How to Take a Stand with Design: Finlayson

How to Take a Stand with Design: Finlayson

We’ve previously introduced textile companies that are newcomers in the industry. Finlayson, however, is definitely a long-established Finnish design institute. While embracing their rich history, Finlayson is single-handedly redefining what a Finnish design company looks like and how it should behave.

“Since our founding in 1820, our history is always with us, in whatever we do”, says Finlayson’s CEO Jukka Kurttila. “After all, we did produce fabrics back in the day when most people still slept in hay. When my partners and I bought Finlayson, the previous owners told us that a design company cannot live its history, but it should reinvent itself constantly. However, we decided that we shouldn’t try to rewrite our history, but rather should embrace and learn from it.”

One part of this cycle of reinvention, for Finlayson, is being an active agent in the surrounding society and expressing an opinion when it is called for. Taking a stand became easier when Kurttila and his colleagues realized that Finlayson’s rich history gives them an imperative to be part of the political discussion: “Finlayson’s old factory area in Tampere is an outdoor museum of social responsibility. They built hospitals and daycare centers for the factory workers’ families and even printed their own money because of the depreciation of the Russian ruble. Eventually the welfare state took care of the social issues, and many companies thought it was ok to only focus on making money and pleasing stakeholders. Why shouldn’t modern companies take back their social responsibility? You shouldn’t just wait for the state or some non-profit organization to do something.”

Even though Finlayson is best known for its pretty and stylish fabrics, they’re not afraid to put their foot down when needed. As an example, Finlayson seized work with one of their big sellers, because of said seller’s alleged connections to an anti-Semite and racist publication.

Another way in which Finlayson’s history is present today are the actual fabrics. For example, the Kiseleff collection was inspired by the historical patterns from the end of the 19th century. However, Kurttila stresses that Finlayson doesn’t want its history to snuff out creativity and innovation: “I feel that many Finnish design companies still live the Fifties and Sixties since the basic elements of Finnish design were defined then. Luckily there are many young or youthful designers who are fearless in trying out new things.”

Even though Finlayson’s designs all come with stories, in the end, they’re designed for the actual homes of actual people. “It’s not our job to tell someone what good taste is. We understand our customers and their fashion sense, and produce beautiful products that fit their homes. Various concepts, such as timelessness, boldness and romanticism, define Finlayson’s designs, all of which suit the Finnish mentality. “Our designs are for everybody, we’re not in this business with a “take-it-or-leave-it” mentality.”

Erasing the line between social discussion and design

Finlayson’s decision to include a collection featuring the iconic biker and sailor boys of artist Touko Laaksonen aka Tom of Finland was highly controversial. “It wasn’t a clear-cut process, we really thought it through many times. But in the end the decision was pretty easy to make, since it was guided by our company values, such as societal responsibility, which we take very seriously.”

The risky decision paid off: Because of the internationally acclaimed Tom of Finland movie by Dome Karukoski and the hugely popular musical in the Turku City Theatre, Tom is hotter than ever in 2017. In the end, Finlayson was truly a forerunner in the Tom fever. And like in Touko’s drawings, behind the towels, tote bags, and sheets covered with toned muscles lies the message of tolerance: “The Tom of Finland collection is all about acceptance and love, not about the shock factor.”

Another interesting campaign Finlayson has launched in honor of Finland’s 100 independence anniversary is the “100 Lions” campaign. Traditionally wearing the crowned lion of Finland’s coat of arms is associated with nationalism and even with the neo-Nazi movement. In response to this, Finlayson launched the “100 Lions” online campaign where people can design new versions of the lion that complement the official coat of arms and turn it into a symbol of joy and unity for all Finns. Kurttila feels strongly about wearing the lion pendant: “The Finnish lion symbol belongs to all of us. I’m the only CEO I know who wears one – we here at Finlayson want to reinvent its symbolism and take it back from far right movements.”

Jukka Kurttila firmly believes that if other companies did what Finlayson does, the world would be a better place. “I think many design companies feel like they should only focus on the design work and leave the political discussion for someone else, I feel like they create these shackles themselves, even when customers don’t except them to. However, I have faith in the young designers who rattle the cage and I wish big companies would join the movement as well.”

Carrying social responsibly isn’t always easy. For example, Kurttila explains that the Tom of Finland campaign made him extremely nervous and the time until the launch of the collection was very stressful for him. “But during the sleepless nights it helps to remember that you’re on the side of love and the good guys.”