MIAMI — Marimekko’s retail division is set to pop like its iconic prints.

The Helsinki, Finland-based maker of apparel, handbags and interior wares is opening international franchised stores. Marimekko currently has 24 company-owned stores in Finland, a company-owned store in Sweden and another in Germany. There are an additional 25 franchised stores in Finland, seven franchised units in Japan and one franchised store each in New York and Cambridge, Mass.

President and chief executive officer Kirsti Paakkanen said the move strengthens Marimekko’s brand image and builds on export sales, which increased 67 percent for the month of December from a year ago.

The company’s third franchised U.S. boutique opened in December, this time in Miami Beach, in a 1,500-square-foot location north of Lincoln Road. Last year seven outposts in Japan opened, including a three-level, 4,000-square-foot space in Osaka.

Wearing a black wool suit by one of Marimekko’s five fashion designers and beaded stilettos at Miami Beach’s grand opening party earlier this month, Paakkanen said, “Japan and the U.S. markets are very strong within our 1,000 exports accounts. We plan to add more independently owned stores in Washington, D.C., and Orlando [Fla.] to start, followed by multiple branches on the West Coast.”

Cristina Dominguez, owner of Marimekko Miami, said she learned of the brand while researching entrepreneurial opportunities in home decor, and approved of its utilitarian chic message and retro but still modern prints.

“It was important to me to offer high design at a good price, and its vibrant colors and confident prints are ideal for Miami, especially for second homes where owners take more risks with fun decor,” she said.

Though Marimekko has adopted stricter and deeper buying codes to solidify its vision and recommends an equal breakdown of fashion, handbags and home products, franchised retailers are allowed to tailor orders to markets. Dominguez was surprised by Miami’s tremendous response to Finnish apparel, beginning with a rush during Art Basel in December. Best-selling classics that bowed in 1956 and 1968, respectively, are Jokapoika shirts of striped, heavy cotton retailing for $99, which Dominguez reports many customers are buying five of at a time, and Tasaraita T-shirts in signature or seasonal striped color combinations from $59 to $64.

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“I thought designers Samu-Jussi Koski’s and Mika Piirainen’s collections translated best for Miami,” said Dominguez, who wrote their wrap dresses, tunics and pencil skirts in neutral graphic prints retailing from $54 to $165 on buying trips to Helsinki.

For spring, she’ll add rain boots in Unikko, a classic floral print, as well as wooden wedges and open-toe clogs with colorful fabric straps. Canvas handbags in Unikko or Pienet Kivet, a circle print, sold out at $59 to $104 retail soon after opening, according to Dominguez, who also does a healthy business with laptop cases in solid colors.

“I hope to bring in $500,000 to $750,000 in sales my first year,” she said, expecting to expand in the Southeast and Caribbean.

Paakkanen, who has visited Miami three times for its weather and Art Deco architecture, said the city’s relaxed lifestyle and exciting development creates an environment for the brand to flourish. “It also was just pure coincidence that Sixties fashions are trending again, and our heyday was that decade when Jackie O wore our shift dresses,” said Paakkanen.

She said the company has readied itself for growth through building three factories in Finland along with subcontractors in Europe and buying four printing machines that can produce 12 colors at once and single graphics more than 7 feet long. The firm, which reported total sales of approximately $94 million in 2006, is considering licenses for lifestyle concepts such as boutique hotels, said Paakkanen.

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