Finnish Design around the world: Suomi PRKL! Design in Reykjavík, Iceland

Finland has become known and loved throughout the world for unique design. Over the next few weeks we will bring to you the great many stores and concepts we have discovered outside of the Nordics; the ambassadors of Finnish design.

Suomi PRKL! Design

We start with Suomi PRKL! Design, which I discovered when I was travelling in Iceland and browsing around Laugavegur, the main shopping street in Reykjavík. Two Finns, who came to Iceland many years ago, own and manage the store.

I had a chat with Maarit Kaipainen, one of the owners of Suomi PRKL! Design, about her passion, her experiences and her insights.

How would you describe your shop Suomi Prkl to someone who’s new to fashion and Nordic design brands?

Suomi PRKL! Design is a fun and colourful store filled with Finnish products. I had the idea and together with co-owner, Satu Rämö, created a platform for Finnish design products, where anyone would feel welcome to discover products that would make their life a bit easier, more beautiful, and above all, fun.

Customers are mostly Icelandic but we also cater to Finns who live in Iceland and, of course, tourists who are interested in Nordic design. The key factors we wanted to emphasise, apart from top quality design from Finland, is exceptionally good customer service and the fact that design can be accessible to anyone who wants it and appreciates it as an augmentation of life.

finnish design reykjavik icelandWhat is design to you?

Design is a well made tin-opener that lasts a lifetime; design is classic glass items from legendary Iittala, design is the Moomins, from the hand of multitalented Tove Jansson, design is a shampoo concept by Kirsti Paakkanen from 1970s, as well as Marimekko clothes that never go out of style. Design does not have to be expensive, although it often goes hand in hand with quality, as well. Design is classless and accessible to everyone.

We carry a wide range of products, from Finnish candy and cosmetics, to home items and clothes and Nokian boots and we have even sold and rented out Finnish Jopo bikes (a design icon from 1960).

What brought you to Iceland and how did Suomi PRKL! come into being?

I came to Iceland 8 years ago, at the end of May in 2006. It has been my dream since childhood to come to Iceland and see the volcanoes, meet the people, smell the ocean air. Originally, I am from the middle of the woods in central Finland, my family lives in Jyväskylä, the main lake district. I spent the last 7 years in Tampere in Finland where I studied marketing and entrepreneurship, but realized after a few months here that I wasn’t ready to leave yet. I did not have a return flight booked, so I extended my trip indefinitely.

Now I have a little family with two kids, a 1 year old and one almost 4 years old – and an Icelandic husband. And this little store, my third kid!

I got to know Satu through a Finnish story hour for kids in 2011. We started to get to know each other and noticed that we both had similar interests, and we were both looking for something new to do. I had been working in an Icelandic technology company in marketing and selling their products abroad for a few years before my daughter was born. This job involved a lot of traveling and I could not think of doing that while my daughter was still so small. So I resigned and started planning for my own company, I always wanted to open my own store and had a million ideas on what to fill the shelves with. With Satu the idea evolved into this, a Finnish store with Finnish design products, Finnish music and atmosphere.

It was maybe also our way of channeling homesickness. We agreed on the idea in February 2012, and we opened the store the 8th of June the same year. Now we have been open for 2 years. 

suomi-prkl-design

What have been the ups and downs of the business?

Well, I’m sure anyone who has ever ran a business knows that this profession, being an entrepreneur, is a time eater! I could spend 24h/day working on all sorts of stuff related to the store. It is not easy running a storein a country that has just hit the biggest recession of its history, every króna has to be reeled in and it is often hard work.

Also, in the first few years of running a store you are getting to know your customers and your customers are just getting to know you. Not all the products we initially chose were a huge hit; there were some absolute misses as well. That was hard; to admit that something you absolutely loved did not get any response. That is a learning curve too, to learn from our customers, what the Icelandic customer wants to buy. It’s a lot of work for not such a huge salary.

