Prophets recognised in their own land

Miieland_case

The story of Lapland-based company Mieland started with a joke, which grew into a humorous philosophy. The firm’s young designers make products that are amusing and long lasting. Lapland provided them with the inspiration for their idea.

Mieland’s operations are based right on the Arctic Circle in Rovaniemi, the capital of Finnish Lapland, where the firm’s products are designed and primarily manufactured. Popular with tourists as the hometown of Santa Claus, Rovaniemi is also the birthplace of designer Erja Tuhkala. Two of the company’s four partners and designers are from Lapland. Ilkka Väyrynen and Marjo Remes, ”tourists” who settled in the north, bring a welcome critical eye to the creative process, with the perspectives of distance and objectivity.

Katariina Imporanta is from Kemijärvi, a formerly busy industrial town whose last major production facility – a pulp mill -– recently closed its doors. The night train from the south, which serves as a lifeline to the rest of the world and brings in tourists, has kept this northern outpost alive. The threat of an end to the train service has plunged the town into despair. This gloom is also palpable in the school where Imporanta worked as an art teacher.

The designers’ desire to make an impact inspired the Kemijärvi Night Train Collection, which started with toiletry bags. When Mieland designer Erja Tuhkala mentioned in a newspaper interview that the next addition to the collection would be underwear, demand for their products exploded, way outstripping supply.

Kemijärvi Night Train Collection underwear is Mieland’s biggest seller. It is contemporary, easy to buy and priced right. World-class snowboarder Antti Autti also wears Mieland underwear.

“As a product the underwear make a good statement - even though the subject is a serious one, the product is fun,” says Imporanta.

The designers take serious issues seriously, but with a dash of humour. Tuhkala explains that they are frequently contacted: “We get a lot of suggestions on how we should approach municipal or village matters.”

Designers’ responsibility

Mieland’s products, t-shirts and underwear, are beautifully arranged on shelves without any wrapping. The goal is to avoid generating any packaging waste.

The designers want to assume responsibility for their actions. “We’re not making useless stuff – the world’s already full of that,” says Imporanta. The company prefers ecological alternatives, and makes every effort to use environmentally-friendly raw materials, such as bamboo, in its products. It uses local pattern cutters and sewing professionals. Products are made according to actual demand, with no surplus stocks kept.

Imporanta and Tuhkala also have plans for using recycled products, which they believe will be successful in the future. “Using recycled materials in serial production and print apparel is a challenge.” The designers still use cloth cuttings in the manufacture of small items.

Sales in local backwaters and faraway lands

Mieland's designers are eminently approachable, and have gained a strong place in the hearts of locals. “We’ve been told that ordering our products makes a strong social statement,” says Imporanta.

Unlike some prophets, Mieland’s designers are well recognised in their own land. The Lapland designs have strengthened local pride. “Our products are bought by people who have signed on to the Mieland ideology,” explains Tuhkala. Buyers might be older people living in some backwater, or trend-conscious youngsters.

Mieland’s northern location in Finland is an asset, as it adds curiosity value and a way to differentiate the company. “But it’s still a challenge to get a working broadband connection out at my summer cottage, where I’d rather be doing my work,” says Imporanta.

Mieland products are also sold in Japan and in the fashion capital of the world, Paris. “We have no intention of staying within Finland’s borders, but we’re keeping any eye on the financial situation and waiting for the right moment,” explains Tuhkala.

Enterprise

Three years ago a group of art students from the University of Lapland designed the Mieland brand. A year and a half later the original group shrank to four members, who decided to form a company. Since then, they’ve been learning the ropes of running a business day-to-day, and have now found their stride.

From the very beginning the designers agreed that they would not present themselves as individuals, but rather that the products would be sold under a single brand. Indeed, the designers come up with ideas together, making it all but impossible to say whose design any given print is. Collaboration has produced results. Mieland received an honorable mention for a Lappish design concept in the Arctic Pearls commercialisation competition in 2006, and were voted Design Forum Designer of the Month in May 2008.

The majority of Mieland’s work consists of commissions for various customers. One of the challenges facing the company is growth, as the four partners also have to make a living from their work. They share a concern that if someone wants to grow, will they really be able to hang onto their ideology?

Mieland website: www.mie.fi