It’s March, which means it’s Women’s History Month! Over the next few weeks, we’ll be exploring the lives of female designers, artists and architects who have made mid century modern design what it is today.
Armi Ratia was born near the present day Finland-Russia border in 1912. She later studied textile design in Helsinki at the Central School for Applied Arts and married Viljo Ratia, a Finnish military officer cadet. In the years leading up to World War II, Ratia ran a small weaving workshop, an industry she would return to after the war.
In 1949, Armi Ratia founded Marimekko, the Finnish lifestyle brand now known for its exciting, colorful patterns. She started the brand inside a Finnish printing company in 1949, with the hope of creating vibrant and modern clothing for women who wanted their fashion to stand out among the rest. Ratia wanted Marimekko’s designs to offer liberating choices to a population whose choices were so often sorely limited.
Two years after the brand’s beginning, a fashion show was held to show off the versatility of the new patterns to the public. The fashion show worked— shortly after it, Ratia opened Marimekko’s first store in Helsinki.
Marimekko Takes Off
Inside her company, Ratia fostered a spirit of creative freedom and hired designers like Riitta Immonen and Vuokko Nurmesniemi who brought unconventional ideas to the table. Together, they created iconic patterns like Marimekko’s Unikko (poppy) and Pallo (ball) designs.
People, like American architect and interior designer Benjamin Thomas, started to take notice. After seeing Marimekko at the 1959 Brussel World Fair, Thomas featured Marimekko in his Finnish design show. In 1960, Marimekko became an overnight sensation after Jacqueline Kennedy bought seven of their dresses. Marimekko’s designs were soon splashed across the pages of fashion magazines of the 60’s, like Elle, Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar.
Marimekko didn’t just sell clothing either— it also sold its popular home products, where items like teacups, aprons, and duvets were given a fun, Finnish twist. Ratia was masterful at public relations and used the public’s enthusiasm about her brand to stir up sales.
“I really don’t sell clothes. I sell a way of living. They are designs, not fashions… I sell an idea rather than dresses.” -Armi Ratia
Ratia stayed with her company through the years, despite financial and relational trouble. But through mishaps, mergers and (failed) marriages, Marimekko continued to grow.
The Brand Today
Armi Ratia eventually passed away in 1979, leaving her company to her children. But Marimekko kept her vision alive. In the following decades, Marimekko released more bold designs and garnered international popularity. The brand has attracted designers from all over the world, and now sells its products in almost forty different countries.
Screen printing is at the heart of Marimekko, and true to its origins, the company still designs and prints its fabrics in Finland. It continues to create products that delight and transform its consumers and it has no intent on slowing down.