converse ♥ Marimekko
The first of a total of six Converse ♥ Marimekko sneaker collections hits the stores in the spring of 2011. Licensing collaboration with international brands has been part of Marimekko’s business since the early 1970s. Limited-edition collections launched in partnership with names like Banana Republic, Target, Uniqlo, Clinique and Adidas, among others, have also brought Marimekko high global visibility over the years.
Global fashion weeks
For the first time in its history, Marimekko premieres its new collection at an international fashion week – in Tokyo. Next in line are the New York Fashion Week in 2012 and the Stockholm and Copenhagen Fashion Weeks in 2013. From 2015, Paris will have the honor of serving as the stage for debuting new collections for several years.
New printing machine in Herttoniemi
The Herttoniemi factory’s production capacity grows three fold as a considerably faster rotary printing machine is installed next to the existing flatbed press. The flat screen printing machine is used to print larger and more technically demanding patterns.
Tuula Pöyhönen designs a range of bags which combine humor with practicality in a very Marimekko way. The range clearly has the makings of a classic, and some of the bag models are included in Marimekko’s continuing collection.
Call of China
The first Marimekko store in China opens in Hong Kong. In Shanghai, Marimekko organizes a fashion show in the wonderfully green People’s Park, with dancers from the world-renowned Jin Xing Dance Theatre modelling Marimekko clothing. At the same time, the Museum of Contemporary Art Shanghai displays a wide selection of Marimekko creations in conjunction with a major exhibition of Finnish design. Shanghai and Beijing get their own Marimekko stores the following year.
Marimekko patterns take to the sky with Finnair
Marimekko and Finnair begin a design partnership, symbolized by a passenger plane decorated with the Unikko pattern. In 2017, another beloved design by Maija Isola takes to the air on the wings of a Finnair aircraft: Kivet. Passengers on all Finnair flights can enjoy textiles and tableware with classic Marimekko patterns.
The Sääpäiväkirja (weather diary) collection, inspired by meteorological phenomena and seasonal change, is launched. The collection includes fabrics, kitchen textiles, posters and Oiva tableware featuring painterly patterns by Aino-Maija Metsola.
Promoting fiber innovations
Marimekko becomes involved in a research project led by Aalto University and the University of Helsinki, the aim of which is to manufacture a biodegradable textile fiber from birch cellulose using a brand-new method. Cooperation with the Finnish fiber technology company Spinnova starts in 2017 – this collaboration, too, focuses on developing and commercializing new, wood-based textiles.
Unikko celebrates 50th anniversary
Forever young Unikko is celebrated around the world in colorful ways: shows and exhibitions, pop-up stores and coffee shops, air journeys and shared stories of brave choices.
Tiina Alahuhta-Kasko becomes President of Marimekko
Tiina Alahuhta-Kasko starts her successful journey as the President and CEO of the company. Mika Ihamuotila assumes the chairmanship of the Board of Directors.
New glass design
Glass vases designed for Marimekko by Carina Seth Andersson arrive in stores. The mouth-blown vases in different sizes attract a great deal of interest with their clean lines and subtle colors.
50 years of Tasaraita
Tasaraita, Marimekko’s evenly striped symbol of equality, turns 50. In celebration of the anniversary, Marimekko starts collaboration with the children’s rights organization Plan International to promote the rights and education of girls in developing countries. Marimekko also becomes an official partner of the rainbow-colored culture and human rights event Helsinki Pride.
Satu Maaranen, internationally renowned for her work, is appointed head designer of Marimekko’s ready-to-wear, bags and accessories. Satu has designed clothes and prints for Marimekko since 2010.