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New York Chic at Sixty
by Barry Silverstein
October 7, 2011

Staying stylishly relevant seems to be a part of Marimekko’s DNA. This sixty year old brand born in Finland has set itself apart by featuring the work of designers who use bold color and contemporary graphics that have a timeless appeal from one generation to another.

What began as lively prints on fabric used for dresses has grown into a globally renowned lifestyle brand. In addition to dresses and skirts, Marimekko now produces shirts, pants, hats, bags and baby clothes. But the company has also brought its design style to the home front with its pillows, blankets, throws, tablecloths, towels, sheets, comforters, placemats, dinnerware and glassware. In fact in Q2 of 2011, the company’s net sales in its “interior decoration” product line out-sold clothing by 5 percent.

While Marimekko has developed a reputation of its own, the company has also cultivated a kind of cultish interest in its patterns by aligning itself with select strategic partners. Its relationship with upscale U.S. retailer Crate and Barrel, for example, has been in place since the 1960s. Crate and Barrel features Marimekko prints on its products and in its store displays. The partnership is expanding further with the opening this year of Marimekko “shop-in-shops” at Crate and Barrel locations in Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, and San Francisco. Eighteen more locations are planned by the end of 2013.

This week, the brand’s executives rang the bell at the NASDAQ stock exchange. The reason: the October 8th opening of Marimekko’s colorful new flagship store in New York, at Fifth Avenue and 23rd Street.

It’s a big move for the brand to carve its own identity in America, distinct from being nested within Crate and Barrel stores. The New York Times observed, “The folks at Marimekko hope New Yorkers will embrace the store as a meeting point; the trick, it seems, will be getting them to leave.”

Another key collaboration has been with the All-American sneaker brand Converse, featuring a collection of Marimekko-inspired footwear. The partnership is continuing with an expansion of the “Converse ♥ Marimekko” collaboration for the holiday season. The collection features Converse’s Chuck Taylor All Star and Jack Purcell shoes dressed in Marimekko signature prints.

The Marimekko prints chosen for Converse’s women’s-specific collection for the fall features the most famous Marimekko print of all time, the Unikko poppy design, originally created in 1964. In addition to classic Marimekko designs, several new designs have been crafted especially for the Converse collection.

Marimekko isn’t just about partnerships, though. The company actively sells its products directly through both retail and online channels. Marimekko maintains its own retail shops, along with concept stores that sell only Marimekko products and are owned by independent retailers. Other dealers include both specialty and department stores. At the end of 2010, there were a total of 84 Marimekko retail shops and concept stores, and 33 retailer-owned concept stores in eight different countries. Marimekko exports its product to about 40 countries; Japan, Sweden, the United States, Denmark and Germany were the leading export countries in 2010. While the brand has a strong pull in its home region of Scandinavia, it shows considerable strength in Asia, North America and the rest of Europe as well.

The Fifth Avenue will feature all product lines and act as a showcase for new products in particular. President and CEO Mika Ihamoutila said of the new store, “Opening a shop of our own in an excellent location in the heart of Manhattan will support our strategy of building up Marimekko’s profile and strengthening the brand image. It is crucially important for us to be able to introduce our customers to the whole world of Marimekko in our own way.” The New York Times adds, “There is even an on-site seamstress, to whip up, say, a set of napkins in Unikko, the signature poppy print, or a pillow cover in the artist Astrid Sylwan’s brush strokey Vattenblänk.”

It was only last March that Marimekko became an online retailer in the U.S., launching a new website for U.S. e-commerce sales and a US Twitter feed. The company will launch a site for Finland next year. These two websites are the beginning of an international e-commerce capability that the company expects will generate significant worldwide sales.

While it may seem that Marimekko has always been on an upward trajectory, the company’s road to success has not always been free of potholes. In the early 1990s, Marimekko was faltering and close to bankruptcy, but the company was sold and the brand was revived. Indicative of Marimekko’s rebirth was its very public appearance on the hit television series, Sex and the City, in the late ‘90s. Sarah Jessica Parker wore a Marimekko bikini and dress in several episodes, and tablecloths adorned with Marimekko patterns appeared in the series.

Financially, Marimekko isn’t a huge brand -- the company had worldwide sales of about 150 million Euros in 2010. However, Marimekko’s influence extends considerably beyond its sales, making the company seem larger than it is. The brand’s simple yet distinct logo, created in 1954 when co-founder/designer Armi Ratia typed a lower case “m” on an Olivetti typewriter, is universally recognized. The “marimekko” moniker has become symbolic of the clean, uncluttered style associated with Scandinavian design.

It’s likely that Marimekko will be stylish another sixty years from now.


Barry Silverstein has been a frequent brandchannel contributor since 2007. He has thirty years of advertising and marketing experience and is currently a freelance writer and marketing consultant. He founded and ran his own direct marketing agency and held executive positions with Epsilon, a leading database marketing firm and Arnold, a major ad agency. Silverstein is the author of three marketing books, including the McGraw-Hill book, The Breakaway Brand, which he co-authored with Arnold CEO Fran Kelly.

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Marimekko - New York Chic at Sixty
 Big fan of Marimekko -- congrats! 
Mary Mekko - October 8, 2011
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