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Marimekko’s iconic fabric will soon be made from wood pulp

Wear your Unikko dress for 20 years, then stick it in your compost bin in the garden.

Marimekko’s iconic fabric will soon be made from wood pulp
[Photo: Marimekko]

Marimekko will soon make its fabric out of wood.

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In 2017, the cult Finnish design brand partnered with a fabric innovation startup to start developing wood pulp-based fabric, featuring its iconic, maximalist prints. Now Marimekko is showing off its first prototypes, which inform a broader collection of wood-based products, which the brand hopes to make available to customers as soon as 2022. While the fabrics look and feel like Marimekko’s traditional cotton fabrics, the wood pulp requires 99% less water than cotton production. And at the end of the fabric’s life, it can be entirely recycled or composted. That’s right: You can wear your Marimekko dress for 20 years, then stick it in your compost bin in the garden.

Marimekko’s partnership with the startup, called Spinnova, is part of a larger push among fashion brands to reckon with their devastating impact on the environment. Marimekko debuted in the early 1950s, before fast fashion ravaged the fashion industry, and built its brand on classic looks in long-lasting fabrics. Over the years, it has become an iconic brand known for the way it weaves together fashion, art, and design. Fans of the brand have included the artist Georgia O’Keeffe and the activist Jane Jacobs. And over the past seven decades, Marimekko has stayed true to its approach to durable, functional fashion. The brand creates new prints every year, but it regularly reissues them. This means that if a woman bought a dress a decade ago, there’s a good chance she could wear it into a store and find a similar dress in the same print.

“We create clothes in durable fabrics that are meant to be worn for years, even decades,” says Tiina Alahunta-Kasko, Marimekko’s CEO, who spoke to me from Helsinki. “There’s a large secondhand market for our clothes because they still look good years after the owner first purchased it.”

[Photo: Marimekko]
Now, with the Spinnova partnership, Marimekko is taking its philosophy of sustainable fashion a step further. While there are other wood-based fabrics on the market, including Tencel, Spinnova’s fabric is not made with any toxic chemicals, according to Spinnova cofounder and CEO Janne Poranen. The company uses wood sourced in Finland from forests certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, then mechanically breaks it down into a microcellular pulp. This material is then spun into fibers, which can then be turned into textiles.

The simplicity of the process is partly what makes it easy to recycle, Poranen says. When a fabric contains several fibers, or many different chemicals, you have to separate out these different materials before turning it back into new fabric. But pure Spinnova fabric, much like 100% cashmere or cotton, can be more easily returned to its original state. “Our initial tests have found that recycled fabrics are actually stronger than new fabrics,” Poranen says. “The process of breaking down the fibers back to a microscopic level then reforming it seems to strengthen the fibers.” This means recycled Spinnova fabrics will be even more durable and long-lasting.

[Photo: Marimekko]
Marimekko will be the first brand to print patterns onto Spinnova fabrics. For the brand’s first capsule collection with the new material, Marimekko designer Riikka Buri chose to incorporate the brand’s best-known print, Unikko, which features large poppies. She created denim-like jackets and tote bags with oversize poppy prints, along with knitted striped shirts. These were small demonstrations to see whether it would be possible to effectively print on the Spinnova material, and it was. “Marimekko was able to apply its existing printing process that it uses with cotton and linen directly onto the Spinnova fabric,” says Poranen.

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Marimekko does the vast majority of it printing at its Helsinki factory, which is one of the last industrial fabric printing facilities in the Nordic region. So throughout the process, Marimekko was able to advise Spinnova on the best printing approach and ensure quality control. (Marimekko is certified by Oeko-Tex, a third-party organization that verifies that no harmful chemicals are used in the printing process.)
[Photo: Marimekko]
The companies hope to make the new fabric part of Marimekko’s main collection in the next two years, which means consumers can’t buy any of the pieces now. But come 2022, Alahunta-Kasko hopes that women will wear their Spinnova-printed materials for decades to come. Then, they’ll be able to send it to a recycling facility, which will turn it into a new dress.
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About the author

Elizabeth Segran, Ph.D., is a staff writer at Fast Company. She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts

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