It all began in 1949
Viljo Ratia founded Printex, a small Helsinki-based textile printing company, in 1949. Viljo's wife, Armi Ratia, envisioned a bold future for textile design and manufacturing. To fulfil her vision, she gathered promising young artists around her and asked them to create new and striking fabric prints for Printex.
One of the young artists was Maija Isola, whose Amfora design was among the first fabrics printed at Printex.
A lot of admirers but no buyers - how do you use such unusual fabrics?
Armi's solution: a fashion show filled with color, style and exceptional patterns! The clothes designed by renowned fashion designer Riitta Immonen were literally sold on the spot. Marimekko was registered as a company five days later, on 25 May 1951. The following year Marimekko opened its first store in Helsinki.
Vuokko Eskolin-Nurmesniemi joined Marimekko in 1953 to design clothing and print patterns. What Vuokko did for Finnish women can be equivalent to what Coco did for French women; one should be able to move freely in one's clothes. Alongside her radical loose-fitting dress designs, Vuokko created one the most enduring Marimekko classics: the unisex Jokapoika (every boy) shirt in the striped Piccolo pattern.
Maija Isola continued to create iconic Marimekko prints like Kivet (stones) and many more.
The Marimekko logo, inspired by the simplicity of Olivetti typewriter letters, was born in 1954. Towards the end of the decade, the story of Marimekko began to spread across the seas: first it reached Sweden and soon after the United States.
Jacqueline Kennedy purchased seven Marimekko dresses in Massachusetts and wore one of them on the cover of Sports Illustrated in 1960, increasing popularity in the United States.
Marimekko became an internationally renowned phenomenon and a way of life. The company grew rapidly and its product range expanded to include a variety of accessories and home items. Armi Ratia built a utopia called Marikylä (Marimekko Village), whose aim was to house the staff and to function as a laboratory for product design and Marimekko living.
New fashion designers joined the company, among them Annika Rimala who brought Marimekko in sync with the popular culture. Her modern dress designs were regularly featured in international fashion magazines. She also created many popular Marimekko prints like Puketti (bouquet), Keidas (oasis) and Tarha (garden). In 1968, inspired by the growing denim trend, Annika created Marimekko's first cotton jersey collection, Tasaraita (even stripe). Another influential fashion designer of the decade was Liisa Suvanto with her sculptural styles made from hand-woven wool fabrics.
In the '60s, Maija Isola created many of her best-known Marimekko prints, Lokki (seagull) and Kaivo (well) for example. The most widely known by far, however, is Unikko (poppy), which Maija designed in 1964 in protest after Armi Ratia had declared that Marimekko would never be a flower print company.
In tune with the times, sedately patterned clothing and unisex wear appeared in Marimekko's fashion collections. Pentti Rinta, who had joined the company at the end of the '60s, also designed bold and colourful signature Marimekko prints. Annika Rimala continued to create instant hits such as the polka-dot Pallo (ball) jersey pattern. Her Peltomies (farmer) series featured restrained everyday clothing for the entire family.
The product range was further expanded with the launch of canvas bags designed by Armi's son, Ristomatti Ratia. Many of his timeless bag designs have become best-selling classics, such as Olkalaukku (shoulder bag) and the Matkuri (traveller) tote.
Textile designer Katsuji Wakisaka arrived in Finland and at Marimekko from Japan in 1968. In the '70s, he designed several iconic prints like Bo Boo, a pattern which immediately won over both children and adults. Fujiwo Ishimoto, Katsuji's fellow countryman, joined Marimekko as a print designer in the mid '70s.
In 1973, Marimekko opened a new textile printing factory in Helsinki and acquired its first flatbed printing machine. The factory was expanded in 1979, when the company moved its entire textile printing to one location.
The first foreign licensing agreements were signed in Japan and the United States. Marimekko also went public in the '70s.
On 3 October 1979, Armi Ratia passed away - leaving the ship sailing without a captain.
