While you may not imagine any similarities between style of different cultures and heritage, the Japanese and Scandinavian fashion design world share some things in common: both strongly express functionality and joy in meaningful wear. So it's no surprise when Uniqlo announced their collaboration with Finnish design brand Marimekko, known for their colourful, bold, poppy prints.
Launching this month on 30th March, there will be a limited edition capsule collection comprising of nine pieces and six print designs. To allow us (and you!) to explore the whens, whos, whys and hows of such a unique collaboration, Uniqlo invited Her World to fly to Finland and explore Marimekko’s HQ - where the magic happens.
Uniqlo, a hugely popular household name for fashion here in Singapore, has the Japanese core values of quality and longevity. Their items are the building blocks of style at prices made affordable to all. The fashion label believes that clothes themselves should have attitude but wearers should also be able to build their own attitude by how they style themselves. Uniqlo is not fast fashion as many may first think - it takes roughly one year from start to end to make a product, whereas fast fashion usually takes 2-3 weeks.
As Mr Yuki Katsuta (Senior Vice President) told us, the brand aims to “enrich people’s lives by offering truly great clothing with a new and unique value.” It’s simple, but made better.
As for Marimekko, it began way back in 1950s in a post-war Finland, which was at the time a poor country. Armi Ratia, Founder of the brand, decided she wanted to create avant-garde prints that would ignite energy and joy during such bleak times. Thus was born Marimekko - back then, a hand printed textile company.
Nowadays, Marimekko isn’t led by one creative person but many, which is where their success lies, says Tiina Alahuhta Katso - Marimekko’s CEO. “We are not about trendy fashion, We make timeless and lasting products, which are by chance often very fashionable.” The brand’s aim is simple: To empower people to be happy as they are and bring joy to their everyday lives through bold prints and colours. The Marimekko woman is expressive and bold - she boldly walks her own path in life and is not afraid to express herself through clothes.
So you see, both Uniqlo and Marimekko as brands have the same core value at heart: Their wearer should be able to use their pieces to express her own individuality. Which is why this collaboration has had so much synergy from the get go.
Ms Tiina Alahuhta Katso and Mr Yuki Katstua
Katsuta is always on the lookout for expressional art and prints, and he contacted Tiina personally because he respects Marimekko's work and the joy it brings to their wearers. He also reached out to Marimekko because their culture match: Both are committed to providing happiness and quality of daily lives, with timeless designs that allow individuals to express themselves. Good design is part of everyday life. Katsuta told us, when thinking of the collaboration right back at the beginning, his main concern was “How do we bring that art into people’s everyday life?’
There were many face-to-face meetings between the two fashion houses, searching for that balance between great quality and design, but at Uniqlo’s price point. Which was one of our most burning question for Yuki And Tiina - how do you manage to create the iconic Marimekko print with a less than luxury price point for the buyer?
Katsuta told us (whilst Tiina nodded along) that this capsule collection takes on Uniqlo’s more casual street style feel, so slightly different to Marimekko style. It has more of a casual expression than the Marimekko regular collection - which means different fabrics can be used. Uniqlo provided the fabrics and Marimekko sent their prints over and together, they tested prints at least four times on different fabrics. You see, print is complicated as it depends on what ink and fabric combination you use to finally get the quality and standard they were both after. The process was long and both brands reworked and revisited their designs and materials used, until both were satisfied with the end result.
Which led us onto another burning question we had to ask: Would this collection hinder or perhaps degrade the Marimekko brand, seeing as it was a luxury design at a mass price point? Tiina told us, this is categorically not the case. Tapping on Uniqlo's wide distribution around the world, Tiina finds this opportunity, "a great way for Marimekko to introduce their brand to new customers." Marimekko is very selective with their collaborations - they always think ‘who and why’ because it has to be meaningful. Uniqlo seeks perfection of design, and Marimekko seeks perfection in art. As Uniqlo share the same core values and also search for quality fabrics that can become the wearer’s wardrobe classics, Tiina and Katsuta both agree this was a winning collaboration for both parties, as well as the future eager shopper.
And we wholeheartedly agree.
The print process
Whilst in Marimekko’s headquarters, we were treated to a factory tour, where we could see first hand how they made such incredible and infamous print designs. It all starts with a sketch from the artist. The designer then takes sketch to print artwork / printable format. After it is in this format, it’s ready for the factory to get to work.
Flat back screen printing
There are two methods of printing in the factory at HQ - flat back screen printing and rotary printing. Screen printing is for large scale prints and flat back screens take 3-4 days to get ready, whilst the rotary printing is for small scale prints and ready to wear fabrics. There are over 12 colours in total, but you can also overlap the colours too to create new shades which is unique to Marimekko. With a 30 strong head count in the factory they manage 1.1 million metres of printed fabric a year. This is a far cry from their roots, where all print work was painstakingly done by hand.
After printing, the fabric is washed and shrunk as much as possible before it gets steamed. Fabric is checked by human eyes and there’s a maximum of 3 mistakes allowed per 50m of fabric. If it’s more than that, then it is classed as a B quality fabric and gets sold in the outlets. They try to use every piece of fabric as much as possible.
Uniqlo x Marimekko
We wanted to find out, from the vast catalogue of prints that Marimekko have and exciting new ideas from designers, how they managed to choose these six prints for this limited edition range. Textile Designer Maija Louekari and Director of Home Products and Print Design Ms Minna Kemell-Kutvonen talked us through it.
All prints are from the Marimekko archives, save for the new exclusive print especially for Uniqlo. To choose these prints, they went into their archives and then decided what they felt best suited this particular collaboration, then went to Yuki Katsuta to verify what Uniqlo also liked too. It was a joint decision at all times. Marimekko like to keep the designer’s handwriting / authenticity in the prints because it’s relaxed and nice for the human eyes, and the slight imperfect prints shows such authenticity.
When discussing her designes, Maija said “These prints are drawn by pencil and paper cut and stuck down. Colours are trial and error! We designers make the print and have colour ideas in mind, and then lead the way with the print and colour choices.” Maija Louekari is one of Marimekko’s best known illustrators and print designers and is inspired by nature and urban lifestyle.
Miina, who has a whopping 25 years of experience at Marimekko, said “If I am happy when I am designing it. I think you’ll be happy wearing it”.
The nine-item collection comprises of tops, dresses, pants, sneakers and bags — basics and staples that echo the quality and comfort of Uniqlo’s casual street style. Tessellated flowers, an explosion of polka dots and striking visual imagery adorn short sleeve tees, wide leg cropped pants and shift dresses aplenty.
UNIQLO x Marimekko collection will be available in Singapore at: Orchard Central, Suntec City, JEM, Bugis+, ION, Vivo City and online from 30 March 2018.