As part of its plan to show Americans there is more to Finnish fashion than Marimekko, the founders of five Finnish sustainable fashion brands have touched down in New York.
The emerging companies — Nomen Nescio, Terhi Polkki, Halo, Lovia and Myssyfarmi — are all part of the Finnish Fashion Accelerator. The government-funded export program is an offshoot of Business Finland, which doles out $500 million annually to help further growth for start-ups in virtual reality, entertainment, green energy and other areas, according to Tero Kuittinen, who organized the fashion program with the organization.
Reached in Manhattan, Kuittinen previously ran Business Finland’s VR accelerator program in New York before turning his attention to fashion. All of Finland’s 100 VR companies received government funding in their early stages in order to create a new industry and put the country at the center of the VR evolution, he noted. “It’s a national priority to help grow companies with tax money,” he said. “Finland doesn’t have a Silicon Valley. Finland is too small to have a massive VC industry so the government steps in to help companies in their early stages. After that, they are on their own. The free market decides who is the winner and who is the losers.”
After the pandemic hit, Business Finland green lighted a remote fashion accelerator program since designers and founders could not travel due to COVID-19 restrictions. The Finnish government lined up Elissa Bloom, who has run the Philadelphia Fashion Accelerator, as the head of the U.S. program. In addition to helping the Finnish brands make inroads with domestic retailers, Bloom helped three of the companies arrange for Manhattan showroom representation and connected them with industry authorities to get advice about pricing and positioning.
As a sign of its confidence in Finnish fashion, the Finland’s Consul General Mika Koskinen is hosting a press dinner Wednesday to highlight the five Finnish sustainable fashion labels’ founders. Sustainability is a “huge” priority for the Finnish government, Kuittinen said, adding that the five brands are considered to be the most international of the small and mid-sized Finnish start-ups.
The clothing industry in Finland employs about 2,000 people excluding retail workers. The country’s textile industry has about 8,000 workers domestically, according to a report by Flanders Investment & Trade.
As for what other governments might learn from this undertaking, Kuittinen emphasized the sustainable fashion focus. “If we’re going to transition to a more sustainable economy, it can’t happen unless government shapes the industries in some ways. I know that’s taboo to say in America that government should shape the direction of an industry. But in Scandinavia, it’s a given,” Kuittinen said.
Myssyfarmi, for example, uses only discarded wool and sells its beanies in 15 countries. The brand uses a group of retired grandmothers to knit its hats and accessories, who are known as “Myssy Grannies.” Having launched her company in 2011, Polkki relies on natural, nonmetallic dyes for her clogs, which are now offered in Anthropologie. Her footwear is designed in Helsinki and made in Portugal.
In its eighth year in business, Lovia produces handbags that repurpose leather from discarded sofas. Nomen Nescio is a minimalistic gender-neutral black clothing collection made of sustainable materials and made by responsible producers in Europe.
Halo is based in Helsinki and is inspired by the wildness of Lapland, including the Arctic light. The company enlisted actress Laura Birn, who plays an icy administrative head of a galactic empire in Apple’s series “Foundation,” to model for the brand.
With the exception of Nomen Nescio and Lovia, the three other labels will be represented at this weekend’s Designers + Agents trade show. There will be a pop-up store for Nomen Nescio at the Finnish Cultural Institute on Bond Street through Friday.
This batch of Finnish brands has their own interesting back stories. Myssfarmi uses grandmothers who are 70 years old or older to knit its organic knit caps as a way to change the working place. The personal stories of those women are highlighted on the company’s website and each puts their signatures in the hats they make. “They are part of the product,” Kuittinen said.