COMMENTARY: Creases in the Marimekko frock
By Pauliina Pulkkinen
"Oh dear, oh NO", said a friend over the telephone, and mulled over what she had just heard.
"Really? Oh no! And just before Christmas, too..." sighed a colleague.
The friend and the colleague were both reacting to the news coming out of Marimekko, Finland's flagship business in the fashion and textiles trade.
On Monday Marimekko reported that sales in the run-up to Christmas had been anything but what had been hoped for. Net sales are growing at a slower-than-anticipated rate and the poor fourth-quarter figures coming in will put growth below that achieved in 2007.
The whole period leading up to Christmas, from November onwards, has been littered with stories about temporary lay-offs, redundancies, closures, and dire profit warnings here, there, and everywhere.
In this maelström of bad news, many have lamented the fate of those employees being put to one side, but few have shed any tears for the companies themselves.
Marimekko is an exception.
Even if it is just another firm giving its shareholders and others bad tidings of no great joy, it generates more comments and more wailing and gnashing of teeth than all the others put together.
The Marimekko CEO and principal owner Mika Ihamuotila said when he took over from Kirsti Paakkanen just over a year ago that Marimekko is "Finland's largest company - in people's hearts".
It looks like he nailed that one, at least.
Ihamuotila will be hoping that he is right in some of his other doings and sayings. He has gone through the company with a new broom, throwing out some well-known designers, lifting new names and new patterns into the frame, injecting youth into the brand and creating new product-lines.
Among the most recent changes have been the line of bags presented last week and Monday's announcement - simultaneous with the profit warning - of a change at the head of the marketing department.
Kirsi Räikkönen - who was recruited by Kirsti Paakkanen around 18 months ago as Marketing Director - will be leaving, and in comes Ihamuotila's choice for the job, Malin Groop.
Ihamuotila had not a thing to say about the departure of Räikkönen, who was at one point reckoned to be a possible mantle-bearer to Paakkanen. Apparently the dislike was mutual.
When Ihamuotila took over the helm in November 2007 it was obvious that something would have to be done with Marimekko if it was to stay alive.
Ihamuotila chose the route of rebranding the company. He has looked for a new direction, and on the basis of Monday's news has not yet quite found it.
He is nevertheless quite certain that the direction is the right one and he intends to continue in the same vein next year, although conditions in the retail and wholesale trade generally are going to be tough with all this recession going on.
The only alternative would be to perform a sharp hand-brake turn and go back to the patterns of the past, such as the iconic Unikko ("Poppy") prints of yore.
Drawing a new line takes more money than keeping up the old.
Hence Marimekko may find itself having to tell more bad news next year.
Then it might be that people wring their hands not only about the fate of the company but also about what happens to its employees.
Helsingin Sanomat / First published in print 23.12.2008
Previously in HS International Edition:
Banker confronts challenge of poppy patterns (13.11.2007)
New Marimekko spring patterns: from Keane to Kalevala (16.12.2008)
Marimekko Statement 22.12.2008
PAULIINA PULKKINEN / Helsingin Sanomat