Everyone wants to find products that look great and feel good to use. We highlight five Finnish design companies that have social and environmental responsibility at their core.
By guest author Eeva Haaramo
New design companies are taking Nordic functionality to the next level with products and processes that embrace transparency, sustainability and social responsibility. Further to contributing to a greener future, these companies want to create work and production methods that are collaborative and fair for all parties.
Find below five Finnish design companies that are doing exactly that.
Mifuko has also launched a non-profit, Mifuko Trust, to support its social mission in Kenya. Image: Facebook / Mifuko
If you are looking for a fusion of Nordic design and African handicrafts, Mifuko is your answer. Founded in 2009 by Mari Martikainen and Minna Impiö, the company produces handmade baskets, scarves and home decor items in collaboration with over 1,300 artisans in Kenya, Tanzania and Ghana.
The idea for Mifuko sparked in 2008, when Martikainen and Impiö visited a bustling market in Nairobi, Kenya. The duo, who had met while studying textile design at Aalto University, were amazed by the handicraft skills of the local women. A year later, they founded Mifuko.
From day one, the company’s goal has been to combine Nordic design and African craftsmanship in a way that directly benefits the people of rural Kenya. This has also inspired the name Mifuko, which means ‘pocket’ in Swahili and comes from the company’s mission to ensure no one is left with empty pockets. In practice, the company guarantees fair pay for everyone working with them. For the artisans, this means less dependence on unpredictable farming as a source of income.
“It’s essential that our partnership is ongoing and continuous,” Martikainen told Good News from Finland in 2017. “In the beginning, we could tell that the women had seen a lot of projects come and go. It took them a while to believe that we weren’t going anywhere, but once they did they’ve been really motivated and committed.”
Today, Mifuko is a successful Fair Trade certified social enterprise that has gained plenty of international attention, including through a bag collection created with the French fashion house Chloé.
Jewellery that looks and makes you feel good at the same time. That is the tagline of Helsinki-based jewellery design company Upcycle with Jing. Each of its jewellery pieces is made to order and handcrafted from used plastic bottles. To take its sustainability efforts a step further, the company only uses non-recyclable plastic bottles which otherwise wouldn’t have a second life.
Behind Upcycle with Jing is designer Jing Wang. She draws her inspiration from flowers’ delicate and gorgeous nature, which can be seen in all her work from hairpieces to earrings. Further to designing the products, Wang collects the plastic bottles she uses from streets and venues in Helsinki.
But Wang doesn’t do it all alone. She has recruited and trained a team of jewellery makers in Finland, focusing on providing a stress-free work environment for immigrants and stay-at-home mums.
“I’m trying to prove that one person’s waste can truly become another person’s treasure, which is a positive change,” Wang says. “I would like to believe that my works will encourage independent and sustainable crafters to create value from waste and bring stronger action for social changes.”
The name FRENN comes from the words fresh and Nordic. Image: FRENN
Sustainability and transparency are the cornerstones of Helsinki-based menswear brand FRENN. The company was founded in 2013 by Jarkko Kallio and Antti Laitinen, who both have long experience in the textile and clothing industry. They wanted to create durable and sophisticated, yet comfortable clothes with clever details.
The company only uses premium quality, eco-certified European materials and ethical production in Baltic countries. The company’s clothes are made to last, and the company also offers modifying, repairing and recycling services.
FRENNS’s sustainability efforts haven’t gone unnoticed. The company has topped Ethical Trade Finland’s (Eetti) Rank a Brand report twice in a row. The report evaluates Finnish clothing brands’ climate, environmental and human rights efforts.
“Consumers are clearly increasingly interested in sustainable business, so we should embrace it without greenwashing. We are working hard to pursue both sustainable action and related communications. Our long-term, consistent work has now borne fruit,” Jarkko Kallio, CEO of FRENN, said in 2020, when the company was first highlighted by Eetti.
JooSoap Studio’s workshops teach how used cooking oil can be turned into cleaning products. Image: Ting-Jhen Yang
It’s easy to say yes to this venture. JooSoap Studio (‘joo’ means ‘yeah’ in Finnish) produces handmade and ecological cleaning and body soaps from used cooking oil. The company has a loyal customer base in Helsinki but its larger mission is to share its eco-soap-making knowledge globally through workshops, toolkits and local-global networking. No more damaging the environment by pouring used cooking oil down the drain.
JooSoap was founded in 2014 as a part-time operation. The company works closely with Taiwan Taichung Maple Community Eco-School and uses a soap recipe honed by the school’s lecturers and Feng-Ying Chiang. Its workshops are organised seasonally in spring, summer and autumn. In addition, the company tours schools with an environmental education presentation for schoolkids.
Behind JooSoap Studio is its founder, Ying-Ju Lin, who also runs a sustainability consultancy MuuMuu Studio in Finland.
“Local produce, local use is one of our core values for developing this eco-soap knowledge-sharing business,” Lin says. “Our vision is to reach more local groups that would like to join and take action in as many places as possible in the world.”
FabPatch (known as ‘vaatelaastari’ in Finland) offers an easy fix for torn or stained textiles with no sewing skills required. An invention of two Finnish mums, the self-adhesive patches simply have to be pressed and rubbed for one minute. They come in different patterns, colours and shapes, and some are made with recycled polyester.
FabPatch was born out of the often-repeated question in families with kids: “what to do with kids’ trousers with worn-out knees?” To answer the question, Jetta Liukkonen and Anne Jurvelin-Pummila searched for a solution that would look and feel good and didn’t require any sewing or ironing. When their search hit a dead-end, they decided to take action themselves. They founded a company called Oikiat Design and started to develop their own repair patch. After months of trial, error and expert consultation, they came up with FabPatch.
A crucial value for the company is increasing the lifecycle of indoor and outdoor clothes. But that is only one of the ways how Oikiat focuses on sustainability. For example, its products are packed in reusable sugarcane-based bags. And when you have sold half a million textile patches during your first 2.5 years, you need a lot of bags.