In the Zalando Greenhouse with Marimekko Creative Director Rebekka Bay

On 4th February, during Copenhagen Fashion Week autumn-winter 2021, Zalando held their first-ever sustainability award. The finalists were the Swedish brand House of Dagmar and beloved Finnish design house Marimekko.

While the winner was House of Dagmar, Marimekko still wowed with their AW21 digital show, a film focused on a seasonless capsule collection that includes nine archive prints. Marimekko turns 70 this year, and seven decades in, their focus on printmaking and creating timeless products is as strong as ever. The company has always supported a sustainable and ethical approach because those are values the brand is actually built upon.

Seeing Zalando recognize that is a positive sign in the way larger platforms are re-thinking what sustainability actually means; it’s not only about marketing and using the right words, it’s a foundation that carries a brand through season after season, year after year.

In addition to their new initiatives and collections, Marimekko has an art book coming out with Thames & Hudson in May 2021. The book will be written by Vogue US editor Laird Borelli-Persson.

We spoke with Marimekko’s Creative Director, Rebekka Bay, about what the nomination means, how Marimekko thinks about sustainability, and what the fashion industry should be doing as a whole:

Congratulations on your nomination! Can you talk a bit about what this award means to you as both a creative director, and for Marimekko as a brand?

We are of course very honored to be recognized for our work within sustainability. The Zalando Sustainability Award is significant, as it not only brings awareness to the importance of implementing more sustainable actions across the fashion industry, but it can also help move the entire industry towards a more sustainable future.

We have now embarked on an even more ambitious journey within sustainability, and it’s wonderful to have such encouragement along the way.  





Copenhagen Fashion Week is entirely digital this season. Has that been an obstacle for Marimekko? Are there ways in which it has created new or surprising opportunities for the brand?

Marimekko’s core values are inclusivity, creativity, and sustainability, all of which are beautifully highlighted in this hybrid and more open digital format of Copenhagen Fashion Week. It is important to find new ways to inspire consumers as well as industry professionals, and we are happy to take part in one of the forerunning international fashion events in the world. 

This season, we wanted to take a different approach to fashion week. This year mark’s Marimekko’s 70th anniversary, so it felt like a great time for us to pause and reflect on our role in the fashion industry.

This February, we wanted to really focus on sharing the essence and core of Marimekko. Instead of presenting a seasonal collection, we decided to present a conceptual, seasonless short film, an opportunity to reflect on past, present, and future, highlighting our timeless design philosophy and original approach to the art of printmaking.

Made in collaboration wit creative agency MOON, the film celebrates nine archive prints as well as one entirely new print, designed by Finnish print designer Antti Kekki, utilizing our newly developed silhouettes as a modern canvas. Our goal was to make this film with a minimal environmental footprint, and the carbon footprint from the film’s production will be offset. 





Do you think the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the conversation about sustainability in fashion?

Changes in consumer values, particularly the increased significance of sustainability, have been shaking up the global fashion industry for several years now.

We can see that the transformation driven by these values is considerably accelerated by the pandemic. We have seen a clear shift in consumer values, with an increasing preference for more sustainable choices.





Can you talk a bit about the Zalando Greenhouse and what it’s like to present your collection that way?

The Zalando Greenhouse is a great example of the endless opportunities presented by digital formats. The platform is interactive and very inclusive. It adds yet another dimension to how Marimekko can be experienced and discovered.





You’ve worked with large brands like GAP and Uniqlo. What are the similarities and differences in approaching Marimekko? How important is understanding more niche markets, like Finland and Scandinavia, versus the more global outlook of the larger brands?

I strongly believe that it is possible to both celebrate the Nordic aesthetic of Marimekko and be globally relevant. I believe that Nordic design, in both ready-to-wear and home design, are universally recognized for striking a balance between aesthetic and functionality, timelessness and newness, form and material.

What I enjoy very much at Marimekko, and the biggest difference from other brands, is the amazing print archive. I have never had the opportunity to work with such a great heritage.


What are the most important elements for you to consider in terms of sustainable fashion design?

Marimekko’s operations and design philosophy have always been rooted in timelessness and longevity, and the advancement of sustainability through various projects has been a part of our daily work for years already. This said, the fashion industry has no choice but to become more sustainable rather urgently.

It is important for us to be at the forefront of developing more sustainable products and practices. In late 2020, we raised our sustainability targets to a new, markedly more ambitious level. We believe that in the future, timeless and sustainable products will be made in-line with the principles of the circular economy and with full transparency. That’s where we are headed now.





Zalando has a long-term plan for bringing more sustainability to its platform. What are the responsibilities of large platforms, such as Zalando, to change their sustainability approach to working with brands?

Achieving a bigger impact in the fashion industry requires cooperation and awareness, which is exactly what the Zalando Sustainability Award is doing.

As you said, Zalando is a very large platform, and their initiatives can have a vastly positive impact on our whole field. Awards such as this one are significant as they not only bring awareness to the importance of implementing more sustainable actions across the fashion industry, but also because they can truly help move the entire industry towards a more sustainable future. 


What are Marimekko’s sustainability goals moving forward?

At the moment, we’re quite invested in reducing emissions in our own operations and across our supply chain. 

With the help of carbon compensation, our own operations were already carbon neutral in 2020, but we have further committed to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions of our own operations by 40% by 2025.

In addition to the focus on emissions, we are replacing conventional materials and introducing more sustainable materials in each collection. We commit to, for example, reducing the environmental footprint of our textile materials by 30% by 2025 and aim to reduce water usage by 50% per kilo of textile material by the same year.

More concretely, things you can expect from us quite soon are a pre-loved fashion online pilot as well as new plant-based dyes that we will introduce Pre-Fall 2021 collection!

Find out more about this season’s Copenhagen Fashion week designers and events, as well as more about Danish and Swedish fashion.


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Rebecca Thandi Norman

Rebecca Thandi Norman is a co-founder and Editor-in-Chief at Scandinavia Standard.