MILAN — Tacos, a few good restaurants, the blue winter sky and a bunch of good friends is what Rebekka Bay really misses about New York, where — apart from regular trips to Tokyo — she used to helm the creative direction of Uniqlo’s Global Innovation Center. Not much else.
The fashion veteran, who during her career held top jobs at Everlane in New York and San Francisco, Bruuns Bazaar in Copenhagen and at Cos in London, recently happily relocated to Copenhagen, when on Sept. 1 she started her new job as creative director of Finnish lifestyle brand Marimekko.
“My first impression joining the brand was the amount of opportunity. Marimekko has such a rich heritage and print archive, so many really relevant stories,” said Bay, who has been a member of the brand’s board of directors since 2017. “And then we have all this opportunity ahead of us to continue boosting on the heritage but focusing on what’s the future of Marimekko to make it even more relevant for an even more global audience, to find ways to incorporate sustainability in our thinking and in our actions across everything we do and, from a design point of view, to become a 3-D brand. We are really known for our two-dimensional prints, but I would also love to address the form we print on, to be not only seen as artists of printmaking but also artists in creating form.”
With a very pragmatic personality, Bay stressed the importance of not only defining a strategy but also to clearly outline the actions needed to put that strategy in place.
“I came into my role with an idea of how to reorganize and rethink the assortment strategy. We will put great focus on ready-to-wear and accessories,” said Bay, who noted that the home and fashion division account for 50 percent of the company’s business, respectively.
Sustainability will play a key role for the brand under the creative direction of Bay, as she explained. “Before anything else, we wanted to focus on a sustainability strategy. We prioritized that aspect to find out how to integrate sustainability in everything we do.”
In fact, on Dec. 9, Marimekko launched an ambitious and compelling new sustainability strategy, aimed at aligning its emissions targets with those of the Paris Climate Agreement, while committing to long-term guiding principles.
Bay explained that in keeping with the brand’s goal to deliver timeless products, both in terms of quality and design, the company will next spring pilot a reselling program, available on the brand’s web site. “Marimekko is really one of the few brands where dresses are passed down through generations,” explained the designer. “We felt we should put ourselves front and center with the opportunity to resell and repurpose vintage Marimmeko. We have collected vintage Marimekko and now we are gearing up to resell it with a pilot project.”
Already featuring carbon neutral operations, Marimekko will also implement transparency of its supply chain, extending audits to second-tier suppliers in risk countries. It has additionally committed to reduce the environmental footprint of its textile materials by 30 percent by 2025 through the use of more sustainable materials and to cut it further by 2030 by adopting new material solutions. The company aims at reduce carbon emissions from logistics by 50 percent by 2025.
This strategy reflects the constant attention toward sustainability that Copenhagen Fashion Week is known for. While Bay won’t unveil the first full collection developed under her creative direction until next fall, when the brand will showcase the spring 2022 lineup, Marimekko will participate in Copenhagen Fashion Week with a “more conceptual, digital presentation where we will use archive prints, future hero prints and new silhouettes that will not be fully unveiled till next fall,” Bay said. “There will be prints of the past and the future with a new attention to 3-D forms.”
Discussing the future development of the brand in terms of design and aesthetic, Bay highlighted that even if a bigger focus will remain on the archive prints the brand is known for, “we want to move forward, work with new print designers and challenge how we can we push the brand. I’m not interested into moving away from the archive, but I think there is a way to challenge the heritage,” she said.
Introducing a new “openness toward gender fluidity, size fluidity and age fluidity,” Bay said she is very keen to put the consumer in control of the way they engage with the brand. “We want to keep the brand highly democratic in the sense that we aim to offer dresses that don’t define you, but it’s you defining the dress. So we will give consumers the freedom to decide how to wear the brand.”
While dresses will remain the brand’s most important category, Bay said segments of the assortment will be designed and developed to appeal to both men and women.
In addition, combining the high and the low, Bay highlighted that great attention will be put toward the creation of “super democratic, accessible, easier, basic products, which are key to stay relevant especially for the new generations, who are into a very casual way of dressing.” At the same time, she will “push the artistic value of the brand” through a more conceptual approach, bigger scale prints and new materials.
The Finnish company operates a retail network of 150 stores and shops-in-shop in 15 countries — including flagships in New York, Tokyo, Sydney, Helsinki and Stockholm — but digital will play a key role in the further development of the brand, Bay underlined. “The goal is to become a digital first brand,” she said, adding that next year Marimekko will unveil a fully redesigned online store. “We have to re-educate ourselves to think digitally and we have to learn how to create strong experiences online. Actually, we have to bring the flagship store experience digitally.”
Physical and digital will definitely blend in the initiatives the company is developing to celebrate its 70th anniversary next year.
Along with launching in May the “Marimekko – The art of printmaking” book, which will be published by Thames & Hudson and will feature words by American Vogue archive editor Laird Borrelli-Persson, the brand will open its print archive to the public with the launch of Maripedia, an online print library showcasing 365 prints and the story behind each of them.
“The 70th anniversary is an amazing opportunity to think about the past, the present and the future. That’s the pattern of the event,” said Bay, who revealed that as part of the anniversary celebrations Marimekko will launch “Marimekko Co-Created,” a range of four limited-edition capsules of home items and ready-to-wear products developed in collaboration with different creatives around the world. “We invited different creatives from different markets to play around and re-create existing styles and patterns, playing for example with techniques and placements,” Bay said. The first capsule to be launched has been developed in collaboration with Antti Kekki and Matts Bjolin and features collages of archival patterns and photographs, as well as quotes by the brand’s founder Armi Ratia.
While Finland and Japan are the brand’s biggest markets, Bay explained that Marimekko aims to increase its presence in the whole Northern European market and across China.
Asked about the U.S., Bay said, “North America is extremely appealing but also extremely complex. Its strong modernist tradition makes Marimekko a very relevant brand there. But right now, since North America is going through a major transition, we are still discussing the best way to address the U.S. customer.”