No one could really fill the visionary Armi Ratia's shoes, so the '80s were marked by uncertainty. In 1985, Armi's heirs sold Marimekko to Amer Group, a Finnish conglomerate.
Fujiwo Ishimoto designed several outstanding fabric collections, including Maisema (landscape) and Iso karhu (Great Bear). Marja Suna - who was the last designer hired by Armi in the late '70s - created Marimekko's first knitwear collection. Her bold, oversized knit styles were immensely popular.
One of Marimekko's most famous licensed products was born in the '80s: the classic Kivi (stone) candleholder designed by Heikki Orvola.
The factory building in Helsinki was expanded in 1983, and Marimekko's headquarters moved under the same roof as the printing mill.
In 1991, Kirsti Paakkanen, an advertising executive, took ownership of Marimekko. Once again, the company was led by a strong woman who put design first. She immediately initiated a new period of growth.
Marimekko renewed its image, and Kirsti hired new fashion designers such as Jaana Parkkila and Jukka Rintala. Marimekko also attracted more and more young designers, among them Mika Piirainen and Erja Hirvi. Antti Eklund's Lisko (lizard) pattern was one of the big hits of the decade.
Another immediate success was the new business wear line. Kirsti saw a need for elegant, empowering suits for women and recruited designer Ritva Falla to create them.
The '00s were marked by a global Unikko (poppy) boom, and many other classic designs by Maija Isola also enjoyed greater popularity than perhaps ever before.
Design competitions organised in 2003 and 2006 brought several new young print designers to Marimekko, including Maija Louekari, Aino-Maija Metsola and Jenni Tuominen. Many new Marimekko classics were also born during the decade, such as Lumimarja (snowberry) by Erja Hirvi, Juhannustaika (Midsummer magic) by Aino-Maija Metsola and Bottna (bottom) by Anna Danielsson.
Marimekko's print production was modernised with the acquisition of a new flatbed printing machine and digital screen-making equipment.
Mika Ihamuotila became the majority owner of Marimekko in 2007 and the company President and CEO in February 2008. He began determinedly to build Marimekko into a more international company.
Marimekko's global expansion has been in full swing in the '10s. The number of Marimekko stores outside Finland has more than doubled - including flagship stores in New York City and Sydney -, and several new markets haven been opened up in Asia.
Marimekko fashion has been prominently showcased in the international arena. The Tokyo, New York, Stockholm and Copenhagen Fashion Weeks have all seen premiere presentations of Marimekko collections. A true never-before-seen event was Marimekko's fashion show in collaboration with the world-renowned Jin Xing Dance Theatre in Shanghai's People's Park in 2012.
Among new additions to Marimekko's team of fashion designers are award-winning Satu Maaranen and Teemu Muurimäki whose Unikko (poppy) dresses created in celebration of the iconic pattern's 50th anniversary were featured in a number of international fashion magazines.
New products have been introduced in the home collection, such as the Sukat makkaralla (socks rolled down) glassware by Anu Penttinen, the Konkkaronkka (bunch) cutlery by Mari Isopahkala, and the Hehkuva (glowing) lantern and the Valoisa (bright) lamp by Harri Koskinen. Artists Astrid Sylwan, Paavo Halonen and Kustaa Saksi made their debut as Marimekko print designers in the early '10s.
Design collaboration with two famed international brands, Converse and Banana Republic, brought Marimekko high global visibility. In 2012, Marimekko and Finnair began a unique partnership: two Unikko-patterned aircraft fly from Helsinki to Finnair's long-haul destinations, and passengers on all Finnair flights can enjoy textiles and tableware with Marimekko patterns.
The output capacity of the textile printing factory in Helsinki was tripled in 2011 with the acquisition of a new rotary printing machine.
In 2015, Tiina Alahuhta-Kasko and Mika Ihamuotila assumed joint responsibility for the running of the company. Tiina acts as the President and CEO and Mika as the Executive Chairman of the Board.