Mari Martikainen & Minna Impiö, Mifuko


December 2023

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The symbiosis of ecological sustainability and social justice is imperative. Minna Impiö and Mari Martikainen initiated their brand Mifuko with a primary goal of bolstering employment in the global south. Along their journey, they discovered a more enriching and creative alternative to the exploitative fashion industry.

I turned my hobby into a job. It feels like I didn’t really even pick my branch, it was rather the branch that picked me. I have expressed myself from a young age through visual arts as well as crafts, and I found my personal style with hands-on action. My business idea crystallised by living according to my values.

My business partner, designer Minna Impiö, and I got to know each other while lining up to start the entrance exam at the University of Art and Design Helsinki in 1996. Our first connection was a friendship, and a shared business followed. Our company Mifuko designs and produces design items that support a socially and environmentally sound lifestyle. Through our shared study projects at university, we noticed that our synergy works both in a work environment and in our free time – we noticed that we gain more of ourselves together than alone.

Mifuko is based on our desire to make use of the Finnish education system, well-being, and design know-how to serve the greater good of larger communities. This fragmented thought became clearer when Minna relocated to Kenya where she was enchanted by the local artisanship, and I also found this same excitement later. The handicrafts had, however, no route to the international market. Mifuko was born as a nod to both Kenyan craft skills and Finnish design know-how. Now we sell our products in more than 30 countries.

Chloé x Mifuko

Mifuko’s values and approach are rooted in social and environmental sustainability. These values are crosscutting in our design work and business model. Mifuko employs nearly 1,400 Kenyan women, who earn a living by weaving baskets. The weaving itself causes no emissions nor does it consume electricity as the products are handmade from start to finish.

Through our company, we have been able to offer employment to Kenyan women as well as put local crafts in the spotlight. At the same time, we can offer environmentally friendly and ethically produced alternatives to the market. It is inspiring to see the impact of one’s own work.

There was not much talk of responsibility or environmental carrying capacity during our studies. When we were starting off our business, we gained a lot of attention due to our exceptional corporate responsibility approach.

Responsibility and environmental friendliness should no longer be distinguishing factors. We believe that the whole field of design should be based on making products according to the principles of sustainable development. Expert know-how should be harnessed to create sustainable production processes and lifecycle thinking.

Responsibility and environmental friendliness should no longer be distinguishing factors.

Even if our design work is very value-driven, techniques and technologies – as well as chance – are essential components of our work. As an example, the act of weaving is a small miracle in itself, when different bindings and colours turn into something completely new. Technology eases out many steps in the process, but it is just another tool alongside thinking. It is important to leave space for chance in the design process. I don’t like to lock in the final outcome right away, but rather let the process and collaboration influence the product.

Mifuko’s paper basket is proof of the magnificent things one can create with everyday materials, without compromising the environment. The paper used for the baskets is first made into yarn. The product is fully recyclable at the end of its life cycle – truly a case of more with less.

Creativity is problem solving, and limits are an inspiration.

Our aim is that a new product is always an even smaller environmental burden than its predecessor. The limits of resources must be acknowledged at every step of the way, from design to packaging. I don’t see the saving of natural resources to be a limitation or burden to design, however, quite the contrary. Creativity is problem solving, and limits are an inspiration.

Mari Martikainen, Minna Impiö, and product manager Ruth Kalondu

Mifuko is a company founded by Minna Impiö and Mari Martikainen, weaving together Kenyan crafts and Finnish design. The company supports the employment of Kenyan women and promotes sustainable design. Mifuko’s products are sold in more than 30 countries, and the company’s collaborations include a collection with the French fashion house Chloé.

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