You need passion for wanting to do this, and that’s what I have. So no, I have never thought of throwing in the towel. You just go on and learn from your mistakes and do it better the next time. Also, our fantastic customers have always made sure that we know how much they appreciate our little store, and that has pushed me through even the roughest days.

Suomi PRKL Design-finnish-shopping-icelandOne of the special moments I often think of is our first Christmas and the last two weeks before Christmas when things got really crazy, especially the 23rd of December. People were almost queuing in, a steady stream of people of all ages and types from 10am to 24pm. We stood behind the counter helping the customers as best we could, selling all these beautiful products we had chosen for the store. Sometimes there was no room for me to go and restock the shelves! I could feel myself floating to the ceiling and looking at the crowd from above and thinking that I cannot believe that this is our store and all those people are here because of the idea we had just less than a year ago.

Which brands do you have and how did you choose them?

finnish-brands-suomi-prkl-designBrands we currently carry are: Marimekko, Ivana Helsinki, Iittala, Arabia, Fiskars, Nokian Footwear, &Bros, Hile, Muovo, Moomins from various Finnish manufacturers, Jopo by Helkama velox, hand woven rag rugs from Kokemaen kudonta, Virkkuukoukussa crocheted rugs, Majamoo, Merry go Round, Poola Kataryna, Sitruuna, Uhana Design, Blaa, Cmykistävä, Save the C, Paapii, Johtoi, Fazer, Helkama Velox, Erittäin hieno suomalainen, Vitalis, Verso, Lapuan Kankurit, and probably a few more that I forgot.

We have chosen Finnish products that we would use, that we miss from Finland. Brands that we know are good quality, made with ecology in mind and of course, beautiful and functional. We wanted to use this platform to present side by side small unknown brands (such as Hile, Johtoi and &Bros.) and the big names (like Marimekko, Iittala and Nokian Footwear) which Icelanders are already familiar with.

We wanted to add to the mix some high quality traditional hand made products such as the rag rugs woven by Hanna Hakala-Rosu and her daughter in Kokeniemi in Finland. Every product has a story, and we are more than happy to share it with the customers.

What, in your opinion is the main difference between fashion from Finland and Iceland?

I think the main difference is that the Finnish design has always gotten its inspiration from function, not beauty, while I think Icelandic design is more visual and aiming to be seen, not to blend in. That is also true to Finnish fashion; it is above all functional.

When I think of Finnish everyday fashion, it is very functional and sometimes overly so; we don’t wear high heels on a rainy day, we wear rubber boots – although Nokia’s heeled rubber boots are changing that! A Finn wants to be comfortable at all times. Of course Finnish fashion is also known for bold and geometric prints and colourful patterns.

The two fashion labels we carry are Marimekko and Ivana Helsinki. Marimekko comes with decades of history, they are very well know globally for their stunning fabric patterns and exceptionally good quality cotton and linen products and nowadays much, much more. Marimekko clothes are mostly made of cotton, comfortable, beautiful, timeless, fitted for the Nordic woman of all sizes, easy to care for and long lasting. Many have come to the store sharing a story of their Marimekko dress bought 10 or even 40 years ago that they still have and use. All of our Marimekko customers love the fact that Marimekko stays beautiful for a long time.

Ivana Helsinki, lead by Paola Suhonen who just celebrated their 15 years in business, comes with Slavic, feminine clothes with bold prints and perfect fit for a normal sized grown up woman. Ivana Helsinki clothes are comfortable, but they are definitely more elaborate than Marimekko’s, Ivana Helsinki’s collections always tell a story. It’s like two sisters, similar but different, Ivana is the bolder one, more eager to change the world and make a statement, probably going into arts and music, a fun girl with ideals and dreams. While Marimekko is more serious, plans in advance rather than doing in the spur of moment, warmhearted and happy but also very determined and sure of herself.

What do you feel is the main difference in source of inspiration of Finnish and Icelandic design?

