A Conversation with Marimekko CEO
Mika Ihamuotila

Mika Ihamuotila is the CEO of Marimekko. I had a chance to grab him for a quick conversation recently when the latest store opened in Beverly Hills.

What is it about Marimekko? It's such an iconic brand and yet it still feels very modern and new.

What is important is for Marimekko is to be timeless. We don't want to be fashionable in the sense that something is fashionable today, then after three months it is out of fashion and you have to throw it away. When we create something -- like one of the prints you see -- the point is that they are supposed to last for decades and decades and decades. That's our philosophy. It's design that has sustainability: to create something that it is long lasting in the sense of quality and how it is made but also in its design.

Is that part of the Finnish philosophy?

Yes, definitely. Timelessness is a very important part of the Finnish design philosophy as is functionality. We often say in Finland that Finnish designers think if it is not functional it cannot be beautiful. Whereas with the French tradition, not to be disparaging, design can be just decorative, like Versailles, which is not all necessarily functional.

And what about American style?

I think that American style shares some of the qualities of the Finnish and Marimekko philosophy. It's positive. It's clear. It's strong. It's functional.

How do you maintain a feeling of newness when there is such a strong history associated with the brand?

Good question. First, about thirty percent of our designs are iconic designs from the 50s and 60s and we're very proud of that. Some brands that have a strong heritage have the problem of being prisoners of their own history. What I always say to my designers is, be brave, be courageous even with the risk of failure. It's okay to fail because it's only by doing that that you create something new.

What about the prints that deviate from what we think of Marimekko?

That's the thing. If we say, oh that's not Marimekko or that's not Marimekko, then the designers lose their creativity. Although most of them come back to the bold prints and bold colors that people think of as Marimekko, I want to give them the freedom to try different styles.

So you've moved from home into fashion...where are you thinking of expanding next?

I'm quite happy right now. We've had fashion relaunched for six years in the US. But we're not rushing into new product categories. We want to do what we do already very well. We just had Hillary Clinton in our factory and she turned to me and said, I have a slogan for you. It should be "Marimekko: Breathing Happiness". I thought that was so brilliant because that's what we are about. In fact, I've had sales people tell me that they've had people come into the store, not necessarily to buy anything, and they step inside and they let out a deep sigh. I've had people tell me that they prefer the experience of shopping in the store to online for that reason. This year we've opened 20 stores and we're looking forward to opening more next year and continue spreading happiness.

(Image: Getty Images, courtesy of Marimekko)