Finnish homewares and fashion brand Marimekko has just announced it is opening its doors in Australia and the brand’s chief executive and principal shareholder Mika Ihamuotila is enthusiastic about the opportunities here.
Ihamoutila talked to SmartCompany about getting advice from Hillary Clinton, the importance of timelessness in fashion and homewares, and how he plans to harness the rising popularity of online shopping in Marimekko’s physical stores.
President, chief executive and principal shareholder: Marimekko
Marimekko is opening its first stores in Australia, what's attracted you to the Australian market?
First of all, we do have history in Australia, from the 50s, the 60s, the 70s; so many Australians do know us from the past.
During the last years we've just had an enormous amount of contact from fashion bloggers and people from the fashion and art community, and we can there is growth in demand from the Australian market. And we have been active in opening new stores in the Asia Pacific region.
We just opened our 23rd store in Japan and we opened our first store in Hong Kong in May. So it's our part of our strategy to open stores in North America, Northern Europe, and Asia Pacific, so, from this respect, it's part of our international strategy.
But even more so we have a feeling there is something in the Australian taste and culture that seems to resonate with Marimekko's values and Marimekko's aesthetics.
For instance, one of our most important fashion designers, Mika Piirainen, spends two or more months in Sydney every year from January till March. And for all these years he has always said that we have to open stores in Australia because there are so many people who are talking about the brand. We are not a very big company, so it's a big step for us to open up a subsidiary in Australia and open these doors. But at this time, it seems right.
At the moment a lot of Australian retailers are going through a tough time. How do you think things will be different for Marimekko?
First of all, I'm very confident that there's a very big change in values of consumers all over the world.
People, more and more, want to get away from these rapidly changing fashions where you buy something and throw it away after three months, when it's out of fashion. People want to get out of this thing, with luxury brands, towards brands that have authenticity, towards brands that really stand for something, towards production that leaves a small environmental footprint and production with high ethical values.
In many markets we are seeing a big change in values. Japan is a good example, last year our sales increased 50%, in spite of the Fukushima [nuclear] accident and the tsunami and the big depression in Japan. So at the same time when the luxury brands and other designer brands sales collapsed, our sales had increased 50%.
I think the reason is that values of people all around the world have changed. Of course it could be that I'm naïve, but I trust that this same change in values is happening also in Australia, that Australian consumers in the future will be looking for brands that really stand for something and have really strong values. They will look for brands that have a strong heritage and values that really walk the talk with their values.