HOW EVERYTHING GOT STARTED
Written by Muusa Liinpaa
Say hello to Finnpeaks, a small Seattle Eastside company founded by two women. Finnpeaks imports innovative, sustainable, yet beautiful home design created by entrepreneurs and young designers mostly in Finland. Currently Finnpeaks offers two product lines, the Vilikkala Kotisäkki; a true multiuse felt bag made from recycled plastic bottles and Be&Liv product line of minimalistic Scandinavian design using e.g. Finnish wood and recycled plastic.
But how did it all begin? Who are these women? Why Vilikkala and Be&Liv? I meet Johanna and Sari at a coffee shop in Redmond. At times I have a hard time writing down everything I hear as they are so excited about their venture – Finnpeaks. Excited, but excited in the Finnish way, very much down to earth. Excitement combined with a fair amount of realism.
The seed for Finnpeaks was planted in summer of 2017 when Johanna was vacationing in Salo, Finland. She found Vilikkala felt bags at a local store, fell in love with the products that were both beautiful and functional. Functionalism has always been the keyword in Nordic design products, beautiful isn’t enough, the products will also have to be useful and durable whether talking about clothing, furniture, home décor or flatware. Vilikkala felt bags are made from recycled plastic bottles, they are machine washable and you can even iron them after washing. The bags can be used for as storage bags, planters or anything you would want. The felt is manufactured in China. Before you sigh and say everything is made in China, let me explain. Currently there are only two factories having the ability to make felt out of plastic, one of these factories is the one providing Vilikkala the felt used for their bags.
Johanna went on Vilikkala’s webpage, placed an order and sent the company an email asking if she could, instead of paying for shipping just pick up her order at Vilikkala as the company is based in Salo. She met with Vilikkala people, got a tour of their facilities and learned more about their views. During the tour, she asked if they had ever thought about venturing out to the U.S. market.
Johanna returned to Kenmore and life went on. Every now and then the idea of bringing the felt bags to the U.S. market popped back in her head though. Finally, she reached out to Sari, a friend with experience working in retail in Finland. Johanna has been an entrepreneur ever since moving to the Pacific Northwest owning her own cleaning service. Sari was the perfect partner for Johanna having grown up in a family where both her parents were entrepreneurs and her experience in retail. When Johanna approached her, Sari found the thought of starting a joint venture with Johanna rather exciting.
Both Sari and Johanna felt that before moving forward they had to find another brand to support Vilikkala. After some research they landed with Be&Liv. Be&Liv was a good match with the felt bags as it had a very similar way of branding its products with recycled material, sustainability and functional beauty.
Sari and Johanna reached out to Vilikkala and Be&Liv. Both companies were interested in partnering with the women and the ball was rolling. Suddenly their days were filled with contracts and permits. Finding out what was needed to get started wasn’t easy as everything seemed to be learned through trial and error as no one seemed to know what permits they really needed, where to get them and how to start. At times jumping through the hoops of bureaucracy was frustrating but in January 2018, Finnpeaks was finally real. Making the first order was a festive moment. Following the packages traveling from Finland to the U.S. Customs was exciting and when the products arrived, opening the parcels felt like Christmas morning.
It’s June when we meet at the coffee shop. How has it been? Finnpeaks is now 6 moths old. Johanna takes a sip out of her coffee, sighs and starts talking. It hasn’t been easy. They never thought it would be a walk in the park but penetrating the retail market has shown to be even harder than they thought. Where in Finland one may be competing with ten or twenty other entrepreneurs trying to sell their products, here it’s hundreds of others.
Despite difficulties in getting their products noticed Finnpeaks is doing well. This fall you’ll be able to visit the Finnpeaks online store and the women have just signed their contract with Spruce Up. Staring later this summer Spruce Up will be offering both Vilikkala and Be&Liv products to their clients. Both women agree that especially their contract with Spruce Up is going to be a huge leap forward.
Right now, we are laying the foundation for our future says Sari. We are currently looking to widen our product base. Finnpeaks is looking for young designers and small entrepreneurs in Finland with a similar mindset. Products that combine sustainability, functionality and beauty.