To add to the previous answer, I think Finnish design draws a lot of inspiration from nature, wood, earth and water. The materials used are often very raw and the design simple. The environmental view is always very important, much more so than in Iceland. We use a lot of recycled materials and a lot of wood. Glass design is also very well known, and we have a long history in doing beautiful glassware. 

Icelandic design is more “fun” and wants to show off on crazy ideas. I think the connection to nature is as strong here, it’s just that the nature is different. We are forest people; we want to blend in, not to be seen. We appreciate things that work and last. Function is very important to Finns. Also in the sense that if it works, why change it? Many design classics are still well and alive in Finland, and have been in production for decades. Finnish design is more about what can we leave out without compromising the function rather than what can we add.

I think Iceland design wants to be seen, and I love it, love the statements! Finnish design prides itself often for the fact that you will not notice it until after it’s taken out of the picture and you realize that you miss it. Nordic house in Reykjavik and most of its furniture is designed by Alvar Aalto, it’s beautiful, but not in the same way as a new music house Harpa. Harpa parades in glory and unique, breathtaking interior and exterior. Nordic house just feels good and whole, calm and comfortable, its one of my favorite places in Reykjavik. But so is Harpa!

Suomi PRKL Design

5 quick questions…

The next design icon?

Minna Parikka and her shoes are doing something very exceptional for a Finnish brand; they are wild and loud and careless and stunning but oh-so comfortable! If you have not heard of Minna Parikka yet, you surely will soon. I’m sure her design aesthetics will live on and she will be remembered. She is the first one to pop in my mind, as I have wanted to add her to the mix at the store for a while now.

I love Harri Koskinen too, but for completely different reasons. His designs are timeless, simple and functional and look just so effortless, and he is an all-around guy, like Alvar Aalto, who represents Finnish design so well. He himself is genuinely a nice person and in my mind already an icon!

Your favorite pieces at home?

The Hile coffee filter stand solves the problem of filter bags being all over the place, the cotton rag rug that loves my toes – both sold at Suomi PRKL! And our old record player that Halli bought, I think, in Liverpool.

But actually I am not living in an ideal home deco stage at the moment, we have two small kids and both of us parents live hectic lives, so it’s always a little messy at home and toys everywhere. I have no real inspiration to decorate a home at the moment. We are in desperate need of more space and a housekeeper!

The worst fashion mistake?

Oh my god, I cannot answer this! I think some days I am the worst fashion mistake. I have a very colorful and sometimes eclectic style, though when I’m going out to play with the kids I wear a lopapeysa (a traditional Icelandic sweater) and old jeans and a wind jacket with no makeup – full functionality.

I think fashion is so personal. And that might be it, the worst fashion mistake, not dressing like you want to, following fashion and other people’s opinions too carefully, being a prisoner of peer pressure.

Your favourite colour?

Yellow, ever since I was a kid. I still choose the yellow peg when playing board games with the kids. Our store floor is also yellow. It’s a happy and energetic colour.

The strangest question a customer has asked in your shop?

There are no stupid questions; I am very happy to answer all the questions my customers have, even the silly ones. I don’t expect people to know anything about Finland or the brands I carry, though many of course do.

I am often asked if I like living in Iceland, it’s not stupid to ask that as such, but of course I do, any Icelandic person should know that they are privileged to live here, as do I.

People who don’t know the Moomins ask what these hippos are, I always start answering by saying that the Moomin trolls would be very upset to be compared to hippos, and then tell all about Tove Jansson and her incredible creations to top it up for those who have a few minutes to spare.

I love chatting with my customers and telling the stories behind the products and the designers, some of them imprinted in me in mothers milk, exchanging ideas and experiences.

Thank you Maarit for the interview and good luck!

Suomi PRKL Design

Suomi PRKL! Design is like a traditional Finnish summerhouse in the middle of Reykjavik, colourful, cozy, friendly and inviting

Suomi PRKL! Design is located at Laugavegur 27 in Reykjavík, Iceland.

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